There are 27 points in this recap in order to represent 26.2 miles of a marathon because the fight for suffrage was indeed a marathon and not a sprint.
Mile Marker 1
1776: America had Founding Mothers as well as Founding Fathers. Women played a critical part in the Revolution; They inspired, fought, made supplies, cared for the wounded, and kept businesses running. Despite being founded on democratic ideals of “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” the right to vote was never explicitly granted in the Constitution. The ability to elect representatives to govern was almost exclusively for the wealthy white male elite.
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1800-1840: Women began to have access to higher education through the founding of women’s colleges and a few established schools becoming co-ed. Women began studying law, medicine, math, science, and more. This was also a time when women started speaking in public as itinerant preachers during the second Great Awakening, a spiritual movement that flourished in the early 1800s. Women of color such as Jarena Lee (founder of the African Methodist Epsicopal Church), Julia Foote (first woman deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church), Amanda Berry Smith (international female evangelist), Maria W. Stewart (women’s right advocate and abolitionist) and Sojourner Truth (abolitionist) were popular speakers. Antionette Brown Blackwell (first female Unitarian minister), Ellen Gould White (founder of Seventh Day Adventists), Ann Lee (founder of the Shakers), and Public Universal Friend (genderless leader of Society of Universal Friends) were also important spiritual leaders.
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1840: The abolishment of slavery is a hot topic. The World Anti-Slavery Conference is held in London. Among the American delegates are eight women: Sarah Pugh, Abby Kimber, Elizabeth Neal, Mary Grew, Ann Green Phillips, Emily Winslow, Abby Southwick, and Lucretia Mott. The organizers had not expected any women to be full delegates. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is at the conference as well because her husband is a full delegate. The first order of business is a vote that the women should not be allowed to speak at the event and should sit behind a curtain during the conference rather than be active participants. In the aftermath of anger at this indignity, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott become friends.
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1848: An afternoon get together for tea turns into planning the first ever public meeting specifically focused on women’s rights. It is a hastily planned event and held two weeks later at Seneca Falls, however it becomes the foundation for women’s rights being treated seriously as its own issue. Lucretia Mott and Fredrick Douglass are the headliner speakers. Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote the Declaration of Sentiments based off of the Declaration of Independence. The declaration and several resolutions for women’s equality are read out loud as part of the conference. Stanton included a resolution which puts forth the idea of women having the right to vote. It is an outrageously radical idea at this time and many women fear it will make their cause look silly. It is the only resolution that does not pass unanimously.
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1850-1860:This decade saw ten women’s rights conferences held on a national level and many more state and regional meetings. Although a few papers wrote glowing accounts of the events and praised the women for their professional organization and top-notch speaking skills, most newspapers report unfavorably on the women by characterizing them as extremist unfeminine shrews and warned of the “insurrection of petticoats”. Sojourner Truth became the breakout star of the second national women’s rights conference held in Akron, Ohio, in 1851. Susan B. Anthony hadn’t even attended the meeting at Seneca Falls and wasn’t interested in getting the right to vote at first, but after being inspired by Lucy Stone, she joined the young women’s rights movement in 1851, and went on to becoming one of the most prominent leaders of the suffrage movement.
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1851-1855: Women begin to show more independence by pushing for more sensible dress. The modified dress over baggy ankle length trousers was first created by Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s cousin, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Smith Miller, in order to be able to work in her garden without the fuss of a standard dress and corset. Amelia Bloomer popularized the idea in her magazine, “The Lily”. Lucy Stone radically chose to keep her maiden name when she married Henry Blackwell in 1855. Their marriage vows included a contract in which Henry agreed to always treat Lucy as her own person and an equal. Normally a woman became a “non-person” under the law and was merely an extension of her husband’s legal identity. A married woman could not sign contracts for herself nor have guardianship of her own children.
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1852: The book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is originally published as a serial story in a magazine. It was inspired by the real life story of the Edmonson sisters who were part of the largest slave escape in the history of the United States. The escape known as the “Pearl Incident” was unsuccessful. The sisters were sold down South as punishment. Their father, a free Black man, was able to raise the cost to purchase them with the help of Reverend Henry Ward Beecher. The reverend’s sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe who interviewed former slaves in order to create an accute portrayal of slavery in the book.
