Womens Rights Essay Research Paper The Women

Womens Rights Essay, Research Paper

The Women’s suffrage movement in the

United States

The suffragist movement in the United States was an outgrowth of the

general women’s rights movement that officially began with the Seneca

Falls Convention of 1848. Several leading figures in the antislavery

movement had also begun to question the political and economic

subjugation of women in a society that claimed to be a democracy.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Martha C, Wright, and Mary Ann

McClintock issued a call for a convention concerning the rights of

women. That convention met in Seneca Falls, New York on 19-20 July


The convention adopted a “Declaration of Principles,” deliberately

modeled on the Declaration of Independence, which stated, “We hold

these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created

equal. . . .” In addition to the Declaration of Principles, the Seneca

Convention also asserted that women should have the right to preach,

to be educated, to teach, and to earn a living. The delegates passed a

resolution stating that “it is the sacred duty of the women of this

country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective

franchise.” With these words the struggle began in earnest to win full

voting rights for women in the United States.

The most influential leaders of the women’s rights movement in the

second half of the nineteenth century were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and

Susan B. Anthony. But the united struggle for women’s voting rights

broke into two factions following the Civil War. Led by Anthony and

Stanton, those who believed that they should seek an amendment to

the U.S. Constitution formed the National Woman Suffrage Association in

May of 1869. Later that same year, the American Woman Suffrage

Association was formed by those who believed the most effective

strategy would be to pressure state legislatures to amend state

constitutions. The leaders of this group were Lucy Stone and Julia Ward


The two organizations merged in 1890, as the National American Woman

Suffrage Association (NAWSA), with the intention of simultaneously

pursuing both strategies. Elizabeth Cady Stanton became the first

president of the new organization (1890-1892), followed by Susan B.

Anthony (1892-1900), Carrie Chapman Catt (1900-1904), Anna Howard

Shaw (1904-1915), and then Catt again (1915-1920). In 1920, when

NAWSA was dissolved after achieving its goal of women’s suffrage, it

was replaced by the National league of Women Voters-established in

Chicago in 1920 to educate women about how to use the newly won

vote. In time the National League of Women Voters became the League

of Women Voters, which currently operates under that same name.

When the National League of Women Voters was first established, Carrie

Chapman Catt was elected as its honorary president.

The efforts of the women’s suffrage organizations met with determined

resistance. By seeking a voice in politics, women were challenging the

conventional belief that women’s proper sphere of influence was

domestic, while men properly dominated the public sphere, including the

political process. Even many women deplored the effort to extend the

vote to women. In 1911, Josephine Dodge, the wife of a leading New

York capitalist, formed the National Association Opposed to Woman

Suffrage. Like many other anti-suffragists, Dodge advised women to

influence policy from behind the scenes, through their influence on men.

By involving themselves in politics, she insisted, women would undermine

their moral and spiritual role, as well as create chaos by meddling in

matters that were beyond their understanding.

The first partial suffrage was achieved when some states allowed

widows to vote in school board elections, which many people considered

to be a reasonable extension of a woman’s concern for issues having to

do with home and family.

The first extension of full voting rights to women came in 1869, in the

Wyoming Territory. When Wyoming entered the Union as a state in

1890, it was also the first state to provide for women’s suffrage in its

constitution. In 1893, Colorado extended the franchise to women,

followed by Utah and Idaho in 1896. Fourteen years later, in 1910, the

state of Washington also enfranchised women. One by one over the

next eight years, states began to grant voting rights to women:

California (1911); Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon (1912); the Alaska

Territory (1913); Montana and Nevada (1914); New York (1917);

Michigan, Oklahoma, and South Dakota (1918).

In Illinois women won the right to participate at the federal level by

voting in presidential elections (1913). Nebraska, North Dakota, and

Rhode Island followed (1917), then Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota,

Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin (1919).

This piecemeal pattern of suffrage achieved to varying degrees, state

by state, was a slow and uncertain process. The leaders of the

suffragist movement understood that even as they pursued such

state-by-state tactics, they must also push for full suffrage at the

national level, which could only be achieved through an amendment to

the U.S. Constitution. Just such an amendment, called the “Anthony

Amendment,” was introduced in the Senate in 1878, but was defeated

by a vote of 34 to 16. The Amendment read, “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.” The same amendment was

reintroduced in each succeeding Congress, but made no progress until

1914, when NAWSA presented Congress with a petition signed by more

than half a million people. The amendment was defeated in the Senate

by a close vote of 35 to 34 in 1914, and in the House the next year by a

vote of 204 to 174. Though both votes fell short of the necessary

two-thirds majority, they were much closer than past votes had been.

In an attempt to rally national support for the Anthony Amendment,

Alice Paul organized a huge parade down Pennsylvania Avenue on the

day before President Woodrow Wilson’s first inauguration. But the

peaceful parade degenerated into a riot when thousands of hostile male

spectators broke into the ranks of the marchers and tried to block their

passage. Essentially, the women had to fight their way down

Pennsylvania Avenue, with the help of men who supported the women’s

suffrage movement. Troops had to be called in to restore order, and

hundreds of people were hospitalized.

Later in 1913 Alice Paul organized the Congressional Union, later called

the Woman’s Party, to lobby Congress on behalf of a constitutional

amendment granting the vote to women. Paul modeled her organization

after the more militant suffragists in Great Britain. The Woman’s Party

directly confronted those in power with the discrepancy between

America’s supposed ideals and the reality that more than half of its adult

citizens were not enfranchised. In 1917 the Woman’s Party embarrassed

President Wilson by picketing the White House around the clock. When

many of the demonstrators were arrested and jailed, they went on a

hunger strike and were force-fed.

In both cases-the 1913 parade and the brutal force-feeding of jailed

women in 1917-the abuse suffered by respectable middle-class women

outraged public sympathy and elicited sympathy for the suffragist

cause. Such sympathy was reinforced by a shift in the tactics used by

some of the movement’s leaders. They began to argue for women’s

suffrage within the framework of traditional views about women’s proper

role in society. Rather than focusing on issues of justice or equal rights,

they argued instead that women would bring their moral superiority and

maternal instincts into the often brutal arena of politics. Thus the image

of the suffrage movement began to be softened for public consumption.

Suffragists were no longer seen merely as radicals who wished to disrupt

the natural social order, but rather as agents for extending female

benevolence outward from the family to society as a whole.

This image was also helped by the fact that in the 1890s the suffragists

had allied with the Women’s Christian Union (WCTU). Although the

WCTU’s main objective was to enact restrictive liquor laws, the group

also agitated for social reform on many other fronts. The WCTU came to

support the cause of women’s suffrage on the grounds that without the

vote women lacked the power to protect home and family and to defend


The active participation of women in the nation’s war effort from 1917

to 1918 also helped to win support for a constitutional amendment

enfranchising women. By a vote of 274 to 136 the amendment was

passed by the House on 10 January 1918. On 4 June 1918, it was

passed in the Senate by a vote of 66 to 30. On 18 August 1920

Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the amendment, and

it officially became part of the U.S. Constitution on 26 August 1920, as

the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Although women had finally won full voting rights, they did not really

begin to have access to most political offices until well into the 19702,

and even today, at the start of a new millennium, women are found in

political office at a rate far lower than one would expect from a group

that represents one-half of the nation’s population. Furthermore,

women’s access to the highest and most powerful political offices is still

severely limited, both by prejudice and by the shortage of female

office-holders at all levels, for it is from the ranks of such lower-level

office-holders that the candidates for the highest offices are recruited.

While many other nations have accepted the leadership of women, the

United States is still unlikely to accept the idea of a woman as

president-at least for now.


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