On Election Day in 1920, millions of American women exercised their right to vote for the first time. It took activists and reformers nearly 100 years to win that right, and the campaign was not easy: Disagreements over strategy threatened to cripple the movement more than once. But on August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified, enfranchising all American women and declaring for the first time that they, like men, deserve all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
Women, let’s not forget the hard-won battle for the right to vote. Here is a synopsis of what it took to get this right for women:
The campaign for women’s suffrage began in earnest in the decades before the Civil War. During the 1820s and 30s, most states had extended the franchise to all white men, regardless of how much money or property they had. At the same time, all sorts of reform groups were proliferating across the United States–temperance clubs, religious movements and moral-reform societies, anti-slavery organizations–and in many of these, women played a prominent role. Meanwhile, many American women were beginning to chafe against what historians have called the “Cult of True Womanhood”; that is, the idea that the only “true” woman was a pious, submissive wife and mother concerned exclusively with home and family. Put together, all of these contributed to a new way of thinking about what it meant to be a woman and a citizen in the United States.
In 1848, a group of abolitionist activists–mostly women, but some men–gathered in Seneca Falls, New York to discuss the problem of women’s rights. Most of the delegates agreed: American women were autonomous individuals who deserved their own political identities.
Years later, some woman-suffrage advocates, among them Susan B. Anthony, refused to support the 15th Amendment (later ratified in 1870, guarantees black men the right to vote) and even allied with racist Southerners who argued that white women’s votes could be used to neutralize those cast by African-Americans. This faction formed a group called the National Woman Suffrage Association and began to fight for a universal-suffrage amendment to the federal Constitution.
In 1890, instead of arguing that women deserved the same rights and responsibilities as men because women and men were “created equal,” the new generation of activists argued that women deserved the vote because they were different from men; making their domesticity into a political virtue, and using the franchise to create a purer, more moral “maternal commonwealth.”
Starting in 1910, some states in the West began to extend the vote to women for the first time in almost 20 years. The more established Southern and Eastern states resisted.
World War I slowed the suffragists’ campaign but helped them advance their argument nonetheless: Women’s work on behalf of the war effort, activists pointed out, proved that they were just as patriotic and deserving of citizenship as men. On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified.
When election days come around, primary, midterm or presidential, please vote – absentee ballot or going to the polls – please vote.
[images 1 and 2 from historydotcom]
[images 3 and 4 from bingdotcom]
[paraphrasing of content from historydotcom]