The womens suffrage movement began in Seneca Falls, New York during a convention on the rights of women. Seneca Falls was a progressive town but even here, Elizabeth Cady Stantons call for suffrage was controversial. Voting and politics were seen as completely male domains and it was shocking to think of women involved in either. The primary argument of suffragists was that they were being denied one of the most basic rights of Democracy. They were expected to live under laws which they could not vote for and pay taxes to a government which didnt represent them.
Men were only half of the population but they were in charge of all of the decisions. Not only was it unfair, it went against the way God intended things to be. Women and men were different. To create a balanced society, they must both be allowed to have influence. In 1848, women were treated as the property of men. They didnt have rights to property or to their children. It was legal for a man to beat his wife. They were taxed but denied representation in congress. Their sphere of influence was in the home.
The Seneca Falls Declaration called for an increase in womens rights in these areas, as well as in education for women and the jobs available to them. It stated that women were morally obligated to resist their tyrannical and oppressive government. This unfair treatment wasnt only unjust, it went against God. The Declaration was not well received by much of the public but it set off a wave of womens rights meetings throughout the 1850s. It was after one of these meetings that Stanton met Susan B. Anthony. This meeting had a profound influence on the future of the womens movement.
Together, Stanton and Anthony founded the National Womens Suffrage Association in 1869. This association was one of the central forces in the movement for womens suffrage. Sojourner Truth was one of few African-Americans involved in the womens movement at the beginning. In a speech at a womens rights convention in Ohio, she argued that as a slave, she proved she was just as capable as a man to do hard physical labor, so why wouldnt she be as capable of voting? When the civil war broke out, suffragists put aside their cause to work for the Union. After the war, black men were given the vote but it was still denied to women.
Many suffragists felt betrayed. They had worked on behalf of the abolitionists, then found a lack of support for their own cause. Stanton was disappointed and made it clear she didnt think men were capable of creating a stable government on their own. At a convention in Washington D. C. in 1868, she expressed her disdain for the masculine element. She felt men had created a disorganized government and a violent and cruel society. By refusing the vote to women, they were forcing women to become dilutions of men and repressing the natural character of women.
She argued that giving women the vote would help to maintain the natural equilibrium and provide better representation for the whole. In 1872, a radical suffragists went to the polls to vote in an election. This was a federal offense, and Anthony was arrested. She was tried in a federal court. On the first day of her trial, the judge instructed the jury to find her guilty. Anthony was deemed incompetent to testify on her own behalf because she was a woman. Anthony was allowed to speak before her sentencing. She argued against the unfairness of her trial.
She had been tried under a system which was established by men, interpreted by men and carried out by men. By refusing women the right to vote but forcing them to follow laws, they were being treated as subjects rather than citizens. During her speech, Anthony said her famous maxim, Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God. Anthony was prevented from appealing to the Supreme Court based on a technicality. A similar case did make it to the Supreme Court a year later, and the court ruled that each state would have to grant women the right to vote. This ruling turned the attention of the suffragists to individual states.
In 1890, Wyoming entered the United States as the only state allowing women to vote. In 1893, the governor of Colorado persuaded the state legislature to put the issue of womens votes on the ballot. Carrie Kat from the NWSA and a local reporter named Ellis Meredith campaigned together. They organized 10,000 women, many from the Womens Christian Temperance Union, who wanted to end the sale of alcohol. Liquor companies began campaigning against them, but suffrage was passed in Colorado anyway. By 1896, Utah and Idaho had also granted women the vote. By the 1890s rights for women were improved.
By then, women could hold property and girls could attend high school and college. But the suffragists still met lots of opposition, even among their own sex. In Boston, women organized the Massachusetts Association Opposed to Suffrage for Women. They saw politics as corrupt and male, and they believed it would degrade all women to be involved. In a non-binding referendum held by the Massachusetts legislature which allowed both men and women to vote, suffrage was overwhelmingly defeated. At the end of the century, the National Association of Colored women was formed. They were led by Mary Church Terrell.
