How Suffragists Pioneered Aggressive New Tactics to Push for the Vote

How Suffragists Pioneered Aggressive New Tactics to Push for the Vote

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Sometimes, being polite just doesn’t work. As the 20th century dawned, American activists for women's suffrage were coming to the conclusion that decades of quiet appeals to reason and logic had failed to move the needle for their cause.

Fresh strategies were required. A new generation of determined women nationwide stood eager to adopt the dramatic, even confrontational tactics that men employed in their own battles for power and influence. Abandoning demure and dignified lobbying, these new suffragists embraced controversy and courted publicity to appeal directly to the public. No tactic was off-limits: parades and pageants, suffrage "hikes" (from New York to Washington), “suffrage trains” and even a “suffrage barge” on the Mississippi. Women threw bottles containing suffrage messages into the sea and threw Votes for Women leaflets out of biplanes. They undertook hunger strikes in jail, then publicized what it felt like to be forcibly fed. Their renewed campaign would pull no punches, either in ambition or creativity.

Washington’s First Planned Protest March

When Woodrow Wilson arrived in Washington, D.C. the day before his inauguration as the country’s 20th president on March 3 1913, the platform at Union Station was eerily empty. The crowds, it turned out, had already flocked to Pennsylvania Avenue to watch something truly revolutionary: a massive parade for women’s suffrage, the capital’s first-ever organized political protest march. New York campaigner Inez Milholland, riding astride her gray horse with long hair rippling down her back, led as many as 10,000 women in front of an estimated crowd of half a million. Trumpets stationed at each intersection marked their approach; speakers along the way relayed the events to those in the back of the crowd who couldn’t see for themselves.

Organized by 28-year-old Alice Paul—who had learned the art of propaganda from British suffragettes—the parade was designed to show that women could be intelligent and well-informed and vote, without losing their grace and femininity. Hecklers in the crowd appeared to outnumber supporters, however, and only volunteers holding back the crowd stopped suffrage opponents from physically attacking the women as they marched.

READ MORE: This Huge Women's March Drowned Out a Presidential Inauguration in 1913

Transcending Color Barriers

When southern women objected to Black women’s participation in mainstream events like the 1913 march, organizers acquiesced. But some women of color ignored those restrictions. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the crusading anti-lynching journalist who’d co-founded the Alpha Suffrage Club in Chicago that year, fully intended to march with the Illinois delegation at the giant Washington event until organizers told her (and other Black women) to march at the back of the parade as a racially segregated unit. “Either I go with you or not at all,” Wells-Barnett declared. Nowhere to be seen at the start of the parade, she effectively crashed the event midstream, noted a Chicago Tribune reporter on the scene: “Suddenly from the crowd on the sidewalk Mrs. Barnett walked calmly out to the delegation and assumed her place” among the all-white Illinois delegates.

Black and brown suffrage activists weren’t just fighting for the vote; they were also battling for civil rights and an end to racial violence and injustice—and they often did so by consolidating their messaging. Suffragists of color may have brandished purple banners (one of the hues closely associated with the women’s suffrage cause), but blazoned on many of them was the distinctive motto adopted by the National Association of Colored Women: “Lifting as We Climb.”

READ MORE: 5 Black Suffragists Who Fought for the 19th Amendment—and Much More

Aerial ‘Bombings’

Women who weren’t able to vote could still take to the air—literally—to demand the franchise. In summer of 1912, Indianapolis activists chartered a hot air balloon from which suffrage buttons were dropped to onlookers below. In May 1913, “General” Rosalie Jones, a veteran campaigner, hopped into the passenger seat of a biplane, tied down her skirts with blue string, and took off. By the time she arrived at a Staten Island air carnival 15 minutes later to give a speech, she had scattered hundreds of yellow pro-suffrage pamphlets to assembled crowds. In 1916, Lucy Burns left the “Suffrage Special” train tour in Seattle to board a hydroplane and bombard the city with leaflets promoting that year’s scheduled National Women’s Party Convention in Chicago.

Campaigners planned a similar leaflet attack on President Wilson’s yacht later that year while he attended a ceremony at the Statue of Liberty. Leda Richberg-Hornsby, the first woman graduate of the Wright Brothers’ flying school, took the rudder (wearing pants, not skirts) and together with Ida Blair, took off with suffrage pamphlets. Unfortunately, high winds caused the “Suff Bird Women” to crash-land in Staten Island. (Both survived with only bruises.)

READ MORE: 7 Things You Might Not Know About Women's Suffrage

The Suffrage Bell

Some smaller-scale campaigns, while less dramatic, packed a powerful punch. In 1915, Philadelphia suffragist Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger commissioned a bronze replica of the Liberty Bell. The Justice Bell (a.k.a. the Suffrage Bell) didn’t replicate the original’s distinctive crack, but it did have its clapper immobilized to render the bell soundless—symbolic of America’s voiceless women.

Volunteers drove the Justice Bell, installed in the back of a pickup truck, on a 5,000-mile campaign odyssey through each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Along the way, suffragists used it as a prop when urging voters to approve a state referendum granting women the vote. (The referendum failed.) When Congress ratified the 19th amendment in 1920, the Suffrage Bell’s clapper finally was unchained and it rang out in celebration, sounding once for each U.S. state.

READ MORE: Why the 19th Amendment Did Not Guarantee All Women the Right to Vote

Fashion & Art

In 1913, the women who marched in Washington had all donned pure white dresses to display the purity of their goal, as well as the fact that they remained feminine. In addition, wearing the color yellow (especially accented by blue or purple) indicated suffragist sympathies.

For decades, suffrage opponents had expressed their ridicule in political cartoons. By the 1910s, artists turned the tables and replaced mocking stereotypes of hysterical females with images of frivolous or selfish and smug anti-suffragists. Works by artists like Nina Allender showed women in control of their own lives—savvy and still elegant, but willing to fight for their rights. A 1916 cartoon in The Crisis, the magazine published by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, showed a Black woman preparing to defend her fellow Black Americans of both genders against segregation while brandishing a bat representing the U.S. Constitution.

READ MORE: How Early Suffragists Left Black Women Out of Their Fight

Silver Screen Suffragism

Women also turned to the newfangled motion picture industry to help make their case. Ruth Medill McCormick, daughter of a U.S. senator and wife of the Chicago Tribune’s publisher, financed and helped produce a dramatic film to illustrate the woes of women denied basic rights—including the vote. Such a film, she and her collaborators hoped, would be to women’s suffrage what the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin had been to abolition, motivating moviegoers to take up a cause.

Your Girl and Mine debuted in late 1914. After its protagonist Rosalind marries for love, she discovers that her new husband is a brutal drunk and wastrel. Denied a divorce by state laws, Rosalind flees with her children, but it’s only because she seeks refuge in a state that grants women the right to vote that she’s acquitted of the crime of abducting them. Her husband gets his just desserts (murdered by a woman he is beating), and Rosalind happily remarries a pro-suffrage politician. The movie did sway some viewers, with one reviewer concluding that “if women are capable of earning their living, they are capable of having the ballot.”

READ MORE: The Night of Terror: When Suffragists Were Imprisoned and Tortured

Fiery Messages

WATCH: The 19th Amendment

Pro-suffrage protests grew in number, intensity and creativity in the decade leading up to the passage of the 19th amendment. In 1918, when the Senate failed to ratify the first national suffrage bill, a group of protesters dubbed the “Silent Sentinels” donned black mourning armbands. In Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square that December, suffragists commemorated the Boston Tea Party by burning any books, speeches or papers written by President Wilson in which he used the words “freedom” or “democracy.” The protesters welcomed in the New Year by lighting the first “Watchfire of Freedom” in a Grecian urn just outside the White House, kindled using wood from a tree on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall. When counter-protesters tried to extinguish the blaze, other women rushed to relight the fire and guard it. Eventually, the women added an effigy of the president they called “Kaiser Wilson” to the fire.

READ MORE: 19th Amendment: A Timeline of the Fight for All Women's Right to Vote

WATCH: Fight the Power: The Movements that Changed America, premieres Saturday, June 19 at 8/7c on The HISTORY® Channel.

Women's Suffrage: Methods of Protest

The Pennsylvania branches of The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and The National Woman’s Party (NWP) employed a variety of tactics to advocate for their cause. Holding meetings, distributing literature, and writing newspaper and magazine articles were the primary activities of the Pennsylvania branch of NAWSA. It affirmed in 1913 that the organization would pursue “educational methods in keeping with the dignity of the movement and the character of the women engaged in it.” To encourage men in Pennsylvania to support the 1915 referendum, NAWSA members traveled to every county in the state with the “Justice Bell,” a replica of the Liberty Bell.

When NWP founder Alice Paul came to Philadelphia in 1913, she conducted controversial “open air meetings” in places such as City Hall plaza and a busy intersection in the neighborhood of Kensington. Once attention turned to the White House and the Congress, Pennsylvania women participated in NWP’s increasingly aggressive strategies. In 1916, NWP organized the Silent Sentinels, the first group to ever picket in front of the White House. Later, the Sentiels participated in the “Watchfire” protests during which Woodrow Wilson’s speeches were burned and his body was hanged in effigy. They hoped to pressure Wilson to follow through on promises to promote a suffrage bill in Congress and to point out the hypocrisy of engaging in a war “for democracy” abroad while women in the United States were denied the franchise. Numerous participants in these demonstrations were arrested, charged with “obstructing traffic,” and imprisoned at Occoquan Workhouse. Many prisoners, including Dora Lewis, reported being beaten, verbally harassed, and compelled to endure an airless, rat-infested facility. Alice Paul, who was kept in solitary confinement, launched a hunger strike to protest the deplorable conditions. Paul was force-fed by prison authorities and transferred to a psychiatric ward. In spite of the arrests, protests continued for 18 months. Publicity about the arrests and subsequent abuse in jail engendered outrage and led to increased support for the cause. All charges against the women were eventually dropped.

Wilton Historical Society

Between 1890 and 1910, women in Connecticut won the right to vote for school officials and on library issues. They began serving in select state and local offices, as school trustees, public librarians, police matrons, notaries public, and assistant town clerks. But, like most American women, they still could not vote in the vast majority of local or state elections, or in presidential elections.

