Women’s Suffrage at Last

The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 demanded women’s suffrage, but the issue of the vote only gained attention during Reconstruction.

The 15th amendment to the Constitution granted the right to vote to African American males. Many women suffragists were outraged that former slaves would vote before America's women could.

A Movement Divided

Activists for black suffrage argued that linking black suffrage with female suffrage would surely accomplish neither. Feminist leaders Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and abolitionist Sojourner Truth disagreed and they demanded immediate federal action supporting the vote for women.

A split occurred in 1869 that weakened the suffrage movement. Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell believed that the most effective path to women’s suffrage was through the state governments. Anthony and Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association and lobbied for a Constitutional amendment.

In 1872, Anthony and Stanton endorsed a female candidate for President. NWSA supporters came to the polls on election day and officials were forced to turn them away. They set up protest ballot boxes. They were not willing to compromise on a solution other than a Constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote.

Stone and Blackwell, on the other hand, lobbied state governments. Wyoming became the first state to grant full women's suffrage in 1869, and Utah did so the following year. But no other states granted full suffrage until the 1890s.

The NAWSA to the Rescue

Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell’s daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell, worked for a unified front. In 1890, the two groups formed the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).

The Progressive Era inspired the NAWSA membership. By 1910, most states west of Mississippi had granted full suffrage rights to women. Some Midwest states permitted women to vote in Presidential elections. But no progress had been made in the Northeast and the South states. NAWSA leader Carrie Chapman Catt knew at least one state in each of those key regions would have to vote for ratification in order to approve a Constitutional amendment.

After the United States entered World War I, significant progress was made. In 1917, New York and Arkansas permitted women to vote. NAWSA supported the war effort, and women's prominence in that effort increased support for suffrage.

On August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment became law, and women had gained the right to vote in all states.

Source: Women’s Suffrage at Last
Copyright ©2008-2017 ushistory.org, owned by the Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia, founded 1942.

Back to top