*The following was written for a history class I am currently enrolled in*
What is Suffrage and why is it an important part of American history? When did the Suffrage movement begin? Who were the key players? Did the Suffragettes help blacks earn their freedom from slavery? Why did men in general fear the woman’s right to vote? When did the U.S. government finally ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution? Finally, what impact did the right to vote affect all women in the United States since 1920 to current day.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton stated “HE has compelled her to submit to law in the formation of which she had no voice.” (U.S. Department of State, 2014) This was the beginning of the battle cry for women in the United States starting in 1848. This quote comes from what is famously called “The Declaration of Sentiments,” drafted by Stanton in Seneca Falls, New York. This document was based on the Declaration of Independence. The document was a demand of equality not for men, but for women as well. This document not only requested that the U.S. government allow women to vote, but to change divorce laws, access to a quality education, fair employment and having equal rights if married as a man enjoyed for centuries. (U.S. Department of State, 2014) A little known fact is that prior to the United States becoming a full fledged nation in 1776, women were allowed to vote in the States. (National Women’s History Museum, 2014) Unfortunately, the State rewrote their constitutions after this date outlawing the ability for women to exercise their rights as citizens.
Who is Elizabeth Cady Stanton and how did she become a lightning rod to the Suffrage movement? Stanton was born in 1815 in New York. Her father was a lawyer and although her father was not “thrilled” with the prospect of having a girl, she proved that she had the drive to become an intellectual. She graduated from the Troy Female Seminary in 1832, and this is where her ambition to make the world a better place for women began. Consequently when she married her husband in 1840, she removed the word “obey” from her marriage vows. Stanton was an editor, writer, feminist, an activist, a wife and a mother. (Biography.com, 2014) She was an independent woman indeed.
Stanton became a formidable force, along with another Suffragette named Susan B. Anthony. Anthony was born in 1820 in Massachusetts. She was a teacher and an activist. Anthony never married as she devoted her life to better the lives of others. (Susan B. Anthony House, 2014) Anthony believed in the Temperance Movement, which believed that society’s ills were caused by the “drink,” i.e., alcohol consumption. (History, 2014) However, she was not allowed to participate in the rallies because she was a woman. It was at this point, that she joined the Suffrage movement with Stanton in 1852. (Susan B. Anthony House, 2014) Anthony was not only a Suffragette, but an educational reformer, abolitionist, labor activist and a woman’s rights campaigner. (Susan B. Anthony House, 2014)
Stanton and Anthony were a formidable force in the Suffrage movement. These two women formed the National Woman Suffrage Association with the primary goal to allow women to vote. This group along with the American Woman Suffrage Association merged in 1890 to form the official National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). (Imbornoni, 2014) These two women along with scores of other women dedicated to the cause, created rallies, wrote literature to educate American’s on the womens plight and worked tirely for woman’s rights overall. This was in the face of being belittled and persecuted by men or the law for their belief that woman should be treated equally in the eyes of the law.
Did the Sufferagettes help the cause of ending not only slavery in the United States, but to have blacks gain the right to vote? The answer is a resounding yes! It was during the 1830’s when woman started to become involved in the Abolition movement. These women wrote papers, circulated pamphlet and delivered petitions to Congress to put a stop to slavery. (National Women’s History Museum, 2014) Women faced intense scrutiny, harassment and threats of death for their participation in the movement. Men made an effigy of Susan B. Anthony as a threat to stop her participation in the movement. (Susan B. Anthony House, 2014) Finally, the United States Congress passed the Thirteen Amendment in December of 1865 to abolish slavery. However there was more work to be done as another Amendment was to be passed in June of 1866 which could have put the Suffrage movement into the grave. (Henretta, 2012)
June 1866 was a significant year for black men in the United States. This was the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. The Amendment allowed all men to vote regardless of race and color. However, there was a poll tax (to pay for voting) and literacy requirements attached to the law. (Henretta, 2012) Women such as Stanton, argued with Frederick Douglass (black abolitionist) that the word “sex” should be included in the Fifteenth Amendment so that all peoples would have the ability to vote and have equal rights. Douglass was afraid that the Suffrage movement could give legislators due cause to pass on the Amendment althougher. In the end, the Fifteen Amendment did pass to the dismay of women such as Stanton and Anthony. (Henretta, 2012)
Why were men fearful of a woman’s right to vote? A large proportionate number of men during the late 1800’s and at the turn of the century did not believe that women would not “understand” the issues that women would be voting for. Men believed that women were still ignorant, or without the proper education to make such choices that would affect men as well. Men believed that a woman voting with lose her feminitity. Also, men believed that women would challenge men in the work force and that the family roles and morality would “disappear.” (History W. i., 1996-2013) Looking forward to 2014, this has not been the case at all.