To keep the movement going, suffragists in the early 1900s adopted radical new tactics. Marching for the vote and other “unladylike” methods were brought to the United States by Alice Paul, among others, who learned from British suffragists. Paul introduced these new tactics at the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913 in Washington, D.C. The parade featured suffragist and lawyer Inez Milholland on a white horse, followed by over 8,000 participants, 24 floats, and 9 bands. The marchers faced opposition, jeering, and physical assault from largely male crowds that had gathered for Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration, and received little help from a complicit police force. Nevertheless the march made national headlines and inspired women across the country.

The first suffrage parade in Connecticut was in Hartford on May 2, 1914, one of many held across the nation that day. Over 2,000 women dressed in white marched in the parade, which featured a “Taxation without Representation is Tyranny” banner, a young woman dressed as Joan of Arc, floats symbolizing child labor, tenements, and bad factory conditions, and a line of cars representing states where women could vote. The whole procession was followed up by an outmoded ox-cart with a sign reading “Connecticut trying to catch up.”

English methods revitalized the movement, but also caused controversy and new divisions. Paul and her followers invaded state and national representatives’ offices, went on hunger strikes, and eventually picketed the White House. By 1914 they were ejected from the National American Woman Suffrage Association, ultimately forming a new organization called the National Woman’s Association, which used radical tactics to push for the immediate adoption of a federal amendment. Meanwhile National American Woman Suffrage Association members continued to parade, rejected more aggressive methods, and initially maintained their focus on state solutions rather than a constitutional amendment.

World War I saw a major shift in strategies. This was an opportunity for women to prove they were capable of full citizenship and prepared for the vote. National American Woman Suffrage Association women and state branches, including the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association, helped the war effort by fundraising, farming, preserving food, and nursing. They scaled back on even the milder English tactics, signaling their willingness to sacrifice for the nation in its time of need and to prove just how deserving of the vote they really were. Women made themselves so essential that the Connecticut association publicly claimed it was “treason to say that womens’ place is in the home.”

Paul’s National Woman’s Association, on the other hand, stuck to more aggressive measures. The pressure of Paul’s demonstrations and the negative publicity of jailed suffragists force-fed in prison – alongside popular recognition of women’s contributions to the war effort – led President Wilson to finally announce his support of a constitutional amendment for women’s suffrage in a speech before Congress. A few months later, in June 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification, after which it was formally adopted on August 26, 1920. Women across the country voted in their first presidential election three months later on November 2, 1920.

How to Find Your Suffragist / Suffragette Ancestors: New York Suffragists

To win the right to vote, women had to develop a sophisticated political strategy, and New York served as their primary training ground. Embedded in the story of New York suffragists are many clues for how to discover information about suffrage activities elsewhere.

Strategic Importance of New York

The fight for suffrage was waged on two fronts:

  • A national campaign to persuade Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to guarantee all American women the right to vote and
  • A series of separate state campaigns to secure voting rights for women within each individual state (with the idea that if enough states granted women the right to vote, the federal government would eventually be forced to pass a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women in all states the right to vote)

At both the national and state level, New York played a central role in shaping the activities of suffragists across the country. As the headquarters of the national suffrage movement, New York spearheaded the numerous state suffrage campaigns waged across the United States. And it was in New York's own hard-won state suffrage campaigns that women perfected the political skills necessary to win ratification of the 19th Amendment.

National Suffrage Movement in New York

At the national level, New York was the epicenter of the suffrage movement:

  • The national suffrage movement was born in New York (the Seneca Falls convention envisioned voting rights for women across the nation, not just in New York)
  • New York was the home of many feminist leaders -- including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, Harriet Stanton Blatch -- who were active in national as well as local sufftrage activities
  • New York City was the headquarters for the primary national suffrage organization, the National American Woman's Suffrage Association (a second national woman's suffrage organization, which eventually became known as the National Woman's Party, was founded in Washington, D.C. in 1913).
  • More suffrage conventions were held in New York than anywhere else
  • The first suffrage parades occurred in New York City

Suffragist leaders from New York traveled across the country to lead local movements for voting rights under other states' laws, and to assist in other states' efforts to ratify the 19th amendment after it was finally passed by Congress. New York City was also the center of the publishing industry, providing press coverage of the suffrage movement here that was picked up by other papers across the nation. So whether or not your ancestors lived in New York, they may well have been influenced by events unfolding here. The suffrage movement in New York both reflected and influenced the concerns of suffragists everywhere.

The New York State Suffrage Campaign

Despite being the site of the first woman's rights convention, New York lagged behind many other states in granting its own female residents the right to vote. Not until 1917 did New York women finally succeed in removing the word "male" from the state constitution so that women would have an equal right to vote -- trailing behind eleven other states that had already extended voting rights to women (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Washington, California, Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, Montana, and Nevada).

However delayed it may have been, the victory in New York was highly significant. Most historians believe it was the decisive factor in compelling Congress to finally pass a federal constitutional suffrage amendment just two years later. What made New York so important?

  • New York was the first eastern, industrial state to extend the right to vote to women prior to the federal amendment in 1920
  • As the most populous state, New York had the most Congressional representatives and thus the most voting power to pass the 19th amendment
  • The political strategies perfected by New York suffragists in their state struggle were essential to winning the looming battle for ratification of the 19th amendment

Were your ancestors involved in, or influenced by, the pivotal push for women's voting rights in New York? The adjoining pages will give you the background information you need to start answering this question.

NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID 58103265 (Why not in New York? suffrage rally photograph).

A Grueling Process

Winning the right for women to vote in New York state presented a formidable political challenge:

  • Prior to 1917, the New York State Constitution provided, in Article 2 Section 1, that "Every male citizen of the age of twenty-one years . . . shall be entitled to vote at such election in the election district of which he shall at the time be a resident. . . "
  • To remove the word &ldquomale&rdquo required passage of a state constitutional amendment.
  • This was a grueling process. First, women had to persuade the state legislature to vote to propose the amendment -- not just once, but in two successive state legislatures.
  • Only then could the proposed amendment be voted on by "the people" (i.e., the male voters) in a general referendum.

Although each state adopts its own procedure for amending its constitution, the majority use some variation of the process followed in New York.

Seizing the Opportunity

In 1894, New York State held a convention to revise its state constitution. Suffragists seized this opportunity to persuade legislators to propose an amendment that would grant women in New York the right to vote.

Working out of Susan B. Anthony's home in Rochester, they launched a campaign that sent letters and petition blanks all over the state. Local suffragists canvassed their neighborhoods to secure signatures -- if you had ancestors living in New York at the time, they most likely knocked on your family's door!

Grass-Roots Organizing

The petition drive was bolstered by mass meetings in every county seat in the state. In New York City, for example, on May 7, 1894, the New York Times reported that

A lively and well-attended mass meeting was held at Cooper Union in Manhattan earlier this evening, and there certainly seemed to be plenty of people willing to do whatever it takes to remove a single word from the New York State Constitution, which presently grants the right to vote to &ldquoevery male citizen" of the age of 21 years.

To further this goal, the article reported, a Manhattan "suffrage headquarters" had been established at 10 West 14th Street and would be "open all summer." Women attending the meeting were also recruited to host "parlor meetings in their homes" in support of suffrage.

Local "Political Equality Leagues" were also formed at this time in Brooklyn (Brooklyn Heights), Queens (Woodhaven, Hempstead, Newtown and Long Island City), and Staten Island. So whatever borough your ancestors lived in (or you live in now), there was likely suffrage activity taking place in or around their neighborhoods. You'll find tips on finding information about local suffrage activities on the following pages:

Similar activity occurred in communities across the state. By the time of the Convention, nearly 600,000 signatures had been collected (including individual men and women, and endorsements from unions and other organizations). As the New York Woman's Suffrage Association reported in its account of the campaign (New York State Woman Suffrage Association, Annual Convention Report 1894), "it may safely be said that scarcely a township is without its suffragists, and that every city numbers them by the hundreds."

Disappointing Results

Despite these efforts, the (all male) Convention delegates voted against allowing the issue to be decided in a public referendum, and women continued to be barred from voting under the State constitution (to learn why, read the Debates upon the report of the Suffrage Committee in regard to woman suffrage.. ., available at NYPL).

While unsuccessful in New York, the tactics employed here were adopted in many states where women subsequently won the right to vote, and can provide helpful clues for investigating suffrage activity in other areas. For example, "Political Equality League" was a popular name for early suffrage organizations across the country, and the practice of canvassing neighbors and petitioning the legislature became widespread.

NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID G91F171_024F (Rev. Henry Ward Beecher's parlor [typical example of setting where early suffragists met])

Rural and Urban Suffragists

Following the 1894 petition campaign, suffrage activism in New York State remained concentrated in rural communities, primarily in New York's central and western counties.

  • In 1900, approximately four-fifths of the members of the State Suffrage Association lived in the counties west of Utica.
  • Although New York City contained 50% of the state's population, only 15% of the State Suffrage Association's members lived there.

After the turn of the century, local suffrage societies proliferated across the state, many of them affiliated with the statewide New York State Woman Suffrage Association. Initially these organizations worked out of their members' homes, but as both membership and work expanded, local offices were established -- offices which would have been visible to passers-by. From these offices, women distributed flyers and organized highly-publicized events like parades and pageants.

Increasing Sophistication

During these years, New York suffragists developed increasingly sophisticated -- and aggressive -- tactics that were eventually adopted by suffragists across the county. Among these were open-air meetings and "street stumping," parades, pageants, automobile tours, and other attention-grabbing stunts designed to attract press coverage and public attention.

Although credit for these innovations is often assigned to Harriet Stanton Blatch (daughter of pioneering feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton), contemporaneous accounts suggest that it was actually one of the Library's own "ancestors" -- a radical NYPL librarian named Maud Malone -- who organized the first suffrage parade and street meetings. Her contributions, like those of many suffragists, have been largely forgotten until recently. African American women, in particular, have been overlooked by history -- their significant contributions to New York's suffrage campaigns, as elsewhere, are only beginning to be uncovered. Who knows what you may discover about your own ancestors?

