What Was a Suffragette?

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11859

Politicians try to appeal to everyone for votes, but there were certain people who fought for a century to get the right to vote! Study these brave people who earned rights we take for granted today!


United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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What is a suffragette? Chances are, you know one or more suffragettes! Find out who they are!

Today, women can attend college, have careers, and own their own business, but at one time, the United States truly was a man's world.

Women were not allowed to vote in political elections and were given few educational opportunities. Higher education was completely out of the question. In addition, there were strict regulations making it difficult for women to own property or businesses. In this lesson, you will learn about the movement that changed the American mindset about women.

"Suffrage" is defined as the right to vote in political elections (Oxford Dictionaries). Women that fought for the right to vote became known as suffragettes. Their battle lasted many years, and established the rights that all American women have today.

By the 1830s, the right to vote had been given to all white men, no matter their socioeconomic status. Minority groups, including African-Americans and women, began forming to petition the right to vote. In 1848, the first large gathering of suffragettes met in Seneca Falls, New York, to discuss women's rights. At the convention, they agreed that women should be allowed their own political identities and rephrased the famous line of the Declaration of Independence, stating, "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men and women are created equal." This became the motto of the suffragette movement.

The suffragette movement died down somewhat during the Civil War. After the Civil War, the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was added in 1870. The Fifteenth Amendment granted all men the right to vote, and said the right could not be denied on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of slavery. The passage of this amendment further fueled the suffragette movement, and the women began actively protesting again. The Fifteenth Amendment also caused some tension between the suffragettes, because many refused to support it until women were given the same rights. Other women felt it was unfair to deny others the same right they were fighting for.

In the 1890s, the suffragettes began to change their stance. Rather than advocating for the right to vote on the basis of being equal to men, the suffragettes began advocating for the right to vote because they were created differently from men. According to them, this difference enabled them to provide unique political insight and opinions. This motto began to sway some opinions, but it was still not enough to get an amendment passed.

 Votes for Women sellers, 1908

Image from The Women's Library Collection, via flickr's The Commons, has no known copyright restrictions.

By the 1900s, some western states began allowing women to vote in state elections, but southern and eastern states remained resistant to the idea.

It wasn't until World War I that opinions about women and politics truly began to transform. Women played an active part in the war, acting as nurses and helping to raise funds for the troops. Their involvement proved that, even though they were not on the battlefield, they could be just as patriotic and show support for their country in other ways.

Finally, in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified. According to the Nineteenth Amendment, the right to vote cannot be denied on the basis of gender. Nearly 100 years of protests had proved successful! Earning the right to vote was the first of many steps taken to provide equality to women. After the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, women were given more educational privileges and opportunities outside the home. Today, women have all the same rights as men, although some question whether women are being adequately compensated in their professions compared to men.

Explain to your teacher or parent why the Nineteenth Amendment is significant. Then, move on to the Got It? section to continue learning about the women's suffrage movement.

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