Womens Sufferage Essay, Research Paper
Are women really inferior to men? Of course not, but this is the mindset that has been a part of the world since the beginning. For a long time, even women did not believe that they measured up to men. In her book Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen wrote, “A women, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can (Gurko 1974, 5).” Beginning in the early 1900’s, though, women began to want changes in society. They wanted to have a say in the decisions that were made, especially in the area of politics. They did not believe that men should be the only people allowed to vote, when they, too, were active members of society. Women’s suffrage changed the face of the earth in many ways. It was the most important movement in showing the equality of men and women, and while to this day, there still may be some people that believe that women are inferior to men, the majority of people see that women are truly capable of doing anything that men can do.
Women had wanted their political freedom for a while, but they did not feel as if they were a strong enough force to overcome the negative opposition from men and even other women. The idea of women’s suffrage was first introduced at the Seneca Falls Convention on July 19, 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott headed it. It was the first organized women’s rights convention. They met in a Wesleyan church chapel. There were between one hundred and three hundred people that attended, including quite a few men that were sympathetic to the plight of the women (Millstein 1977, 98). At the convention, they created a Declaration of Sentiments, in which they included all of their feelings and their planned approaches for gaining the right to vote. There were many points that were included in the declaration, but for the most part it stated that, “All laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority (Gurko 1974, 310).” After this conference, Stanton and Mott, as well as the other people that had attended received an immeasurable amount of criticism regarding their plans, and the press got particularly involved, using very harsh words to describe the women. It was reported that they were called “the shrieking sisterhood,” “unfeminine,” and “immoral drunks.” Even with all of this opposition, the women continued to hold meetings, and went on speaking tours to inform the public about their vision for the future. These women were not treated well at all. They were criticized, but as well as verbal abuse, they were also often the victims of physical violence. Their meetings were very often interrupted and disbanded by gangs (Microsoft 2000). Through all of this, the women remained true to their cause, and although it was not said, their determination and devotion, accompanied by their willingness to put up with any form of hatred that they were subjected to, helped their cause tremendously by showing people, particularly other women, how truly strong the members of the female gender could be.
For a long time, even though the goal of the women was to achieve suffrage, they had to concentrate on other issues such as the abolitionist and temperance movements that were occurring at the same time (Millstein 1977, 96). The women were also prejudiced against in these areas, as the roles that they were permitted to play in the movements were very limited. One incident that both helped and hurt the plight of the women was the London Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. There was a very big debate over whether eight American women would be permitted to participate in the conference. Many of the men who were at the conference debated that “the equal status for women was contrary to the will of God.” Eventually, two of the women, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were allowed to sit behind a curtain and listen to what was going on, even though they were not permitted to contribute (Microsoft 2000). While this was somewhat embarrassing to the women, it also angered them, and they decided to work even harder to reach their goal.
One of the biggest motivators for the movement, and the event that most angered the suffragists was the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. This gave the recently emancipated African-American men the right to vote, but it did not even mention the women that had helped them. Plus, the white women in the United States could not understand why these people, who had also been and still were regarded as inferior, now were able to do something that they could not do (Millstein 1977, 175). Even though the reasons behind this argument were racist, the women did have a point in that the government gave the right to vote to people that had not even been free for very long, while it still held this right from women, many who held prominent positions in society.
Lucy Stone founded the American Women Suffrage Association in November of 1869 along with her husband, Henry Blackwell. Instead of working on the passage of a federal law, they tried to convince individual states to adopt suffrage. That same year, they succeeded in convincing the State of Wyoming to give women the right to vote, and as a result, it came to be known as the “Equality State (Millstein 1977, 65).” The main reason that that Wyoming decided to let women vote was that Wyoming was a state just stating out and didn’t have very many women inhabiting the state. Wyoming thought that if they would allow women to be active in the voting process that more women would want to move here and establish homesteads. Women were given many rights in Wyoming first. These rights included the right to hold political office. Due to this right Wyoming had the first justice of the peace in Esther Hobart Morris. Then after that precedent was set Nelie Tayloe Ross became the first woman Governor of Wyoming. Another group that was formed in 1869 was called the National Women Suffrage Association. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton led it. They concentrated on getting an amendment to the Constitution passed that would make it mandatory that women be allowed to vote. Unfortunately, neither of these groups was very successful on their own. It was not until they united in 1890 and formed the National American Women Suffrage Association that they began to persuade people (Columbia 2000).
Although the Fifteenth Amendment did not mention women’s suffrage at all, Susan B. Anthony interpreted this law to mean that along with the ex-slaves, women, too, were allowed to vote. On Election Day, she and twelve other women went to the polls in Rochester, New York, and convinced the people that were working to allow them to register to vote. Two weeks later, all of the women, as well as the three people that had been working at the polls when the incident happened, were arrested. Anthony did not receive a fair trial, but halfway through the trial, the judge was afraid that the jury was going to vote in her favor, so he dismissed the jury and let Anthony off with a fine of $100. She would not pay this, but she was not punished for her refusal, because the judge was scared that she would take the case to a higher court. None of the other women were brought to trial for the incident, and neither were the men that let the ladies into the polls although they did receive fines (Microsoft 2000).
Slowly, the women began to make progress. Colorado granted suffrage in 1893, and Utah and Idaho followed in 1896. By, 1918, the states of Washington, California, Kansas, Oregon, Arizona, Michigan, Oklahoma, and South Dakota had all granted voting rights to their female citizens (Microsoft 2000). The suffragists still did not consider this a full victory. They began to put the pressure on the federal government to create a national law that would make it a requirement for all women, regardless of color, to have the right to vote.
In 1919, the women suffragists achieved the results they had wanted. The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920. It held that, “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 (Gurko 1974, 303).” Congress would also have the power to enforce this article by the appropriate legislation.
Women’s suffrage was and is a much larger subject than most people realize. The fact that women would actually stand up for what they believed until they received what they wanted, was unbelievable to many, but it was also very inspiring. These women suffragists were the beginning of the entire women’s rights movement, which is still going on in some aspects, to this day. While many men still hold that women are inferior to men, women can be comfortable in the fact that there are others, like Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony, that will stand up for the rights of all women, and will continue to do so until full equality of the sexes is achieved.
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