Suffrage Becomes Fashionable

The efforts of New York suffragists finally paid off in 1913, when the Legislature first passed a proposed state constitutional amendment. In 1915, a newly elected Legislature passed it for the required second time. For the first time, the issue of whether women in New York would be granted the right to vote was going to be submitted to the males eligible to vote in the state.

By this time, women's suffrage was front-page news, a part of the fabric of life in New York City and across the state. Indeed, as historian Susan Goodier notes, suffrage "had become fashionable. Everywhere one turned signs of suffrage and anti-suffrage sentiments barraged the New Yorker. In the process, suffrage became more common" (p. 115).

Anyone living in New York City at the time would have felt the impact of the suffrage movement, and exploring the suffrage activities that took place in or around your ancestors' neighborhoods provides a unique avenue for imaginatively entering their milieu. Consult the Find Their Local Organizations, Find Their Local Leaders, and Did They Vote For or Against? pages for tips on getting started.

Image Credit: NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID 733588F (Room at New York where suffrage literature is sent out from).

1915 Referendum

In November 1915, suffragists were finally able to place a ballot presenting the issue of voting rights for women before New York voters. A flurry of activity, both for and against suffrage for women, preceded the 1915 Suffrage referendum.

The most spectacular took place on October 23, 1915, when 25,000 suffrage supporters marched in the largest parade held in New York City up to that date. In addition to 20,789 women marchers, the New York Times counted:

  • 2,539 men marchers
  • 74 women on horseback
  • 145 automobiles averaging 6 passengers each, and
  • 1,068 musicians playing in 57 marching bands.

Proceeding up 5th Avenue from Washington Square Park to 59th Street, the parade attracted crowds of onlookers and all but shut down New York City. It was an event that many New Yorkers participated in or attended, and that caught the attention of people across the nation, including many of your ancestors. A selection of contemporaneous news accounts is available on this Bowery Boys blog, and you'll find many more in the newspaper sources described on the How to Learn More tabs.

However sensational, events like these did not result in immediate success. The 1915 referendum was defeated by a margin of 194,984 votes (out of a total of 1,304,340 votes cast). Only six counties approved woman suffrage:

  • Tompkins (51 percent approval)
  • Broome (51 percent approval)
  • Chemung (52 percent approval)
  • Schenectady (55 percent approval)
  • Chautauqua (58 percent approval)
  • Cortland (61 percent approval)

The New York City area counties of Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens and Richmond defeated the measure by 57 percent of the vote.

1917 Referendum

The defeat galvanized New York suffragists, who immediately began campaigning for a second referendum on woman suffrage in New York state.

  • To counteract claims by anti-suffragists that &ldquomost women didn&rsquot want the vote,&rdquo in 1916 suffragists canvassed households across the entire state. In rural towns and large cities, suffragists went door-to-door, eventually collecting over a million signatures on a petition.
    • Could your ancestors' be among them? Unfortunately, the petitions were not saved, but you may be able to locate newspaper articles reporting on canvassing and other suffrage campaign activities in your ancestors' neighborhoods.
    • Reading these accounts is the best possible way to get caught up in the atmosphere that permeated your ancestors' lives.

    On November 6, 1917 -- just two years after the 1915 suffrage referendum was defeated -- New York voters passed woman suffrage by 102,353 votes.

    A number of factors contributed to this remarkable turn-around, including the following:

    • In 1917, New York suffragists had over $500,000 for its campaign -- an 80 percent increase over the $90,000 available for their 1915 effort. Some of it came from the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which had received $500,000 from the estate of Mrs. Frank Leslie.
    • In April, 1917, the United States entered World War I, and suffragists mobilized to aid the war effort -- knitting socks, conserving food, and selling Liberty bonds. They used these contributions to promote their own cause, with slogans like "Our sons are fighting for democracy, in the name of democracy give us the vote!"
    • The biggest turn-around occurred in New York City, where suffragists mobilized support from immigrant and working-class voters who helped to carry the day

    How did the voters in your ancestors' districts vote on these suffrage referendums? Were your male ancestors among the registered voters? To explore these issues, consult the pages Did They Vote For or Against? and Don't Forget Your Male Ancestors!

    NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID 733582F (Flyer in support of 1915 New York Suffrage Referendum).

    Having secured the right to vote under New York state law in 1917, suffragists in New York turned their attention to the next steps: helping women to exercise their new right to vote, and passing a federal amendment so that women in all states would enjoy the same privilege.

    Education of Women Voters

    Both the New York State and New York City Woman Suffrage Party decided to keep their organizations intact. Almost immediately after winning the vote, they embarked on a program of education for newly-eligible women voters. On December 20, 1917 -- barely a month after New York women won the right to vote -- the New York City Woman Suffrage Association began a series of free lectures on the duties of a citizen and voter at their headquarters on East 38th Street. A similar series was offered by the New York State Woman's Suffrage Party, and the Institute for Public Service offered correspondence courses "for the benefit of women in country districts."

    If you had female ancestors in New York at this time, they may have taken advantage of the numerous opportunities to educate themselves on their new civic responsibilities. In addition to classes, suffrage organizations also published educational material designed to inform women of "what they ought to know in order to make each vote count." Reading these texts can give you insights into the mindset of your female ancestors as they began to exercise their voting rights -- and you may even pick up a few pointers for yourself! To find them, see the Additional Resources tab above.

    New York suffragists also canvassed door-to-door urging women to register to vote, distributing 400,000 fliers in advance of the New York State elections in November, 1918. Did your female ancestors register to vote? you may be able to locate voter registration records that will answer this interesting question. Although not a definitive clue, if your female ancestors registered to vote as soon as they were eligible, this suggests that they may have actively participated as suffragists in the fight to win voting rights for women.

    World War I

    Like suffragists across the nation, New York suffragists also devoted considerable energy to assisting with the war effort, and promoted their contributions to solicit support for a federal suffrage amendment.

    The New York State Woman Suffrage Association formed a War Service Committee which sponsored "Suffrage Sacrifice Sales." The proceeds were used to fund Y.M.C.A. units at Plattsburgh and Niagara Falls. Suffragists in other states engaged in similar activities, including knitting for the Red Cross, selling war bonds, and promoting food rationing.

    Suffrage leaders missed no opportunity to remind national politicians of the importance of their war efforts. They promoted their war activities as evidence that women put patriotism above self-interest and deserved the right to vote. In the years leading up to the passage of the 19th Amendment, Carnegie Hall hosted over two dozen events relating to women&rsquos suffrage. Emmeline Pankhurst and Jeannette Rankin were among those who gave speeches here promoting women&rsquos suffrage. In 1918, the National Woman&rsquos Party held a meeting at the hall.

    More radical suffragists also picketed the White House with signs denouncing the President as "Kaiser Wilson" -- comparing him to the German Emperor to highlight what they saw as the hypocrisy of supporting the cause of freedom in the First World War while denying freedom to women at home. Many of these leaders -- including New York Public Librarian Maud Malone -- were jailed in the notorious Occoquan Workhouse in Washington, DC. Their experiences are detailed in the 1920 book Jailed for Freedom (available online through HathiTrust), which also includes photographs of all the suffragists who became prisoners.

    These patriotic arguments eventually proved persuasive: President Wilson endorsed the 19th Amendment as a "war measure," and on January 10, 1918 it was passed by the House of Representatives.

    This page highlights resources specific to suffrage and suffragists in New York. There are many additional resources for connecting your ancestors to the suffrage movement, both in New York and elsewhere. For a complete overview, see How to Learn More. The names of many New York suffrage organizations are listed on the Find Their Local Organizations page.


    Books and printed material at NYPL

    • Women will vote : winning suffrage in New York State, by Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello, provides an excellent overview of the suffrage movement in New York, along with many details about local suffrage organizations across the state.
    • In Suffrage and the city : New York women battle for the ballot, Lauren C. Santangelo focuses specifically on suffrage in New York City, primarily Manhattan. Gilded suffragists : the New York socialites who fought for women's right to vote, by Johanna Neuman, explores the role New York socialites played in the suffrage movement.
    • The Report of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association . annual convention (issued annually) includes reports from delegates on local activities in their counties.

    To locate additional materials in our collections relating to suffrage in New York, try browsing our online catalog with the following subject headings:

    The Militant Suffragette Campaign

    Article by Lucy Wray. Edited by Kate Major. Additional Research by Liz Goodwin.

    “We are here, not because we are law-breakers we are here in our efforts to become law-makers” – Emmeline Pankhurst.

    Emmeline Pankhurst in prison

    Pankhurst’s words became the rallying call for a militant and violent campaign to gain political equality for women in the United Kingdom. After becoming frequently dissatisfied with the lack of progress of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), who dedicated themselves to peaceful demonstration, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was formed in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter, Christabel Pankhurst. It was to be the first women-only organisation dedicated to achieving the extension of the franchise to include women, thus granting them political equality. In contrast to the non-violent tactics adopted by the NUWSS, the Pankhursts led a militant campaign that is still remembered today for its undeniable impact on the fight for women’s suffrage but also for the controversial techniques employed by the suffragettes.

    It wasn’t until October 1905 that the women’s suffrage campaign gained validity and national recognition when an incident involving Christabel Pankhurst and another suffragette was popularised by the press. The country was preparing for a general election and, with the growing widespread popularity of the Liberal party, Sir Edward Gray and Winston Churchill were scheduled to speak in Manchester. Christabel Pankhurst and fellow suffragette, Annie Kenney, a cotton mill worker, gained access to the political meeting, armed with a banner declaring ‘Votes for Women’. They waited until the end of Sir Edward Grey’s speech before Annie stood and asked ‘will the Liberal Government give the vote to women?’ She was ignored and so persisted in her questioning, unravelling her banner and refusing to stand down. With the arrival of the police, Christabel joined in with the disturbance until both women were forced to leave the meeting. They took their protest outside and realised the only way to make their demonstration effective was to incite their own arrest. Annie Kenney was later sentenced to three days of imprisonment for obstruction whilst Christabel was given one week with the further charge of assault for spitting in the face of a policeman. The press seized this incident and the suffragette movement gained the publicity it needed to push forward its campaign.

