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Civil Rights

Women's Suffrage

Women standing with suffrage sign
National Women's Suffrage Association
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What is women's suffrage?

Women's suffrage is the right of women to vote and to hold an elected office.

When did women get the right to vote?

You may think that women have always had the right to vote, but this is far from the truth. Up until the 1900s, most democracies throughout history only allowed men to vote. This includes the democracies of Ancient Greece, the Roman Republic, and early democracies in Britain and the United States.

In the United States women were not allowed to vote until the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920. In some countries the date was much later, such as in Kuwait where women weren't given the right to vote until 2005. In other countries the date was earlier, as in New Zealand which pioneered women's suffrage in 1893.

History of Women's Suffrage in the United States

Gaining equal rights for women including the right to vote in the United States was a long and slow process. The first real fight for women's suffrage came out of the antislavery movement by the abolitionists in 1840s and 50s. These people felt that not only should slavery come to an end, but that all people should be treated equal regardless of race or gender.

Seneca Falls Convention

The first women's rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. Around 300 people attended the meeting which was led by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The main outcome of the meeting was the "Declaration of Sentiments", a document similar to the Declaration of Independence. It stated that women should have equal rights to men including the right to vote.

National Women's Suffrage Association

In 1869, women leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Women's Suffrage Association. The main goal of this group was to get an amendment passed that would allow women to vote. They wanted the 15th amendment to include the right for women to vote as well as people of any race. However, the 15th amendment passed in 1870 allowing all men regardless of race to vote, but not women.

Another women's suffrage group was formed in 1869 called the American Woman Suffrage Association. The leaders of this group included Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Henry Blackwell. The two groups disagreed on whether to support the 15th amendment without the right for women to vote.

In 1894, the two groups merged under the leadership of Susan B. Anthony and became the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Their main goal was to get the 19th amendment passed.

Women's Suffrage Wagon from the Smithsonian
Women's Suffrage Wagon
This wagon was used by Lucy Stone at speaking engagements and rallies.
From the Smithsonian. Photo by Ducksters.

Gaining the Right to Vote in States

Although women did not have the right to vote from the federal government, they began to make progress in certain states and territories. In 1869, the Wyoming Territory granted the right to vote to women. Later, in 1890, Wyoming only agreed to join the Union as a state if women would be allowed to vote.

In 1893, Colorado became the first state to adopt an amendment that granted women voting rights. Soon other western states followed including Utah and Idaho in 1896 and Washington State in 1910. More and more states began to make amendments to their constitution and the momentum for the passage of the 19th amendment grew in the early 1900s.

The 19th Amendment

In 1917, the National Women's Party was formed to help fight for women's rights. Leaders such as Alice Paul and Lucy Burns organized protests in Washington. At the time, President Woodrow Wilson was against the 19th amendment. Alice Paul was arrested and sent to jail where she held a hunger strike. In 1918, President Wilson changed his mind and decided to support the amendment and on August 26, 1920 the 19th Amendment was signed into law.

The Text of the 19th Amendment

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

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