Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Women's Suffrage

In this essay I am going to discuss the Women Suffrage Movement specifically in America. The Women Suffrage Movement began around the year of 1848 and came to an end with the addition of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. During this essay we will look at how this movement began, and what occurred prior to the movement. We will look at important dates and events that occurred within the movement as a whole, and also focusing in on key persons as the essay unfolds. The main purpose of this essay is to view what the Women Suffrage Movement was, and how it lead to the 19th Amendment.

Prior to the movement, women’s roles in society were very specific. They were to get married, raise a family, and take care of the household. Few women did work outside the home, mainly if they were very poor, but were not allowed to keep their wages for themselves. If they were married their money went toward their husbands, and if not married the money went to their fathers. In the rare occurrence of divorce, women gave up their custody of their children. The highest level of education women were allowed to have was the primary level, which is about the age of 11 now, and most women could neither buy nor sell property. Lastly, women had no right to vote on any issues, they could not sit on juries, defend themselves in a courtroom, or run for political office, which is what will be focused on in this essay specifically. (Mass 8-9)

Women were basically property of men, whether it was there husbands or their fathers, they were only property. However beginning in 1848, women wanted to change all of this. Five women are credited for the beginning of the Women Suffrage Movement. The first women’s rights convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York in the year of 1848. Here they drafted a “Declaration of Rights and Sentiments.” It was written to outline the equality of rights they desired. The beginning was written in the same style as the Declaration of Independence and added “and women” to the phrase “…all men are created equal…” so it read “…all men and women are created equal…” This document included 12 ways to create the equality for women in the areas such as education, law, labor, morality, and religion. (Bausum 18-19)

The 9th specifically called for women to vote. It read, “Resolved, that it is the duty of women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective suffrage.” One definition I would like to make clear is the meaning of suffrage. Suffrage is another word voting. It comes from the Latin word suffrage, meaning “approval” and
“the right to vote”. Someone who works to gain voting rights is most often called a suffragist. Another word that describes voting comes from the French word meaning “freedom”, a person that has voting rights in enfranchised. (Bausum)

Some of the first women who began fighting in the 19th century were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone. Women held multiple women’s voting rights conventions. The very first National Women’s Rights convention was held in 1850 in Worcester, Massachusetts. In fact, the convention held in 1852 is where Susan B. Anthony decided to join the movement. Here she stated, “the right women needed above every other...was the right of suffrage.” Her joining the movement was so important to the movement’s history. A national convention was held every year after 1850 until 1860, other than the year 1857. Women petitioned state legislators to change laws unfair to women, made speeches, wrote multiple letters, published news stories, and argued their beliefs wherever they were. At first the majority of women participating in the movement were white; however there were few African Americans, for example Sojourner Truth. (Bausum)

When the civil war broke out in 1861, women decided to put their fight on hold and supported the men in the war. However, they did hope that when the war ended they would be granted some rights along with the black population. In the end they were not correct at all. Though they did not accomplish what they had hoped, they did not give up. They tried even harder to pursue what they believed. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony organized their work into the national woman suffrage Association, NWSA, or shortly known as the National is May of 1869. Later that year, one of their former friends Lucy Stone, founded the American Women Suffrage Association, AWSA, or shortly known as the American. (Bausum)

These two groups were very different. The National was much more radical and militant in their actions. Men were not allowed to join their Association. They founded a weekly newspaper called “The Revolution” with their motto being, “Men, their rights and nothing more, women their rights and nothing less!” The American was much less radical, in fact men and women of any color were allowed to join their association, which in turn was much larger. Both groups did agree on one thing however, the only way women were going to gain votes was with new laws. Beyond that they disagreed. (Bausum)

The National decided they would go to a federal level. In 1878 they managed to have a women suffrage amendment introduced for consideration by the U.S. Senate. Nine years passed before the measure came to a vote and it was not a success. Only about 16 out of 76 senators supported it, all being from the north. 337 were opposed to it and 26 members abstained from voting. The House of Representatives did not even consider women’s suffrage until past the end of the 19th century. (Bausum)
Although things were not going very well on a federal level. Several areas in the U.S offered women the right to vote in the 19th century. Two of the states that offered women suffrage had allowed it since their admission into statehood, Wyoming in 1890, and Utah in 1896. A few places allowed women partial suffrage in matters concerning only education. Other places, namely southern states did not give consideration to women suffrage at all. (Bausum)