How and when did women finally get the opportunity to vote? As unfortunate as history dictated, it was the United States participation in World War I that gave the Suffrage movement steam. During this time period, the NAWSA supported President Wilson in his decision to go to war. Suffragettes across the nation participated in war efforts whether it was food preservation, participating in the Red Cross or aided war workers. (Henretta, 2012) Women began to work in factories as men were drafted into the armed forces to fight across the Atlantic. This gave women a new sense of freedom and pride. During this time, Alice Paul (Quaker) and a devoted Suffragette began with others at the NAWSA to begin a protest at the White House. Paul was arrested and was sent to jail for seven months. Now in jail, Paul began a hunger strike which began force feedings. Once the public heard of such brutality, it became loud and clear that women could no longer be ignored. (Alice Paul Institute, 2014) President Wilson was impressed with women’s dedication not only to the Suffrage movement, but to the war effort. In 1918, the Amendment passed the House . The Amendment took eighteen months to wind through the Senate and to win ratifications by all states. Finally on August 26, 2010 the Nineteenth Amendment became a law, garnering the womens right to vote. (Henretta, 2012)
The impact of a womens right to vote has been important in American history. Women became more active in politics, becoming Senators, Congresswomen, State Department Heads, Ambassadors and justices of the Supreme Court. Women’s votes are now relished by politicians seeking re-election into their respective seats. Women have garnered the respect of men and hold power positions within the United States. Without the right to vote, none of the mentioned would be possible. Finally, women who become apathetic to voting because maybe the political choices seem “slim” should always remember the sacrifices that women such as Stanton, Anthony and Paul gave in order for all women in the United States to voice their opinion and voting power. Without Stanton, Anthony and Paul, women could possibly still have no “voice” today. The Nineteenth Amendment is ninety-three years and counting.
Alice Paul Institute. (2014, January 25). Alice Paul Institute . Retrieved from http://www.alicepaul.org/alicep3.htm
Biography.com. (2014, January 25). Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Retrieved from Biography.com: http://www.biography.com/people/elizabeth-cady-stanton-9492182
Henretta, J. A. (2012). America: A Concise History, Volume Two: Since 1865. Boston: St.Martin’s.
History, T. (2014, January 25). The Temperance Movement. Retrieved from Temperance Tantrum : http://www.temperancetantrum.com/Temperance%20history.htm
History, W. i. (1996-2013). Women’s Suffrage, Obstacles to Overcome. Retrieved from Women in World History: http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/essay-06-04.html
Imbornoni, A.-M. (2014, January 25). Timeline of Key Events in the American’s Women’s Rights Movement 1848-1920. Retrieved from Infoplease: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/womenstimeline1.html
National Women’s History Museum. (2014, January 25). The Abolition Movement and Women Suffrage. Retrieved from National Women’s History Museum (NWHM): http://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/rightsforwomen/abolitionandsuffrage.html
Susan B. Anthony House. (2014, January 25). Biography of Susan B. Anthony. Retrieved from Susan B. Anthony House: http://susanbanthonyhouse.org/her-story/biography.php
U.S. Department of State. (2014, January 25). The Declaration of Sentiments. Retrieved from Infoplease: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0875901.html