    Abandoning the peaceful style of the suffragists, in the years leading up to the First World War the Pankhursts and the WSPU undertook a militant approach to gaining equality for women, including arson, bombings and public destruction. It is estimated that in 1913-14, the WSPU caused damages approximately between £1 and £2 million. The intention of the violence incited by the WSPU was to intimidate the Government, which they hoped would force them into conceding and extending the franchise to include working women. Whilst they did not want to cause personal harm to members of the public they wanted to draw attention to their cause by creating unignorable disturbances and subsequently gaining considerable publicity. They burnt public buildings, restaurants, churches, shops and the homes of politicians, such as David Lloyd George, were also targeted. They sent letter bombs, cut pro-suffragette slogans into turf, chained themselves to railings, smashed the windows of government buildings and also bombed Westminster Abbey. As Emmeline Pankhurst acknowledged, “You have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else, you have to fill all the papers more than anybody else, in fact you have to be there all the time and see that they do not snow you under, if you are really going to get your reform realised.” Whilst the violent tactics of the suffragettes were, and still are, often subject to heavy criticism for being detrimental to the plight of women seeking equality, it cannot be denied that they gained widespread attention, both public and political.

    Punishment of the suffragettes was also highly controversial. The WSPU are famous for undertaking a hunger strike. The initiative was pioneered by Marion Wallace-Dunlop who was arrested in 1909 for stamping a message from the Bill of Rights on a wall in St Stephen’s Hall – “It is the right of the subject to petition the King, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitions are illegal.” She was imprisoned and refused food for 91 hours, until the prison had no choice but to release her. Prison wards were required to force feed prisoners and this aided the WSPU in characterising themselves as victims to the vicious brutality of the Government. As a rapid response to this situation, the Liberal Government passed The Prisoner’s Temporary Discharge for Ill Health Act in 1913. This Act, passed to aid the Liberal Government in disciplining the suffragettes who continued to cause public disturbances, backfired on the male law makers as it only increased feelings of sympathy towards the female campaigners.

    The criminal acts of the suffragettes and the imprisonment of many members of the WSPU remain popular subjects for historians today, perhaps because of the divide in opinion about the effectiveness of the militant techniques and the controversy surrounding the era of public disturbance as women fought for political equality. Whilst some can appreciate the desperation of these women as they struggled for their right to be heard and to become politically relevant, others condemn the WSPU for its militant campaign. It is argued that the violence delayed the extension of the franchise to include women for ten, even twenty years. The First World War is often seen as the real reason for the Qualification of Women Act in 1918 as millions of women proved their worth by aiding Britain’s struggle on the home front. During this period of conflict the suffragettes abandoned their campaign in favour of nationalism and supporting Britain in the war. However whilst some argue that violence was not the way to gain egalitarianism, it cannot be denied that the militant suffragette campaign of the early twentieth century raised public awareness and attracted political attention to the issue of gender equality.

    Historical Overview of the National Womans Party

    The origins of the National Woman's Party (NWP) date from 1912, when Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, young Americans schooled in the militant tactics of the British suffrage movement, were appointed to the National American Woman Suffrage Association's (NAWSA) Congressional Committee. They injected a renewed militancy into the American campaign and shifted attention away from state voting rights toward a federal suffrage amendment.

    At odds with NAWSA over tactics and goals, Paul and Burns founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU) in April 1913, but remained on NAWSA's Congressional Committee until December that year. Two months later, NAWSA severed all ties with the CU.

    The CU continued its aggressive suffrage campaign. Its members held street meetings, distributed pamphlets, petitioned and lobbied legislators, and organized parades, pageants, and speaking tours. In June 1916 the CU formed the NWP, briefly known as the Woman's Party of Western Voters. The CU continued in states where women did not have the vote the NWP existed in western states that had passed women's suffrage. In March 1917 the two groups reunited into a single organization–the NWP.

    In January 1917 the CU and NWP began to picket the White House. The government's initial tolerance gave way after the United States entered World War I. Beginning in June 1917, suffrage protestors were arrested, imprisoned, and often force-fed when they went on hunger strikes to protest being denied political prisoner status.

    The NWP's militant tactics and steadfast lobbying, coupled with public support for imprisoned suffragists, forced President Woodrow Wilson to endorse a federal woman suffrage amendment in 1918. Congress passed the measure in 1919, and the NWP began campaigning for state ratification. Shortly after Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify women's suffrage, the 19th Amendment was signed into law on August 26, 1920.

    Once suffrage was achieved, the NWP focused on passing an Equal Rights Amendment. The party remained a leading advocate of women's political, social, and economic equality throughout the 20th century.

    Question 4: Was suffrage essential to improve the lives of women?

    The story of American women can be told as a series of bursts of activity and reform, and the Progressive Era is one such time. Many of the post active progressive reformers were women, and many of the issues the progressives addressed related directly to the needs and interests of women. Mostly White, upper-middle-class women, many had received a college education and felt obliged to put it to use. About half of these women never married, choosing independence instead.

    For women who did not attend college, life was much different. Many single, middle-class women took jobs in the new cities. Clerical jobs opened as typewriters became indispensable to the modern corporation. The telephone service required switchboard operators and the new department store required sales positions.

    For others, life was less glamorous. Wives of immigrants often took extra tenants called boarders into their already crowded tenement homes. By providing food and laundry service at a fee, they generated necessary extra income for the families. Many did domestic work for the middle class to supplement income.

    Of all the changes these women Progressives achieved, perhaps none was greater than the right to vote. Long denied to them, women had been fighting for suffrage for over 100 years and the final passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 was the crowning jewel of their work.

    But did women have to win the right to vote in order to make a difference? Was suffrage essential to improve the lives of women?

    The 1800s are often referred to as the Victorian Age, named after Queen Victoria of Great Britain who ruled from 1837 to 1901. The time was one of conservative social rules, especially related to women. As was true in much of Europe, Victorian values dominated American social life. The notion of separate spheres of life for men and women was commonplace. The male sphere included wage work and politics, while the female sphere involved childrearing and domestic work. In the United States, historians have dubbed this idea the Cult of Domesticity.

    Industrialization and urbanization challenged Victorian values. Men grew weary of toiling tireless hours and yearned for the blossoming leisure opportunities of the age. Women were becoming more educated, but upon graduation found themselves shut out of many professions. Immigrants had never been socialized in the Victorian mindset.

    At the vanguard of a social revolt were the young, single, middle-class women who worked in the cities. Attitudes toward sex were loosening in private, yet few were brave enough to discuss the changes publicly.

    One exception was Victoria Woodhull. In 1871, she declared the right to love the person of her choice as inalienable. Indeed, she professed the right to free love. She and her sister, Tennessee Claflin, published their beliefs in the periodical Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly.

    Woodhull’s support of free love likely started after she discovered the infidelity of her first husband, Canning. Women who married in the United States during the 1800s were bound into the unions, even if loveless, with few options to escape. Divorce was limited by law and considered socially scandalous. Women who divorced were stigmatized and often ostracized by society. Victoria Woodhull concluded that women should have the choice to leave unbearable marriages.

    Woodhull believed in monogamous relationships, although she also said she had the right to change her mind. In her view, the choice to have sex or not was, in every case, the woman’s choice, since this would place her in an equal status to the man, who had the capacity to rape and physically overcome a woman, whereas a woman did not have that capacity with respect to a man.

    In 1871, Woodhull declared, “To woman, by nature, belongs the right of sexual determination. When the instinct is aroused in her, then and then only should commerce follow. When woman rises from sexual slavery to sexual freedom, into the ownership and control of her sexual organs, and man is obliged to respect this freedom, then will this instinct become pure and holy then will woman be raised from the iniquity and morbidness in which she now wallows for existence, and the intensity and glory of her creative functions be increased a hundred-fold…”

    In this same speech, Woodhull said of free love, “Yes, I am a Free Lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can to change that love every day if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere.”

    To be sure, not everyone agreed.

    Primary Source: Photograph

    Victoria Woodhall, Champion of Free Love

    Woodhull railed against the hypocrisy of society’s tolerating married men who had mistresses and engaged in other sexual dalliances. In 1872, Woodhull publicly criticized well-known clergyman Henry Ward Beecher for adultery. Beecher was known to have had an affair with his parishioner Elizabeth Tilton, who had confessed to it, and the scandal was covered nationally. Woodhull was prosecuted on obscenity charges for sending accounts of the affair through the mail, and she was briefly jailed.

    A devout feminist, Woodhull protested the male hold on politics by running for President in 1872. She became the first female American to do so in a time when women did not even enjoy the right to vote. Her criticisms of Beecher and arrest for obscenity fueled sensational coverage in the media during her campaign.

    Primary Source: Editorial Cartoon

    “Get thee behind me, Satan!” In this 1872 cartoon by Thomas Nast, a wife carrying a heavy burden of children and a drunk husband, admonishes Satan (Victoria Woodhull), “I’d rather travel the hardest path of matrimony than follow your footsteps.” Mrs. Satan’s sign reads, “Be saved by free love.”

    For many feminists, legalizing contraception became a central issue in the campaign for equal social and political rights. In the nineteenth century, contraception was often under attack from religious groups, loosely known as the purity movement, which were composed primarily of Protestant moral reformers and middle-class women. This anti-contraception campaign attacked birth control as an immoral practice that promoted prostitution and venereal disease. Anthony Comstock, a postal inspector and leader in the purity movement, successfully lobbied for the passage of the 1873 Comstock Act, a federal law prohibiting the mailing of, “any article or thing designed or intended for the prevention of conception or procuring of abortion,” as well as any form of contraceptive information. Many states also passed similar laws, collectively known as the Comstock laws, that extended the federal law by outlawing the use of contraceptives as well as their distribution. In response, contraception went underground. Drugstores continued to sell condoms as “rubber goods” and cervical caps as “womb supporters.”

    At the turn of the century, an energetic movement arose that sought to overturn anti-obscenity laws and the Comstock Acts. Centered in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, the movement was largely composed of radicals, feminists, anarchists, and atheists such as Ezra Heywood, Moses Harman, D.M. Bennett, Emma Goldman, and Margaret Sanger. In 1913, Sanger worked in New York’s Lower East Side, often with poor women who were suffering severe medical problems due to frequent pregnancies, childbirth and self-induced abortions.

