Women’s Suffrage

In the United States, all citizens over the age of 18 have the right to vote, but this was not always the case. When the country was founded, slaves and women were denied the right to vote in most states. Even though the Constitution did not ban them from voting, it did not state who could vote. This left states free to make their own laws.

It wasn’t until 1870—almost 100 years after the founding of the U.S. and five years after slavery ended—that the federal government took a stand. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution stopped both federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on race or “previous condition of servitude,” meaning slavery.

However, the 15th Amendment did not address voting rights for women. It took another 50 years of political action, social unrest, and eloquent voices to make a change and give women the right to vote.

The women’s suffrage movement truly began in 1848, when activists led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton presented a Declaration of Rights and Sentiments at a political convention in upstate New York. Driven by Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony, the drive for voting rights gained momentum. By 1900, four states had passed laws allowing women to vote: Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming.

Sculpture of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott in U.S. Capitol
Sculpture of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott in U.S. Capitol

This slow rate, however, was not enough for many women. In the early twentieth century, activism increased. Leaders of the movement stepped forward around the country. One of those leaders was suffragette Jane McCallum.

Jane McCallum, ca. 1900
Jane McCallum, ca. 1900

McCallum, a native of Texas, became president of the Austin Women's Suffrage Association in 1915. She teamed up with another group, the Texas Equal Suffrage Association, to lead statewide campaigns for suffrage. She delivered speeches and published articles in support of passage of a federal amendment giving women the right to vote.

The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote across all the United States. When it was passed, McCallum changed her focus to political reforms. She worked with the League of Women Voters of Texas and with the Women’s Joint Legislative Council, an important lobbying group. She did not rest on her laurels, but remained active in social issues.

Source: Women’s Suffrage
By Exploros, CC BY-SA 4.0; Sculpture photo by Tim Krepp photographer, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Jane McCallum photo courtesy Austin History Center

Back to top