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1861-1865 The Civil War interrupts the fight for women’s suffrage but opens up new opportunities. Nursing becomes a legitimate profession led by pioneers like Clara Barton and Dorothea Dix. Women, disguised as men, fight as soldiers. Female spies are an important part of military strategy. Most importantly women step outside the domestic sphere of managing a home and into running family businesses and farms while the men are away. For most women this leads to a desire to keep this new found independence. Some parts of society fear the idea of Blacks becoming equal to whites. After the war, the mythology of the “lost cause” is created and Jim Crow laws become common ways to oppress people of color.
Mile Marker 9
1866: The American Equal Rights Association was an extraordinary coalition of suffragists that provided equal opportunities for women of color in leadership roles. Among the women of color were such notable names as Harriet Purvis, Sarah Remond, and Sojourner Truth. White activists were leaders like Abby Kelley Foster, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Lucy Stone. Sadly the organization fell apart in 1869 because of disagreements over the 14th and 15th Amendments.
Mile Marker 10
1868: 172 women including 4 Black women in the progressive community of Vineland, NJ, staged a mock election and voted during the November Presidential Election. 1869 Wyoming and Utah pass the right to vote. Seraph Young of Utah voted in a municipal election in February of 1870 but Louisa Gardner Swain of Wyoming was the first to vote in a democratic presidential election in November of 1870. The Edmunds-Tucker act of 1887 revoked women’s suffrage in Utah and it was not restored until 1896. Wyoming is considered the first state to grant women’s suffrage and Utah is listed as third due to the disruption.
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1868-1870: The wording of the 14th and 15th Amendments opens up voting rights for Black males but not women. There was open resentment and racism at the fact that an illiterate former male slave could vote but a college-educated wealthy white woman could not. This broke the suffrage movement into two opposing factions. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton form the National Women’s Suffrage Association (NWSA) which opposed the passage of both amendments and favored creating a universal suffrage amendment. Lucy Stone and Julia Howe form the American Women’s Suffrage Association (AWSA) which felt that while the amendments weren’t perfect, a small step toward equality was better than no step. The AWSA also hoped that newly enfranchised Black men would support universal suffrage including helping women of color get the vote.
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1872: Several women including Susan B. Anthony try to use the “equal protection under the law” clause in the 14th Amendment in order to demand the right to vote. They vote on election day but poll watcher Sylvester Lewis files a complaint of voter fraud. The charges against the other women are dropped but Susan B. Anthony is arrested and insists on bringing her case to trial. Judge Ward Hunt was a vehemently anti-suffrage and unfairly instructed the jury to find her guilty before the beginning of the trial. He also would not allow Susan B. Anthony to testify. However, the law required that a defendant be allowed to make an objection to their sentencing, Susan B. Anthony took the opportunity to make a powerful speech for women’s rights. She was fined $100 and refused to pay it hoping to be arrested again. The judge did not pursue collecting the fine because Anthony could have appealed her case to a higher court.
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1878: Senator A.A. Sargent of California introduced the Susan B Anthony Amendment into Congress. The proposed amendment stated “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.” Those exact words penned in 1878 would eventually become the wording of the 19th Amendment.
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1880-1890: This decade brought profound changes to society and separates first and second generations of suffragists. Electricity, cars, cameras, and telephones herald modern times. The Supreme Court rulings on the “five civil rights cases” legalizes segregation and the first significant anti-immigration laws are passed. Ellis Island is opened and the Statue of Liberty is dedicated. New women leaders such as Alice Paul, Helen Keller, and Eleanor Roosevelt are born.
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1890: Lucy Stone’s daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell reunites the National Women’s Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Women’s Suffrage Association (AWSA) to form the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA). NAWSA will be at the forefront of the suffrage fight until the final passage of the 19th Amendment.
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1895: Ida B. Wells publishes the “The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States”. Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin sends out a “Call to Confer” to every African-American women’s organization. The 1896 conference of these organizations results in the coalition of more than 100 clubs into the National Association of Colored Women (NACW)
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1869-1896: Four western states, Wyoming (1869), Colorado (1893), Utah (1896) and Idaho (1896) now have full suffrage for women. New Zealand becomes the first democratic nation in the world to grant full suffrage to women in 1893.