The time frame between 1896 and 1910 came to be known as the “doldrums” because not one state adopted women suffrage. In 1890 the NWSA and the AWSA merged into the NAWSA. This organization survived until the end of the suffrage fight 30 years later. Sadly, Stone died in 1893, Stanton in 1902, and Anthony in 1906. So the true beginners of the movement did not live to see the beginning of nationwide suffrage. (Bausum)

However, miles away in Europe, women were taking a more rebellious stand. They would use “civil disobedience” to try to further their movement. They would do such things as shout at government speakers, threw stones into office windows, set fire in mailboxes, cut telephone wires, vandalized train cars, and burnt down buildings. The police would fight back with just as much brutality. The women would be arrested and would go on hunger strikes while they were in jail. More than 1000 women, suffragettes as they were more commonly known, spent time in jail. (Bausum)

The youngest daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriot Stanton Blanch, was very familiar with the British suffrage movement. She had lived in Britain for around 20 years. When she moved back home to the United States she brought many ideas with her. She also brought encouragement. By this point in time, many more southern women were joining the movement as well, all basically wanting suffrage for only white women only. On the other hand, northern women basically wanted suffrage for all women because they wanted all the support they could have. However, if it would hurt their chances of reaching suffrage, they would completely downplay the idea of universal suffrage. Black suffragists worked along side white women when allowed to. Sometimes however, they overstepped their boundaries and insisted in working with the white women. In other areas, black women were organizing segregated clubs to gain support from other African Americans. (Bausum)

Harriot Blatch’s work helped end the U.S. doldrums. The state of Washington gave women the right to vote in 1910; which was the first state to do so in 14 years. In 1911 California did the same. By 1912 a total of 9 states allowed women suffrage including Kansas, Oregon, and Arizona. One year later Illinois lawmakers authorized women to vote in the presidential election. In this way women could influence 84 of the 483 members. (Bausum)

All of this brought on a new generation of suffragists, one women by the name of Alice Paul. Paul had been studying in Britain during the radical suffrage movement there. There she was put in prison seven different times. In jail she met a woman by the name of Lucy Burns. These two women became very close friends, and close suffragists. A year after they met Paul returned to the United States, Burns stayed and devoted herself to the movement there. However a few years passed and Burns returned to the United States in 1912, and the two women took up right where they left off. (Bausum)

The two women worked perfectly together very much like the team of Stanton and Anthony decades before. Both joined the NAWSA and were set to work. In the beginning of 1913 they were given the job of putting together the giant parade that was to take place a day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson. This day was chosen for one main reason, publicity. The women knew that many more people would be in town around the inauguration day than any other day of the year. They wanted a lot of people to see what they believed; the parade even followed the same route as the inaugural procession. Around 8’000 women participated in the parade and there were around 500’000 spectators. (Bausum 11-12 &28-29)

The banners read, “We demand an amendment to the Constitution of the United States enfranchising women.” African Americans were encouraged to walk in the parade as well; however they were placed in the back of the parade. There were exceptions though, like Ida B. Wells, who demanded to walk alongside her white suffrage friends. The women looked like something the people of Washington D.C. had never seen before. They were described to look like an army. However, the crowd grew to not like what they saw. Men were crowding the street, as to block the parade. This amazing parade soon turned into what looked like a riot. During all of the chaos the police stood by not doing a thing. Instead of lasting around the scheduled two hours, the parade lasted until nightfall. The suffragists looked at the disaster as a positive and just counted on it being more publicity for their movement. (Bausum 13-15)

The parade was only one of Paul and Burns’ accomplishments. They did much work for the suffragist movement. They put together groups of suffragists to go visit the president. They raised thousands of dollars for the suffragist cause; and even started a weekly newspaper called “The Suffragist”. After identifying the thousands of supporters throughout the country they separated them into state chapters, so there movement would have a solid team in each and every state. Their efforts were hard to miss, and the leaders of the NAWSA began to wonder what Paul and Burns would do next. History did repeat itself again and Paul and Burns broke away from the NAWSA and started there own more radical group known as the National Woman’s Party. (Bausum 32-33)

In 1914 U.S. Senators held their first vote for women suffrage in 27 years. However there the vote was no success. More than one third abstained from voting and out of the 64 votes needed they received 35. Ten months later the House of Representatives held its first ever vote on women suffrage. They were around 100 votes shy of gaining a victory; 174 were in favor and 204 were opposed. From 1914-1916 only two more states granted women suffrage, Montana and Nevada. (Bausum 33)

