Lesson Plan - Get It!
In 1869, Wyoming became the first legislative body in the world to give women the right to vote.
- Why did it take another 50 years for every woman in the United States of America to gain that same right?
Early Women's Suffrage
Early women's suffrage culminated in the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. This was the first organized assembly of suffragettes.
Women began to challenge their established position in society during the 19th century, at the same time the abolition movement was occurring.
Watch Women Vote, from Studies Weekly, for a brief overview:
This movement remained well-organized and active for the seven decades it took to achieve national women's suffrage when the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. However, many states had already granted women the right to vote long before.
States in the less populated regions of the United States wanted to encourage women to migrate, thereby increasing population. Getting people to establish families in their state would help it grow and raise tax revenue.
For this reason, western states began to offer rights to women to incentivize migration.
When Wyoming was still a territory in 1869, it became the first part of the U.S. to allow women to vote. It did not stop there. By 1920, these 20 states and territories had already given women the right to vote:
- So what was stopping the rest of the country?
Eastern United States
The struggles for greater rights for women and minorities were intertwined during the early 20th century.
Many politicians believed the advancement of women would only lead to a greater enfranchisement of African Americans. They believed that the moment women had the opportunity to vote, they would vote on the side of minorities because of their combined struggle for representation.
- What do you think of this assumption?
- Why would a group be hesitant to enfranchise a group they have historically marginalized?
This anti-suffragette sentiment was popular all around the world. Before Wyoming, no women in the world had been able to vote for at least a century.
- So, who was able to convince American politicians of something that was disliked the world over?
Susan B. Anthony
In 1837, at the age of 17, Susan B. Anthony joined the American Anti-Slavery Society, beginning her life's work for equality.
Throughout her life, she formed several organizations of her own devoted to the further enfranchisement of women both at home in America and around the world. The most influential of these organizations was the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA).
When the 15th Amendment was passed in 1870, it affirmed that:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
While this was specifically targeted toward African American men, Susan B. Anthony felt that this unequivocally gave women the right to vote as well because it did not include a hierarchy of gender, legally making men superior to women.
This assertion pushed her and other women around the country to attempt to vote in elections and to sue when they were turned away. They cited this clause of the 15th Amendment as well as the newly adopted 14th Amendment, which guarantees laws could not be enforced that would abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.
Eight years later, in 1878, Anthony's struggle convinced Senator Aaron Sargent of California to propose an amendment to give women the right to vote.
- Why was this senator from California willing to endorse this amendment?
- What was the reason that it took decades for it to pass?
Carrie Chapman Catt
When Susan B. Anthony retired, Carrie Chapman Catt became the president of the NWSA. She methodically strategized the ways in which to gain full suffrage in each state as well as federally.
By Woodrow Wilson's administration in 1912, the "Susan B. Anthony Amendment" had failed multiple times. Although progress was being made in individual states, Catt took a new approach as World War I broke out.
When the U.S. joined the war in 1917, countless women joined the effort in factories and behind the lines. Catt argued that women had earned the right to vote.
In July of 1917, women began to picket in front of the White House. After over 100 women were arrested, many went on hunger strikes to force support for the bill. In many cases, guards would force-feed the prisoners in order to keep them alive.
These women were eventually released due to rising public outrage.
Image from the Library of Congress, via Picryl, has no known copyright restrictions.
By 1918, President Wilson fully endorsed the amendment that had first been proposed 40 years earlier.
Officially re-proposed in 1919, the 19th Amendment passed in 1920 with 3/4 of the states ratifying it, when Tennessee was the 36th to approve it.
As we move into the Got It? section, think about how long this amendment took to pass.
- Was it inevitable?
- Do you think it was challenged in the years following?
Let's find out!