    Primary Source: Photograph

    Margaret Sanger surrounded by her supporters as she exits a New York courthouse after one of her multiple encounters with the anti-contraception legal system.

    Under the influence of Goldman and the Free Speech League, Sanger became determined to challenge the Comstock Acts that outlawed the dissemination of contraceptive information. In 1914, she launched The Woman Rebel, an eight-page monthly newsletter that promoted contraception using the slogan, “No Gods, No Masters,” and proclaimed that each woman should be, “the absolute mistress of her own body.” Sanger coined the term birth control, which first appeared in her newsletter. Sanger’s goal of challenging the law was fulfilled when she was indicted in August 1914, but the prosecution focused their attention on articles Sanger had written about marriage, rather than those about contraception. Afraid that she might be sent to prison without an opportunity to argue for birth control in court, Sanger fled to England to escape arrest. While Sanger was in Europe, her husband continued her work, which led to his arrest after he distributed a copy of a birth-control pamphlet to an undercover postal worker.

    New York state law prohibited the distribution of contraceptives or even contraceptive information, but Sanger hoped to exploit a provision in the law that permitted doctors to prescribe contraceptives for the prevention of disease. On October 16, 1916, she opened the Brownsville Clinic in Brooklyn. It was an immediate success, with more than 100 women visiting on the first day. A few days after the clinic’s opening, an undercover policewoman purchased a cervical cap at the clinic, and Sanger was arrested. Refusing to walk, Sanger and a coworker were dragged out of the clinic by police officers. The clinic was shut down, and no other birth-control clinics were opened in the United States until the 1920s. However, the publicity from Sanger’s trial generated immense enthusiasm for the cause, and by the end of 1917, there were more than 30 birth-control organizations in the United States.

    In the aftermath of Sanger’s trial, the birth-control movement began to grow from its radical, working-class roots into a campaign backed by society women and liberal professionals. Sanger and her fellow advocates toned down their radical rhetoric and emphasized the socioeconomic benefits of birth control, a policy that led to increasing acceptance by mainstream Americans. Media coverage increased, and several silent motion pictures produced in the 1910s featured birth control as a theme. Sanger’s organization grew, changed names, and has developed over time into Planned Parenthood, a nation-wide chain of clinics that provide contraceptive education, women’s health services, as well as abortions.

    The birth-control movement received an unexpected political boost during World War I, as hundreds of soldiers were diagnosed with syphilis or gonorrhea while overseas. The military undertook an extensive education campaign, focusing on abstinence, but also offering some contraceptive guidance. Previously, the military did not distribute condoms, or even endorse their use, making the United States the only military force in World War I that did not supply condoms to its troops. When American soldiers were in Europe, they found rubber condoms readily available, and when they returned to America, they continued to use condoms as their preferred method of birth control.

    The military’s anti-venereal-disease campaign marked a major turning point for the movement. It was the first time a government institution had engaged in a sustained, public discussion of sexual matters. The government’s public discourse changed sex into a legitimate topic of scientific research, and it transformed contraception from an issue of morals to an issue of public health.​

    Although Sanger and supporters of birth control were unsuccessful in the early-1900s, their efforts moved the issue forward and made it possible for women’s rights advocates in the 1960s and 1970s to make birth control, especially birth control pills, a legal and acceptable part of American life.

    In 1909, the Supreme Court decided an important case regarding women in the workplace. The state of Oregon had passed a law limiting the number of hours women were allowed to work outside the home. Legislators at the time believed that women needed to be protected, especially women who were at an age where they might be having and raising young children. Curt Muller, the owner of a laundry business, was put on trial for violating the Oregon law, and convicted of making his female employee work more than ten hours in a single day. Muller was fined $10, but appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

    In the case Muller v. Oregon, the Supreme Court found that Oregon’s limit on the working hours of women was constitutional under the 14th Amendment, as it was justified by the strong state interest in protecting women’s health.

    The central question of the Muller case was whether women’s freedom to negotiate a contract with an employer should be equal to a man’s. In 1908, gender discrimination was commonplace. The Oregon law was not designed to hurt women, but in the thinking at the time, to protect them, and the Supreme Court decided that the government could enact labor laws that were intended to nurture women’s welfare for the “benefit of all” people did not violate a woman’s right to make contracts.

    The case included a few quotes that shed light on societal attitudes about gender roles at the turn of the century. The court wrote, “woman has always been dependent upon man,” and “in the struggle for subsistence she is not an equal competitor with her brother.” And, perhaps most importantly, the case showed that Americans still valued women primarily because of their role as mothers. The court wrote, “her physical structure and a proper discharge of her maternal functions — having in view not merely her own health, but the well-being of the race — justify legislation to protect her from the greed as well as the passion of man… The limitations which this statute places upon her contractual powers, upon her right to agree with her employer as to the time she shall labor, are not imposed solely for her benefit, but also largely for the benefit of all.”

    The case divided feminists at the time. Groups like the National Consumer League, which included noted feminists Florence Kelley and Josephine Goldmark, supported the law because it limited working hours for women. However, many equal-rights feminists opposed the ruling, since it allowed laws based on stereotyped gender roles that restricted women’s rights and financial independence. While it provided protection from long hours to white women, it did not extend to women of color, food processors, agricultural workers, and women who worked in white-collar jobs. Although later laws have eroded the Muller decision, women still are not guaranteed equal protection under the Constitution.

    Women’s suffrage in the United States was established over the course of several decades, first in various states and localities, sometimes on a limited basis, and then nationally in 1920.

    The demand for women’s suffrage began to gather strength in the 1840s, emerging from the broader movement for women’s rights. In 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention, passed a resolution in favor of women’s suffrage despite opposition from some of its organizers, who believed the idea was too extreme. By the time of the first National Women’s Rights Convention in 1850, however, gaining suffrage was becoming an increasingly important aspect of the movement’s activities.

    At the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, women activists were optimistic about the possibility that they would gain suffrage along with newly freed African Americans. However, activists such as Frederick Douglass and Henry Blackwell argued successfully that the 1860s was the time of the Black male. They feared that linking women’s suffrage to female suffrage would doom passage of the 15th Amendment. Although the leading feminists of the time argued otherwise, the Civil War resulted only in universal male suffrage, a step in the right direction to be sure, but still, half of all Americans remained outside the political process.

    Primary Source: Drawing

    Susan B. Anthony, one of the first advocates for women’s suffrage. Anthony was instrumental in the movement in the 1800s but passed away before the final push for the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

    The first national suffrage organizations were established in 1869 after the disappointment of the 15th Amendment. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton led one group, and Lucy Stone led another. After years of rivalry, the two organizations merged in 1890 and became the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) with Anthony as its leading force.

    Hoping the Supreme Court would rule that women had a constitutional right to vote, suffragists made several attempts to vote in the early 1870s and then filed lawsuits when they were turned away. Anthony actually succeeded in voting in 1872 but was arrested for that act and found guilty in a widely publicized trial that gave the movement fresh momentum. After the Supreme Court ruled against them in 1875, suffragists began the decades-long campaign for an amendment to the Constitution that would enfranchise women. Much of the movement’s energy, however, went toward working for suffrage on a state-by-state basis.

    Primary Source: Flyer

    This map, published by the National Woman Suffrage Publishing Company shows the states that enacted laws granting women’s suffrage as of 1916. The states and Canadian provinces in white allowed full suffrage. Clearly, western states were ahead of the trend.

    Progressive reform campaigns strengthened the suffrage movement. Many of its participants saw women’s suffrage as yet another Progressive goal, and they believed that the addition of women to the electorate would help their movement achieve its other goals. In 1912, the Progressive Party endorsed women’s suffrage. The burgeoning Socialist movement also aided the drive for women’s suffrage in some areas.

    In 1916, Alice Paul formed the National Woman’s Party (NWP), a militant group focused on the passage of a national suffrage amendment. More than 200 NWP supporters, known as the “Silent Sentinels,” were arrested in 1917 while picketing the White House. Some of the protestors went on a hunger strike and endured forced feeding after being sent to prison. The two-million-member NAWSA, by then under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, also made a national suffrage amendment its top priority.

    Brewers and distillers, typically rooted in the German-American community, opposed women’s suffrage, fearing that women voters would favor the prohibition of alcohol. German Lutherans and German Catholics typically opposed prohibition and women’s suffrage. They favored paternalistic families in which the husband decided the family position on public affairs. Their opposition to women’s suffrage was subsequently used as an argument in favor of suffrage when German Americans became pariahs during World War I.

    Some other businesses, such as Southern cotton mills, opposed suffrage because they feared that women voters would support the drive to eliminate child labor. Political machines, such as Tammany Hall in New York City, opposed it because they feared that the addition of female voters would dilute the control they had established over groups of male voters.

    Primary Source: Photograph

    Alice Paul at the time of the fight for the passage of the 19th Amendment.

    Anti-suffrage forces, initially called the “remonstrants,” organized as early as 1870 when the Women’s Anti-Suffrage Association of Washington was formed. Widely known as the “antis,” they eventually created organizations in some 20 states. In 1911, the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage was created. It claimed 350,000 members and opposed women’s suffrage, feminism, and socialism. It argued that woman suffrage, “would reduce the special protections and routes of influence available to women, destroy the family, and increase the number of socialist-leaning voters.”

    Many upper class women opposed suffrage for women. They had personal access to powerful politicians and feared that having the right to vote themselves would mean surrendering their influence.

    Most often the “antis” believed that politics was dirty and that women’s involvement would surrender the moral high ground that women claimed, and that partisanship would disrupt local club work for civic betterment.

    Despite opposition, the movement for universal suffrage gained ground, especially in the West. Because states manage elections, individual states began passing laws granting women the right to vote. Many western states, which had recently been settled, were still in the process of establishing traditions. Pioneer women who struggled along the trails west and labored under the sun alongside their husbands, brothers, fathers and sons to tame the soil of the prairie were in no mood to take a back seat to them politically. Eastern states, with hundreds of years of traditional gender divisions were less eager to adopt reformist laws.

    Paul, Catt and the advocates for suffrage were persistent however, and after a hard-fought series of votes in Congress and in state legislatures, the 19th Amendment became part of the Constitution in 1920. It reads, “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.”

