Suffrage of Women in America


Key Lecture Points

  • Nearly 100 years ago, American women gained the right to vote. Today, women are rising to prominence in the American political spotlight, a long journey from the 1920 Passage of the 19th Amendment. Prominent women politicians include former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and 2008 Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In addition, politicians are beginning to re-introduce the Equal Rights Amendment at the state and federal level.
  • While discontent about the lack of rights conferred on American women began as early as the Revolution, the women’s movement began to gain force in the middle of the 19th century. Trying to overturn the “Cult of Domesticity” that governed social and political thinking about American women in the 19th century, many suffragettes got started organizing and lobbying for political rights by participating in the abolitionist movement. Famous suffragettes, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, were allies of famed abolitionists Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison.
  • In 1848 the Seneca Falls Convention convened in upstate New York, issuing the first pubic call for women’s suffrage, the Declaration of Sentiments. Over the second part of the 19th century calls for suffrage would become more frequent, with suffragettes turning from conventions to picketing, demonstrations and rallies. Their efforts were met with hostility, with Congress defeating a women’s suffrage amendment in 1886.
  • As the federal effort to address women’s suffrage met resistance, many western states were starting to expand suffrage to include women. In 1869, the Wyoming territory was the first to grant women to vote, based largely upon the significant contributions which women made to frontier societies. State by state, the west began to put more pressure upon the federal government to address the rights of women. As the 20th century opened, prominent political figures like Teddy Roosevelt and later Woodrow Wilson came to endorse suffrage.
  • Today, women in the five following countries are either limited in their ability to vote or cannot vote at all: Bhutan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Vatican City. At a time when women around the world still struggle to obtain political rights a look at America’s struggle with women’s suffrage takes on renewed significance.

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Ruth, Janice E. Women of the Suffrage Movement (Women Who Dare). Pomegranate Books, 2006. 64 Pages. Examines the longest reform movement in American history and the fortitude and commitment of the several generations of women who persevered.
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  • Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences, 1815-1897. Humanity Books, 2002. 475 pages. This autobiography/memoir of one of the central figures of the US women’s movement is considered to be a classic of 19th century history and of women’s studies more generally.
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  • Dubois, Ellen Carol. Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America, 1848-1869 (2nd Edition). Cornell University Press, 1999. 220 pages. This historical study of the 19th century women’s movement has been updated in the new edition, now accounting for the changing historical context of women’s struggles.
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