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1897-1903: In order to win support for a state-by-state suffrage strategy, the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) holds national conventions in Grand Rapids, MI and New Orleans, LA. The national level of NAWSA takes the position that each state branch can choose whether or not to segregate it’s events and meetings out of respect for “states’ rights”. However, this stance allows for blatant racism towards women of color in the suffrage movement. The growing influence of the suffrage movement fuels the rise of women-led anti-suffrage movements.
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1911-1912: More western states extend full suffrage to women: California (1911) Arizona (1912) Kansas (1912) and Oregon (1912). Journalist Jovita Idar of Texas organizes the Liga Femenil Mexicanista (the League of Mexican Women) and speaks out against lynching of Latinx people. She fights for bilingual education and women’s equality.
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1913: The suffrage parade in Washington D.C. was not the first but it became the most famous. Alice Paul organized a spectacular display and positioned it the day before President Wilson’s Inauguration. It was a three part art event consisting of the main parade with thematic floats, an allegory pageant, and the finale of a suffrage hike from New York. The parade became disrupted by rowdy crowds who pushed pass the barriers. There were physical confrontations resulting in injuries and mayhem which led to a Senate investigation. Paul spun the negative publicity to gain sympathy for the suffrage cause. She also took a lot of credit for the increased interest in women’s voting rights. Many of the old school suffrage leaders such as Carrie Chapman Catt, took offense to this.
Mile Marker 21
1913-1915: Women in the western states continue to gain voting rights. Alaska (1913), Montana (1914), and Nevada (1914) pass full suffrage. The 1915 eastern state suffrage campaigns of Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania fail at the ballot box. Carrie Chapman Catt of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) creates her “Winning Plan” which focuses money on the states most likely to pass suffrage while Alice Paul of the National Woman’s Party (NWP) continues to push for a national suffrage amendment.
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1917-1918: America enters WWI. Moderate suffrage groups like the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) chose to support the war effort. Women became nurses, telephone operators, and factory workers. The more progressive suffragists such as the National Woman’s Party (NWP) refuse to support fighting for democracy overseas when women are not part of American democracy. The NWP chose the radical action of peaceful protest and began a months long campaign of silently picketing the White House.
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1917: The peaceful protest of picketing the White House was viewed as unpatriotic and even treasonous during the war. Provocative banners displaying the hypocrisy of President Wilson’s views on democracy incited crowds to attack the suffragists. The suffragists were arrested and imprisoned. They demanded to be treated as political prisoners and many went on hunger strikes. On November 14, 1917, the guards attacked the suffragists in their prison cells. When the public learned the details of the The “Night of Terror”, they demanded the women be released. Suffrage gained even more public favor.
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1917-1919: New York state passed suffrage in 1917. This brought a lot of pressure on politicians to come out in support of women’s right to vote. The 1918 flu pandemic threatens to derail suffrage campaigns as the country reels from 650,000 deaths by the end of 1919. The prohibition amendment is ratified but is vetoed by President Wilson. Senator Andrew Volstead pushed Congress to override the veto and add it to the Constitution as the 18th Amendment in 1919. The Susan B. Anthony Amendment passes both houses of Congress and is off to ratification by the states to become the 19th Amendment.
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1919-1920: Some states quickly ratify the 19th Amendment. Other states fear that Black women voting will erode white political influence and refuse to ratify the amendment. It all comes down to the state of Tennessee. A young state senator named Harry T. Burns had planned on voting against suffrage but a letter from his mother changes his mind. The 19th Amendment is added to the Constitution on August 26, 1920. While the 19th Amendment prevented voter discrimation on the basis of sex. It did not prevent states from making voting laws which unfairly disenfranchised women of color.
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1923: Voting rights for women was only the beginning of equality. Alice Paul introduces the Equal Rights Amendment into Congress. This simply states “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” If the ERA becomes part of the Constitution, gender equality would become codified in foundational American law.
Mile Marker 26.2
Epilogue: It took 144 years for most women to be able to vote. It took even longer for people of color and Indigenous people to gain full voting rights. Democracy is only legitimate when everyone’s right to vote is protected. Vote and help others to vote. Your country is depending on you.
This week’s song pick:
“My Country Tis of Thee” sung by Marian Anderson
The SuffragetteCity100 project is dedicated to everyone, both named and unnamed, who fought for and continues the fight for equality. Thank you.