    When the Founding Fathers were drafting the Declaration of Independence, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband urging them to “remember the ladies” in their new government. Unfortunately, the Founding Fathers did not, and it took another 144 years and the work of countless women to guarantee both genders the right to vote.

    The passage of the 19th Amendment has been rightly celebrated throughout history as an important step toward gender equality and the expansion of political equality in America. In a land where “all men are created equal,” it was a chance to include women in that idea.

    But suffrage did not radically change the lives of women. The same jobs were available, and the same jobs were closed to women. Nearly 100 years later, women are doing much more in our society, but we have still not elected a women president. Which leads us to our question. Could women have achieved all they did without the right to vote? Could they have opened doors of opportunity in education, health and business if the 19th Amendment had never been ratified?

    What do you think? Was suffrage essential to improve the lives of women?


    BIG IDEA: Women had one of their greatest successes in 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified, guaranteeing them the right to vote. Women at this time had less success in their efforts to win workplace equality and access to birth control.

    During the 1800s, Americans were very conservative about the roles of men and women and especially about how women could behave and dress. In the 1870s, Victoria Woodhull challenged these beliefs. She championed free love, the idea that she could love whoever she wanted and change her mind as much as she wanted. Her ideas were controversial, but she was an important early challenger to social restrictions.

    Margaret Sanger believed that women couldn’t be free if they had no control over how many children they would have. She challenged the Comstock Act which prohibited the promotion of birth control. She went to jail multiple times for sending information about birth control through the mail and for opening a birth control clinic in New York City. Her organization grew and is now called Planned Parenthood. Although she wasn’t successfully able to change the law at the time, the government did become concerned about promoting reproductive health during World War I when American troops started contracting STDs. After the war, Americans continued to use condoms they had learned about while in the army.

    Women suffered a legal setback in their quest for equality in the Muller v. Oregon Supreme Court Case when the Court ruled that laws that limited the number of hours women could work were constitutional. They reasoned that the primary role women played in society was to be mothers and that allowing women to work as much as they wanted might hurt society.

    Women finally won the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment. Women had been working for this right since the early 1800s, but Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt succeeded in convincing men in government to approve the amendment. Many western states had already granted women the right to vote in state elections.


    Victoria Woodhull: Women’s rights advocate in the late 1800s. She was most famously a champion of free love.

    Henry Ward Beecher: Famous preacher in the late 1800s in Brooklyn, NY. He had an affair with a married petitioner whose husband sued him. The trial was a nationally publicized public scandal. Victoria Woodhull used the case to argue for free love.

    Emma Goldman: Famous socialist activist at the turn of the century. She advocated for labor and women’s rights, but lost credibility due to her connection to the Haymarket Square riot and President McKinley’s assassin.

    Margaret Sanger: Champion of birth control in the early 1900s.

    Planned Parenthood: Modern organization originally founded by Margaret Sanger. They provide health services and information to women, and most controversially, abortions.

    Susan B. Anthony: Early champion of women’s suffrage. She headed the NAWSA. She was honored when a silver dollar coin was minted in 1979 with her likeness.

    Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Early champion of women’s suffrage. She cofounded a group with Susan B. Anthony.

    Lucy Stone: Early champion of women’s suffrage. Her organization merged with that of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton’s to form the NAWSA.

    National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA): Major organization working for women’s suffrage. It was led first by Susan B. Anthony and later by Carrie Chapman Catt.

    Alice Paul: Advocate for women’s suffrage in the early 1900s. She founded the National Women’s Party and used more aggressive tactics to publicize the movement.

    National Woman’s Party (NWP): Organization founded by Alice Paul in 1916 to work for women’s suffrage. They used more aggressive tactics to spread their message.

    Carrie Chapman Catt: Leader of the NAWSA in the early 1900s. She succeeded Susan B. Anthony and saw the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

    National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage: Organization in the early 1900s which fought against the passage of the 19th Amendment.

    Cult of Domesticity: Idea that men should leave home to work and earn money while women stayed at home to cook, clean and raise children. It developed in the early 1800s with the onset of the industrial revolution.

    Free Love: The idea that women should be able to love whomever they want for however long they wanted, and change their mind as many times as they wanted. It was championed by Victoria Woodhull in the late 1800s.

    Contraception: Any form of birth control.

    Birth Control: Any form of contraception. The term was coined by Margaret Sanger.

    Suffrage: The right to vote.

    Brownsville Clinic: Clinic opened in Brooklyn, NY by Margaret Sanger to provide birth control. It was closed down and Sanger was arrested for violation of the Comstock Act.


    Comstock Act: Law passed in 1873 the prohibited the distribution of birth control and any material promoting birth control. It was used to prosecute Margaret Sanger.

    Muller v. Oregon: 1909 Supreme Court case that upheld a law limiting the number of hours women could work outside the home.

    19th Amendment: Constitutional amendment ratified in 1920 granting women the right to vote.



    In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, women joined national organizations in great numbers. The rise of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, and National Association of Colored Women grew as part of this trend. Women of all backgrounds—rich and poor, white and black, native-born Americans and immigrants—participated in these national women’s clubs. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement, which aimed to make alcohol illegal, was among the most popular national women’s organizations of the period. Their movement succeeded with the start of the nationwide prohibition of alcohol in 1919.

    Women became leaders in a range of social and political movements from 1890 through 1920. This period is known as the Progressive Era. Progressive reformers wanted to end political corruption, improve the lives of individuals, and increase government intervention to protect citizens.

    The suffrage movement was part of this wave of Progressive Era reforms. Prominent suffragists led other progressive causes as well. Jane Addams established Chicago’s Hull-House, a settlement house that educated and provided services for local immigrants. Ida B. Wells-Barnett led a campaign against the lynching of African Americans.

    While earlier generations discouraged women from participating in public, political movements, society began to embrace female activism in the late nineteenth century. Progressives often argued that women’s politics complemented their traditional roles as wives and mothers, caregivers and keepers of virtue. Margaret Sanger argued that birth control would improve family life, especially for working classes. Charlotte Hawkins Brown worked to ensure that black children received a good education. Florence Kelley fought for laws that protected women in the workplace. By turning women’s traditional social roles into public and political ones, this generation of reformers began to win broader support for women’s votes.

    Woman Suffrage in the Midwest

    Ida B. Wells and the Alpha Suffrage Club. Ida B. Wells-Barnett formed the Alpha Suffrage Club in January 1913 for African American women in the Chicago area. The club sent Wells-Barnett to the national suffrage parade in DC in early March that same year.

    Image from Capper’s Weekly (Topeka, Kansas) 01 August 1914, pg. 3.

    Unlike other regions of the country where it is possible to see clear patterns in the woman suffrage story, such as the West with its early successes or the South where racism impeded the expansion of voting rights, the Midwest has no single dominant narrative of the woman suffrage campaign. Though by the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 all midwestern states had extended some form of suffrage to women, only a few granted women full voting rights. Several others offered women presidential and municipal suffrage, others allowed presidential suffrage alone. While two states had approved woman suffrage measures in the early 1910s, most of these states acted only shortly before the federal amendment passed. [1]

    Despite such variation, there were several common threads in the midwestern fight for woman suffrage. The values of piety, morality, and domesticity led to strong and complicated ties to other social movements. Issues of race, ethnicity, and class as well as the rural-urban divide created internal divisions and provided opportunities for expanded support. At times midwestern suffragists found themselves at odds with the national leadership, even as they sometimes depended on them for guidance and financial support. These threads demonstrate why suffrage success was difficult, though not impossible, to achieve in these states.

    Discussion of woman suffrage first began in the Midwest’s eastern states as suffragists from the East toured the region. In 1845 and 1846, Ernestine Rose of New York campaigned for social reform and women’s rights, even speaking in the hall of the Michigan House of Representatives on these controversial issues. [2] In 1853, Lucy Stone , an organizer from Massachusetts , began a speaking tour of what she called “the West”— Ohio , Kentucky , Indiana , Missouri , Illinois , and Wisconsin . Even in her radical bloomer outfit, she received a warm welcome in these midwestern states. In St. Louis, the newspaper reported that her talk drew the largest crowd ever assembled for a speaker. A medical college suspended classes so faculty and students could attend, and a local minister even cancelled the Christmas Eve service so that the congregation could hear Stone’s lecture instead. [3]

    Midwestern women began to organize local suffrage societies and campaigns in the 1860s and 1870s, after the disruption of the Civil War. One of the first was the Missouri Suffrage Association, founded in 1867. In that same year, supporters of both Black and woman suffrage organized the Impartial Suffrage Association in Kansas to fight for two proposed amendments to the state constitution, one to strike “white” and another to strike “male” from the state’s voting requirements. After a brutal campaign that ended up pitting supporters of African American and woman suffrage against one another, the electorate defeated both amendments. [4] Soon, other state legislatures and constitutional conventions across the Midwest also considered the question of woman suffrage. At times success was achingly close, but all failed. In 1870 Michigan legislators approved woman suffrage, only for the measure to be vetoed by the governor, and in 1872 woman suffrage lost by a single vote in the Dakota Territory. [5] By that time, women in most midwestern states had created their own statewide societies to support these suffrage efforts. [6]

    Figure 2. Woman suffrage headquarters, Upper Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, 1912. Some of the earliest women’s rights conventions were held in Ohio, and the American Woman Suffrage Association was established in Cleveland in 1869. Courtesy Library of Congress. Like other regions of the country, the Midwest faced the challenge of trying to coordinate the various suffrage groups. In many states, local and state organizing preceded national campaigns. While national groups saw themselves as directing the suffrage movement from above, in many ways national organizing was a response to preexisting grassroots efforts, and the national organizations at times struggled to influence state campaigns as state and local organizations tried to remain independent. [7] For instance, when divisions led to the separate formation of the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) from the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869, the Missouri Suffrage Association refused to join either group, though later the Missouri organization became badly divided by affiliations with both AWSA and NWSA. Iowa formed its first state-level organization in 1870 and, despite the presence of national representatives from both groups, decided to remain independent. Just a year later, the Indiana Woman Suffrage Association chose to withdraw from AWSA and become independent. [8]