Black women rarely got support from white suffragists. Their organization received little support even though it grew to 500,000 people. At this time, many suffragists began arguing that if educated white women were prohibited from voting, the vote should be taken from uneducated immigrants as well. The suffrage movement became more conservative towards the turn of the century. Stanton was now in her late 70s. She began seeing the Bible as a tool of oppression written by men against women. Stanton rewrote every passage of the Bible which said women were inferior to men.
This action scandalized the suffragists, who called it blasphemous. Stanton resigned her presidency of the NWSA and the movement fell into a rut. At the start of the 20th century, the movement took a sharp turn. More women were working in offices, factories and other positions than ever before. Stantons daughter, Harriet Blach, became a leader of the movement. She incorporated all kinds of women into it and developed new tactics. Women would go out into the streets to confront men directly and to give open-air speeches and they held suffrage parades.
The NWSA didnt support Blachs tactics, calling them unladylike. By 1912, five more states had granted women the vote. The Progressive Party had endorsed their cause, including presidential hopeful Teddy Roosevelt. Women were denied the vote in Ohio, Michigan and Wyoming in votes in 1912 and a new wave of opposition from men arose. Liquor companies and big businesses particularly wanted to stop the suffrage movement. In 1913, Alice Paul arrived in Washington from London. Paul was a suffragist turned radical by prison abuse. She held a doctorate in political science.
She had met Lucy Burns in prison in London and together they organized a march in Washington DC the day before Woodrow Wilsons inaugural parade. 8,000 women attended. The parade erupted into a riot and 100 women were hospitalized. The police offered the women no protection and none of the rioters were arrested. Paul began organizing women to lobby the president and congress. At this time, the Susan B. Anthony Amendment was introduced to the house. It was stalled in congress. In the 1914 elections, Paul and her followers went to the nine states where women could vote and campaigned against all Democrats.
They saw the Democrats as responsible for stalling the amendment. Anna Howard Shaw, the leader of the NWSA, saw that as suicidal move and the party split. Pauls followers became the National Womans Party. Only a few Democrats were defeated but Paul saw the campaign as a success and the amendment was sent to the floor for a vote. It was badly beaten, but that it had even been considered was seen as progress by the women. In 1916, Carrie Kat took over the NWSA from Shaw. She centralized the movements power and increased support everywhere but in the South.
Hundreds of NWSA members began lobbying congressmen and senators alongside the NWP. In 1917, the United States entered World War I. The NWSAs strategy was to work for the war effort as well as for suffrage. the NWP began picketing the White House. They wouldnt support the war effort. At first the president tolerated their presence, but some of the NWPs pickets became insulting. Many Americans saw them as treason. Daily attacks began against the women and they received no police protection. During the summer and fall of 1917, police arrested 168 women for obstructing traffic.
They were mistreated in prison, which radicalized many of them. The police chief became determined to stop the picketers. He arrested several women and put them in an isolated wing of the prison. They were horribly mistreated. Led by Paul, 30 women went on hunger strikes. Finally, all the prisoners were unconditionally released. During their time in prison, many people came forward protest their treatment. In November of 1917, New York granted women the vote. The enfranchisement of so many women made it important for many politicians to court their votes by supporting suffrage.
On January 10, 1918, the Susan B. Anthony Amendment passed in congress by one vote. As a compromise in the senate, some Southern senators proposed a rider to the bill that would prohibit black women from voting. Few white suffragists protested, but the clause was defeated and the amendment was passed in the Senate anyway on June 4, 1919. Now the suffragists had to get the legislatures of 36 states to ratify the amendment. By 1920, 35 had ratified it. Delaware defeated the amendment, forcing the suffragists to turn to the South. In Tennessee, both sides of the issue tried to persuade the legislators. Liquor and manufacturing lobbies bribed them.
The night before the vote, it was feared the suffragists would lose by one vote. But on August 18, 1920, 24 million American women won the right to vote when Harry Burn listened to a letter from his mother and did the right thing by supporting the amendment. Without the hard work and determination of so many women, I might not have grown up in a world in which I never once questioned whether or not I could go to college and get a job. Ive always been told I could do whatever I put my mind to. For their spirit and strength, and for all the opportunities theyve given me and every other woman who came after them, Im very grateful.