Why did the momentum slow so much yet again? By 1914 the Anti Women Suffrage group had grown tremendously. They organized the National Association Opposed to Women Suffrage. The group had over 200’000 members and state divisions in more than half of the U.S. Paul’s group would not give up so easy; however the members of NAWSA desired a new leader due to their many defeats. They turned to Carrie Chapman Catt, a former leader of their organization who had led them to multiple victories in the prior years. (Bausum)

In the autumn of 1916, Catt offered her Winning Plan to the NAWSA for gaining winning suffrage. Its first step was to divide the 48 states; all of 50 states did not exist yet, into four sections. She assigned each one with one task in what she said would be a “red hot, never ceasing campaign.” The four groups were divided as states with full suffrage, states with the hope of full suffrage, states with no suffrage, and southern states where even partial suffrage seamed unrealistic. The states with full suffrage were to really press for a federal amendment. The states with the soon hope of full suffrage were to proceed with those fights. The states with no suffrage were to fight for partial suffrage, and those in the South were to seek for at least the right to vote in presidential primaries. (Bausum 35)

Catt wanted the suffragists to make a lot of noise; to make their point well known. She wanted to raise at least one million dollars to fund this winning plan of hers. She raised most of it when she first unveiled her plan in a private NAWSA meeting. An extra 2 million was donated by a local newspaper publisher. Finally, the NAWSA had a well financed and organized plan in place. President Wilson was not as impressed. The women knew they had to make a different approach. Paul’s group decided to move locations and move their headquarters to nearby the White House. The NAWSA found themselves not far away due to another part of Catt’s winning plan. She established a 26 room mansion and called it Suffrage House, just six blocks from the White House. These two groups may have had different battle plans, but they shared the same goal. (Bausum 38)

Women were beginning to do something so unheard of. They began to picket the White House. At first President Wilson was patient with the women and even offered them coffee. Soon however his attitude changed. With the first World War occurring, the president had many things on his mind, like whether or not the U.S was to begin fighting in the war. When the U.S. did enter into the war, many women felt it was necessary to set aside their work toward suffrage. Alice Paul did not want to cease. Her National Woman’s Party took on the “votes for women first” policy. Paul decided to publish more and more banners, and less and less yelling. The banners became more and more embarrassing towards the president; but Alice Paul was not going to stop fighting.(Bausum)

Paul’s group was now picketing both the White House and the U.S. Capitol. However, now there was a shift in the way the picketers were being treated. The women were beginning to be arrested. More and more women were being attacked by mobs, and yet only the women were being arrested. The men in the mobs were not being punished for their actions at all. Eventually even Alice Paul found herself in jail for around 5 weeks. This imprisonment was the first the American women had seen. Due to the fact that women were not being physical or obstructing justice in any way they were technically not receiving their right to free speech. Now many were beginning to question Wilson’s actions. They wondered how the nation could claim to fight for democracy overseas when it could not even treat the people at home democratically. (Bausum 47)

Women in jail were being treated incredibly bad. They were kept in uncomfortable clothes and shoes that did not fit properly. There one blanket was washed one time a year. They did not have access to the bathroom nor were they allowed to speak at meal times, where they were being forced to eat food filled with worms and maggots. Alice Paul and another woman in jail both went on hunger strikes. They were the first women to do so in America at this point in time. The two women were put into the psychiatric ward in the hospital and were force fed. When the other women heard of this they all joined in. (Bausum)

Eventually the women all departed the prison. Some because their sentences were complete, others were bailed out by worried family members. Convinced that they had been placed in jail for no reason, the women sued the government for damages and demanded their records be cleared. They figured this because they had not broken any laws. After time the Appeals Court agreed and all their arrests and convictions were overturned. All of this was also all over newspapers and things of that such so the women were getting even more publicity about their cause and for that they were excited. They figured that although they had to endure what they did in jail, it would hopefully soon be well worth it. (Bausum)

On January 9th President Wilson gave the suffragists his support. What changed him mind, he stated, was the work women had done during World War One. This was really exciting for the suffragists because he had finally come to agree with them and they could finally see that voting for them could soon become a reality. The two different plans of Catt and Paul were coming together to be an ultimate success. The House of Representatives held another vote for a federal amendment for woman suffrage. This time it was a success; 274 voted for the movement and 136 were opposed. Next was the Senate. Congress was adjourned to meet 14 months later which gave both organizations time to celebrate and enjoy their short success. They were sure that with the support of the president that they would indeed get what they hope for easily, however they were wrong. (Bausum)