    Tensions between national, state, and local suffragists came to the fore in Michigan in 1874 when the question of woman suffrage was sent to male voters. Susan B. Anthony increasingly believed that state strategies like this hurt the national effort but still decided to go to Michigan. To her surprise, she received an unenthusiastic welcome. Local suffrage workers were concerned that Anthony’s ties to the controversial “free love” advocate Victoria Woodhull would provide fodder for anti-suffragists. Even newspapers traditionally in support of woman suffrage wrote attack articles about Anthony and Woodhull and condemned the outside, eastern presence and their immoral values. In the end, suffrage lost by a vote of 135,000 to 40,000. Local organizers blamed Anthony and other national leaders for tainting the campaign, while national groups blamed local suffragists for being poorly organized. [9]

    Despite these tensions, many midwestern suffragists were leaders in the national movement. Unsuccessful in securing the vote through state legislatures and constitutional conventions, midwestern suffragists pioneered a strategy that became known as the New Departure. In 1869 at a national suffrage convention in St. Louis, Virginia Minor and her husband, Francis, pointed to the Fourteenth Amendment to argue that women, as citizens, already had the right to vote. In answer to the Minors’ call for women to simply use this right, hundreds of women across the country went to the polls. Most were denied and some, including Susan B. Anthony, were arrested. In 1872, Virginia Minor sued after she was refused voter registration in Missouri. Minor v. Happersett advanced to the US Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that voting was not a right of citizenship. This seminal case ended the New Departure and forced suffragists to redouble their efforts on state legislatures and a national amendment. [10]

    Throughout their fight for the vote, one constant remained. Midwestern suffrage groups, much like those in the East, focused on morality, piety, and domesticity—the values women promised to bring to the political arena. [11] As one male Iowa state senator said in support of woman suffrage in 1865, “Do you want all grogshops, gambling houses, and corrupt houses of ill-fame banished from the State? If so, let women vote. They will elect men who will execute the laws, and legislators who will enact laws.” [12] Yet this emphasis on morality proved to be problematic. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded in 1874 in Cleveland, Ohio, a city known as “the Mecca of the Crusade” against alcohol. Under president Frances Willard’s “Do Everything” campaign, unveiled in 1882, the WCTU encouraged members to support woman suffrage, making the WCTU an important ally of the suffrage movement. However, suffragists’ alignment with the WCTU also created powerful enemies. [13]

    The liquor industry actively opposed the temperance movement and, through extension, voting rights for women. Wisconsin brewers provided the nation’s best funded opposition to woman suffrage. [14] The German-American Alliance also was hostile to woman suffrage because of its connection to the brewing industry. By 1914 the alliance had a membership in the millions and a powerful lobby in Washington . [15] Germans provided significant opposition to suffrage throughout the Midwest, and they were not the only ethnic group to align with liquor interests. At the 1880 Democratic convention in South Dakota , a large delegation of Russian immigrants wore liquor industry badges that proclaimed “Against Woman Suffrage and Susan B. Anthony.” [16]

    Figure 3. Carrie Chapman Catt was raised in Iowa and was the only female graduate of her college class in 1880. Soon she became involved in the suffrage push as a lecturer and writer, and in 1900 she succeeded Susan B. Anthony as the president of the NAWSA. Courtesy the Library of Congress. A particularly crushing defeat at the hands of the liquor industry came in Michigan in 1912. After decades of organizing, the governor called for a vote, and the measure had strong support from various interests, including farmers. Victory seemed assured until alcohol lobbyists pressed for a recount. There was a strong suspicion of ballot tampering during that process, and suffrage lost by seven hundred votes. Women in Michigan had to wait until 1917 for presidential suffrage and 1918 for full suffrage. [17]

    As suffragists realized the problems that came with their relationship with prohibitionists, they moved away from working closely with the temperance movement. In South Dakota, suffrage proponents ended their alliance with temperance advocates in the mid-1910s and began sending the German community copies of their suffrage paper. [18] Still, the association between temperance and woman suffrage lingered. In some areas it was the passage of state prohibition laws that finally allowed woman suffrage to gain traction because only then did the opposition from the liquor industry cease. Following a divisive and ultimately unsuccessful battle for suffrage in Kansas in 1867, proponents were hopeful following the passage of state prohibition in 1879. With that success, the WCTU held significant influence in the state, and their ties to the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association helped lead to passage of the country’s first state-level municipal woman suffrage law in 1887. [19] Something similar happened in South Dakota. In 1916 men in the state voted on both prohibition and woman suffrage. Prohibition won while woman suffrage garnered 48 percent of the vote, an unprecedented high. Suffrage supporters believed their success was now assured because the liquor vote had been silenced. They were right at their next attempt, in 1918, South Dakota women finally achieved full suffrage. [20]

    Figure 4. Five women from the Minnesota branch of the Congressional Union stand with their banners in front of the National Woman’s Party headquarters. One of the banners attests to the involvement of Scandinavian women in the suffrage movement. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Midwestern suffragists adopted arguments of female morality, piety, and domesticity as justifications for the vote beyond their connection with temperance. Jane Addams promoted a variation of this argument with her call for municipal housekeeping (also called civic or public housekeeping). Drawing upon her experience with settlement houses in Chicago, Addams argued not that women were different from men and, thus, could purify politics, but that women’s household tasks actually made them uniquely qualified to be city leaders and to clean up the problems caused by industrialization. “The ballot,” she said, “would afford the best possible protection to working women and expediate that protective legislation which they so sadly need and in which America is so deficient.” [21]

    Addams’s argument resonated best in the region’s cities, such as Chicago, Omaha, Minneapolis, and St. Louis, where most suffrage activities were centered. But midwestern states also had significant rural populations with somewhat different concerns. Organizations like the Grange, Farmers’ Alliance, and Populist Party routinely endorsed woman suffrage in the Midwest, and by the 1890s, suffrage groups became more adept at leveraging that support. This was especially true in Kansas where these rural associations all promoted the role of women within their organizations and supported a more democratic and egalitarian society. In 1892, shortly after the founding of the Populist Party in Kansas, rural publications targeted women as farmers and as political actors. Its paper the Farmer’s Wife declared a “Women’s War” and vowed to fight any suffrage opponents until the vote was won. [22]

    Leaders in other states also targeted farm women with their publications and grassroots campaigns. Following decades of defeat in Nebraska , urban-based suffrage organizations changed their approach in 1914 and included rural women in their push. They wrote articles that targeted farm wives and specifically asked their opinions. They even expanded their donation policy to accept crops and farm animals to encourage rural involvement. The message was received positively. As one rural woman wrote to a suffrage paper, “The woman farm owner is considered a citizen only when the taxes fall due, but on election day she may not say how those taxes are spent.” Despite their differences, rural and urban Nebraska women were able to see that they both were without an important voice—the vote. Nebraska suffragists’ ability to broaden their message to include rural areas helped them win partial suffrage in 1918. [23]

    Something similar happened in Iowa. In the late nineteenth century, urban suffrage leaders preferred to work within their own social circles. When their efforts garnered few results, they looked to new ways to attract rural support, including an automobile tour of small communities and speakers on the Chautauqua circuit. In 1916, with this dual urban-rural approach, suffragists undertook one of the largest grassroots campaigns in Iowa’s history. The vote for the suffrage referendum failed in the end, but the change in tactic contributed to a closer vote than previous ones in 1872 and 1909. [24]

    The organizing and mobilizing by the region’s African American women also contributed to suffrage successes. At times Black women were supported by white suffrage leaders. For instance, when Lucy Stone learned that Black women had been denied entrance to her talk in Indiana while on her 1853 tour of the Midwest, she demanded that African Americans be permitted to attend the following night and was steadfast in her decision even when told this would mean some of the local white population would refuse to attend. [25] More frequently, it was Black women who had to demand that white suffragists include their voices and perspectives. Josephine St. Pierre did this at the 1900 meeting of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in Wisconsin when she pushed for Black and white women to unify. Instead, she was taunted, and other leading Black women, such as Mary Church Terrell from the National Association of Colored Women, were not even allowed to speak. [26] Often excluded from white women’s suffrage meetings, Black women organized among themselves to advance suffrage rights for all African Americans. Even though Black women in the Midwest did not face the same hostility as those in the South, they still endured discrimination within the suffrage movement.

    Once they gained suffrage, Black women proved to be an influential voting bloc. Illinois women gained local suffrage in 1914, and Black leaders such as Ida B. Wells-Barnett immediately began to mobilize Black women as voters, partly because they feared that the state planned to offer broader suffrage but only to white women. Wells wanted to ensure that Black women were aware of their rights. They had largely been left out of the Illinois Woman Suffrage Association, but due to Wells’s work and the potential threat to their voting rights, Black women created the Alpha Suffrage Club. (Figure 1) They gained the support of Black men by arguing that they wanted the vote to help elect Black men into office. Through their efforts to register men and women, Chicago’s predominately Black Second Ward soon was sixth out of the city’s thirty-five wards for voter registration. The Alpha Suffrage Club then put those voters to work. The group helped elect the city’s first Black alderman and defeat a candidate supported by white suffragists. Black women also demonstrated the power of their collective action in Ohio. In 1919, the Colored Women’s Republican Club changed its name to the Colored Women’s Independent Political League as a public repudiation of that party when the Republican-dominated Ohio legislature defeated an equal rights bill. This successful work by Black women made other groups take notice. Anti-suffragists in the South used the Illinois example to demonstrate the danger of extending the vote and, thereby, expanding Black voting potential. [27]

    Figure 5. In June 1916, more than three thousand women, clad in white, held a “walkless, talkless parade” in St. Louis. The goal was to demonstrate how, without the vote, the voices of women had been silenced. Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis. By the start of the twentieth century, the national woman suffrage movement had come together with the creation of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1890, which united NWSA and AWSA. Yet new divisions appeared with the formation of the more radical Congressional Union in 1913. Its leader Alice Paul quickly began to make movements into the Midwest, where she was met with varied responses. The Ohio Woman Suffrage Association invited both NAWSA and the Congressional Union to set up offices in the state in 1915. (Figure 2) Carrie Chapman Catt of Iowa, president of NAWSA, said that the Ohio group had “lost its senses” and urged the state to oppose the Congressional Union. (Figure 3) Leaders in Wisconsin and Minnesota also called for an end to the divisions and tried to work with both national groups. [28] Despite the national divisions, groups in the Midwest—just as they had earlier with AWSA and NWSA—often wanted to see less fighting and more collaboration.

