Thursday, August 26, 2010

Happy Women's Equality Day!

August 26 is Women's Equality Day, to celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This is the 90th anniversary of women's suffrage in the United States. After more than 70 years of ceaseless campaigning, our grandmothers (and a few of our grandfathers who supported them!) finally won for us the right to vote in public elections. The League of Women Voters has a very nice website with a brief history of the struggle. Here is the way they "bookend" the effort:

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others first seriously proposed women’s right to vote at Seneca Falls, N.Y., on July 19, 1848. Prior to this time, Susan B. Anthony was active in the women’s temperance movement, but when she met Stanton in 1851, they joined forces and worked together over the next half of the century – and what a force they were. Although they both died before the goal was reached, they lived long enough to see significant progress and were primarily responsible for the ultimate success. Carrie Chapman Catt, founder and early leader of the League of Women Voters, younger than Anthony and Stanton, entered the struggle later and became a leader in the suffragist movement that helped lead it to victory with passage of the 19th amendment in 1920.
Congresswoman Bella Abzug introduced legislation in 1971 naming the day Women's Equality Day, not only to memorialize women's suffrage but also the entire women's civil rights movement. The Seneca Falls meeting at which Elizabeth Cady Stanton proposed women's voting was actually the world's first Women's Rights Convention. The 15th Amendment, after the Civil War, extended voting rights to African American males. At the time, there was discussion among women's rights supporters of pushing to include women in that amendment.

Here is a detailed history of the struggles of the American suffrage movement. Between 1880 and 1920, when Tennessee was the final state required to ratify the 19th amendment, ...
There were 72 years of struggle by women and their male supporters before women achieved political equality. In order to win the vote, suffragists had to engage in petitioning, lobbying, politicking, marching, and picketing the White House. They also ran campaigns to defeat anti-suffrage legislators.

Proponents of women's suffrage waged 480 campaigns in state legislatures to persuade them to adopt suffrage amendments to state constitutions. There were 56 statewide referenda among male voters and 47 campaigns to convince state constitutional conventions to adopt women's suffrage provisions. There were also 277 campaigns at state party conventions; 30 at national conventions; and 19 in separate Congresses to get state parties to adopt women's suffrage planks.
By 1915 or so, Carrie Chapman Catt became a leader in the U.S. suffrage movement and brought a more radical tone with her. She pushed on two fronts simultaneously, lobbying for state laws at the same time as they continued working for ratification of the 19th amendment to the federal constitution. American suffragettes were inspired by the more radical British suffragists, and began holding major parades and rallies. They suffered heckling and attacks, which were not held back by police. When they were arrested and went on hunger strikes, like their British sisters, they were force fed in prison. Suffrage became entangled in the issue of temperance, as liquor interests feared that women with the vote would vote for prohibition. In fact, the 19th amendment was not ratified finally until a year after prohibition was ratified.
In 1920, the United States became the 27th country to give women the vote, after countries such as Denmark, Mexico, New Zealand, and Russia. In fact, most of these countries adopted women's suffrage during or immediately after World War I.
The National Archives has a nice trove to visit here, including images of original source material, images, exhibits and a timeline. The wikipedia article on women's suffrage has a timeline of countries around the world and when they gave women the vote. It really is a bit embarrassing.

The image of American suffragettes marching was posted originally at

1 comment:

Marie S. Newman said...

Great post, Betsy! Thorough and informative.