Both groups had much recruiting to do. They needed to be sure that their request would pass. Senate support did grow but by mid summer the results were showing that they were two votes short. Paul’s group resorted back to their old friends, the protest banners. They protested around Lafayette square. Some women were sent to jail again on the grounds of holding a meeting in public ground and climbing on a statue. This time their sentences were only a max of 2 weeks. The senators did agree to vote on the issue after all however the amendment was not passed due to the already predicted, two votes. (Bausum)

The two women, Paul and Catt, came together for the first time since Paul left the NAWSA. With election day only a couple weeks away they decided they were going to support pro suffrage candidates, and defeat those who were opposed. At the same time Paul and her followers picketed Capitol Hill for 6 weeks. All attempts failed however, and the women were in the same boat as when they began. (Bausum)

In November of 1918 World War One ended and by the end of the year women in 15 of the 48 states had full suffrage rights. In 6 other states women had some suffrage but not full suffrage. Paul’s group was not going to settle. They began a new form of protest; they lit a fire in front of the White House where everyone could see. She and many others were arrested for “building a bonfire on public grounds between sunrise and sun set. They were sent to jail. Virtually everyone went on hunger strikes while they were in jail. (Bausum)

Things were looking better though due to one of the two needed senators announcing to the world that he now supports women suffrage. The Senate voted again on February 10th and as expected it came up short by one man. Once again many women were arrested when the president was expected to come home at their protest. This sentencing to jail was the last of the women during the women’s suffrage movement. However, jail was not the worst part for many women; some lost their jobs or homes and others their family members or their husbands. (Bausum)

It was now March 3, 1919 and congress came into session again. They were not considering the women’s suffrage issue at this meeting. Also, the House’s support in 1918 was now void. Now the women were going to have to win both bodies of Congress before the amendment would be passed. Paul’s group decided to plan their last protest, and it was going to be a violent one. A huge riot broke out, some men even broke into the women’s suffrage headquarters, where they destroyed banners and broke windows. (Bausum)

While the President was in Europe two months later he was trying to swing the last needed vote for women suffrage. The vote was from Georgia. Then he called a meeting for Congress to go into special session. The house had a total of 42 extra yes votes, and the Senate even had two votes to spare. The “Anthony” amendment, named after Susan B. Anthony, had passed. It had taken from 1878 till 1919 for the Anthony amendment to be approved by congress. Now all the women had to do was to get states to ratify it. (Bausum)

Many knew that this was not going to be an easy task however. Three fourths of the states needed to ratify it for it to be passed as an amendment. So a total of 36 states were needed to ratify it. All the women were ready to fight. However so were the antis, there power was mostly in the southern states. The states where the vote could swing either way was Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Catt and Paul started their campaign by telegraphing state governors. In the fall there was a total of only 14 yes votes. By the end of 1919 there was now 22 states that ratified the amendment. In March of 1920 there was a total of 34 states that had ratified the amendment. (Bausum)

As the suffragists had known, gaining two more states was not going to be easy. However Washington state had been one of the two later that month. This was basically up to Tennessee. On August 9th, 1920 the Senate had approved of the amendment, the rest was up to the house. In the end Tennessee ended up being 49 in favor and 47 opposed. The Antis tried to overturn the vote but eventually the Tennessee governor signed the “certificate of ratification”, which proved the states vote. The certificate reached Washington D.C. and the secretary of state was wakened from his sleep as he had requested someone to do. Late in the night of August 26th 1920, he signed the papers for the completed ratification of the 19th Amendment. Woman suffrage was now promised to all. (Bausum)

In conclusion, we have discussed the Women’s suffrage movement. We have looked at important people and dates that helped us understand the very important issues of this movement. The main purpose of this essay was to look at what the Women’s Suffrage Movement was and how it lead to the 19th Amendment. The purpose of this essay has been achieved.

Bausum, Ann. With Courage and Cloth Winning the Fight for a Woman's Right to Vote. New York: National Geographic Children's, 2004. Print.


Mass, Wendy. Women's rights. San Diego, CA: Lucent, 1998. Print

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