    By 1915, ten western states and Kansas—the first in the Midwest—had adopted full woman suffrage. [29] Successful on their third attempt in 1912, Kansas suffragists adopted a wide range of tactics. They held bazaars and teas to raise money, worked with local communities to stage the play How the Vote Was Won, and held essay contests in public schools, where children competed for prizes but the real purpose was to convert their parents to the suffrage cause. With a margin of almost twenty thousand votes, Kansas became “the seventh star” of woman suffrage in the country and the first in the Midwest. [30]

    Throughout this period, national speakers continued to travel the Midwest. In 1914, Alice Paul sent Congressional Union organizers to the states with full suffrage. In this campaign, Paul’s goal was to organize women and men to support a federal suffrage amendment and to vote against Democratic candidates as a means of opposing the party’s anti-suffrage tendencies. One organizer reported from Kansas that she was well-received in the state and shared accounts that, upon hearing her message, people were planning to change their life-long affiliation with the Democratic Party. Despite this push, Democratic presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson won reelection in 1916 in almost all of the suffrage states, including Kansas. [31]

    The Congressional Union—by 1917 known as the National Woman’s Party (NWP)—was disappointed with its two-year effort. By 1918 the NWP was doing limited on-the-ground work in the Midwest, other than a few scattered speaking tours that, according to the speakers, had little impact in a region that seemed to be without hope. That year, Alice Henkle, an NWP representative, wrote home to the organization’s headquarters, “I hope this is my last week here. Kansas City [Missouri] is the limit, but I hope I am bringing something out of the chaos I found here. At least we have a lot of activity and that has stirred up the women to really take an interest.” [32] (Figure 4)

    The reality of the suffrage push in Missouri—like in much of the Midwest—was stronger and more active than Alice Henkle understood. After early initial success in the West, suffragists won no new states between 1896 and 1910. Then, in the short time from 1910 to 1916, they achieved victories across the West and in Kansas. They organized intensely throughout the region in that period, with referenda in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, South and North Dakota , Missouri, and Nebraska. [33] (Figure 5) These votes failed, but suffragists in Michigan and South Dakota soon achieved their goal with the passage of full suffrage in 1918, and by 1919 all other midwestern states extended partial suffrage to women. Though not as successful as their sisters in the West, suffragists in the Midwest achieved extraordinary victories despite organized and powerful opposition. They led almost constant suffrage campaigns and adeptly changed their tactics as circumstances dictated. Through signature gathering, parades, automobile tours, theatric tableaus, speeches, tabling at county fairs, and publications, suffragists in the Midwest worked within their local communities, struggled to bridge the rural-urban divide, allied with friendly political parties and organizations, devised strategies to counter their well-funded opposition, and drew guidance and inspiration from national organizations. These diverse approaches made the Midwest one of the most varied and successful regions in the country in the campaign for woman suffrage.

    Buechler, Steven M. The Transformation of the Woman Suffrage Movement: The Case of Illinois, 1850–1920. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1986.

    Caldwell, Martha B. “The Woman Suffrage Campaign of 1912.” Kansas Historical Quarterly 12, no.3 (August 1943): 300–326.

    Camhi, Jane Jerome. Women against Women: American Anti-Suffragism, 1880–1920. Brooklyn, NY: Carlson Publishing, Inc., 1994.

    Dudden, Faye E. Fighting Chance: The Struggle over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    Easton, Patricia O’Keefe. “Woman Suffrage in South Dakota: The Final Decade, 1911–1920.” South Dakota History 13, no. 3 (Fall 1983): 206–226.

    Egge, Sara. “‘When We Get to Voting’: Rural Women, Community, Gender, and Woman Suffrage in the Midwest.” PhD diss., University of Iowa, 2012.

    Fischer, Marilyn. “The Conceptual Scaffolding of Newer Ideals of Peace.” In Fischer, Nackenoff, and Chmielewski, Jane Addams and the Practice of Democracy, 165 –1 82.

    Fischer, Marilyn, Carol Nackenoff, and Wendy Chmielewski, eds. Jane Addams and the Practice of Democracy. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

    Goldberg, Michael L. An Army of Women: Gender and Politics in Gilded Age Kansas. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

    ———. “Non-Partisan and All-Partisan: Rethinking Woman Suffrage and Party Politics in Gilded Age Kansas.” Western Historical Quarterly 25, no. 1 (Spring 1994): 21–44.

    Heider, Carmen. “Farm Women, Solidarity, and The Suffrage Messenger: Nebraska Suffrage Activism on the Plains, 1915–1917.” Great Plains Quarterly 32, no. 2 (Spring 2012): 113–130.

    Hinkley, Justin. “‘They Persisted’: Lessons for Today’s Activists on Centennial of Michigan Women’s Suffrage.” Lansing State Journal, January 23, 2018 .

    Kolmertern, Carol A. The American Life of Ernestine L. Rose. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1999.

    Lunardini, Christine A. From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party, 1910–1928. New York: New York University Press, 1986.

    McBride, Genevieve G. On Wisconsin Women: Working for their Rights from Settlement to Suffrage. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.

    ———. Review of Women’s Suffrage in Wisconsin, Part 1, Records of the Wisconsin Woman Suffrage Association, 1892–1925. Journal of American History 79, no. 4 (March 1993): 1704 –170 6.

    McDonagh, Eileen L., and H. Douglas Price. “Woman Suffrage in the Progressive Era: Patterns of Opposition and Support in Referenda Voting, 1910–1918.” American Political Science Review 79, no. 2 (June 1985): 415–435.

    McKinnon, Holly. “Stirring up Suffrage Sentiment: The Formation of the State Woman Suffrage Organizations, 1866–1914.” Social Forces 80, no.2 (December 2001): 449–480.

    McMillen, Margot. The Golden Lane: How Missouri Women Gained the Vote and Changed History. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.

    Million, Joelle. Woman’s Voice, Woman’s Place: Lucy Stone and the Birth of the Woman’s Rights Movement. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.

    Morris, Monia Cook. “The History of Woman Suffrage in Missouri, 1867–1901.” Missouri Historical Review 25, no. 1 (October 1930): 67–82.

    Noun, Louise R. Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1969.

    Pastorello, Karen. “‘The Transfigured Few’: Jane Addams, Bessie Abramowitz Hillman, and Immigrant Women Workers in Chicago, 1905–15.” In Fischer, Nackenoff, and Chmielewski, Jane Addams and the Practice of Democracy, 98 – 118.

    Riessen-Reed, Dorinda. The Woman Suffrage Movement in South Dakota. Vermillion, SD: University of South Dakota, 1958.

    Scott, Mary Semple, ed. “History of Woman Suffrage in Missouri.” Missouri Historical Review 14, no. 3–4 (April–July 1920): 281–384.

    Sneider, Allison. Suffragists in an Imperial Age: U.S. Expansion and the Woman Question, 1870–1929. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    Steppenoff, Bonnie. “Disfranchised and Degraded: Virginia Minor and the Constitutional Case for Women’s Suffrage.” In Missouri Law and the American Conscience: Historical Rights & Wrongs, edited by Kenneth Winn, 105 –1 28. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2016.

    Stuhler, Barbara. “Organizing for the Vote: Leaders of Minnesota's Woman Suffrage Movement.” Minnesota History 54, no.7 (Fall 1995): 290–303.

    Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

    Tetrault, Lisa. The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848–1898. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

    Whites, LeeAnn. “The Tale of Two Minors: Women’s Rights on the Border.” In Women in Missouri History: In Search of Power and Influence, edited by LeeAnn Whites, Mary Neth, and Gary Kremer, 101 – 118. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004.

    “Women’s Suffrage in Iowa.” Iowa Women’s Archives , University of Iowa Libraries, 2011.

    How would an Equal Rights Amendment affect women&rsquos rights?

    Although American women have made significant gains in equality since the 1970s &mdash and certainly since the 1920s &mdash advocates say that an Equal Rights Amendment could still have a profound effect on the law and on American society.

    Advocates say that the amendment is help back by the sense among some people that it’s not necessary, but proponents argue that it could strengthen the legal basis for combating violence against women, pay inequality and maternity leave.

    Meanwhile, some contemporary opponents argue the amendment could have more of an impact than they’d want, for example leading to the striking down of laws that restrict access to abortion. Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson raised these concerns during Congress’s hearing on the Amendment this spring. However, Coberly calls this line of thinking “fear-mongering” and points out that the Supreme Court has already upheld women’s right to seek an abortion, even without the ERA.

    “Passing a constitutional amendment does not automatically invalidate anything,” Coberly says. “It would provide a basis, potentially, for a lawsuit, and courts will need to decide whether any particular law &mdash whether it&rsquos on abortion or something else &mdash constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex and is invalid under any equal rights amendment.”

    Professor Tracy Thomas of The University of Akron School of Law tells TIME that the law would prevent women&rsquos rights from sliding back, and eliminate some &ldquowiggle room&rdquo that leaves space in the law for stereotypes to affect civil rights. She also argues that protecting women&rsquos rights in the Constitution would have a major cultural impact.

    &ldquoThere&rsquos this overriding structure of the highest law in the land that has this absolute command, and so that has to trickle down,&rdquo says Thomas. She says that recent events such as the rise of the #MeToo movement reveal how quickly society can change. &ldquoOnce you start changing the culture and the dialogue, things that were acceptable become unacceptable really quickly.&rdquo

    Coberly notes that many people don&rsquot even know that the U.S. hasn&rsquot ratified the amendment yet. However, she feels that in the last few years, a growing number of people have come to believe that such a protection is important.

    &ldquoI think there&rsquos been a more widespread understanding among both women and men that we have not truly established equality in our culture,” she says, “and the laws that we have enacted are not sufficient to protect against sex discrimination in all avenues.”

    Watch the video: Morgan Heritage - Let Them Talk (June 2022).


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