Progressive Era: 1891–1920

Women's Suffrage and the 19th Amendment

Rise of the Women's Suffrage Movement

The women's suffrage movement began in the late 18th century but grew in strength and popularity following the Civil War as women like Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul fought for women's voting rights.

The women's suffrage movement, promoting women's right to vote, began in the late 18th century but gained momentum primarily after the Civil War. One of the earliest post-Revolutionary War voices for change was Judith Sargent Murray, with her 1779 essay, “On the Equality of the Sexes.” She argued that men and women, in nature, were intellectual equals with equal capabilities when provided equal access to education.

Leading up to the Civil War, women joined the antislavery movement and spoke across the country about women's civil rights and the rights of slaves. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were two such women. They held the first convention for women's rights in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. By the 1850s Stanton had partnered with Susan B. Anthony to hold conventions to promote women's right to vote, to be employed, and to be educated equally.

Women who had run households and businesses during and after the Civil War increasingly pushed for their right to participate in civic life as well. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1898 book, Women and Economics, is a prominent example, with her call for economic independence for women.

Because women's suffrage differed between states, there was a need for action at the federal level to give women nationwide the right to vote. Anthony and Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 to pressure the federal government to pass an amendment allowing women to vote. Alongside this organization, the American Woman Suffrage Association was founded in the same year by Lucy Stone, a suffrage activist. Stone had been fighting for suffrage on a state-by-state basis. The two organizations merged to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1890.
Efforts of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) led to the passage of the 19th Amendment, giving all citizens the right to vote.
Credit: Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-22262
Not only did women participate in the Suffrage Parade on March 3, 1913, but many of the participants traveled to the nation's capital from New York City.
Credit: Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ggbain-12490
Alice Paul and The National Woman's Party protest in front of the White House in February 1917. President Wilson had to be nudged rather heavily to support suffrage.
Credit: Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-70382

19th Amendment

The 19th Amendment was adopted in 1920 and extended universal voting rights to women.
Amendments to the U.S. Constitution to give women the right to vote were proposed in 1878 and 1914. In 1913 the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), organized by Alice Paul, a suffragist and activist, marched on Washington to demand voting rights and picketed the White House a day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. Wilson was dismayed by Paul's "unladylike" tactics but was acutely aware of the NAWSA's growing political strength. Suffragists were arrested, and some held hunger strikes and were force-fed, but their efforts did not persuade enough members of Congress to vote for the 1914 amendment. However, as World War I proved to an increasing number of people that women could perform any job they were given, Republicans and Democrats alike, including President Wilson, began to support suffrage for women. In 1918 the amendment came just short of being passed by both the House and the Senate, but in 1919 the amendment was passed by both. The 19th Amendment states, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied … by the United States or … any State on account of sex." It was ratified in 1920 and became part of the U.S. Constitution.

Women's Suffrage before the 19th Amendment, 1920

Before the passage of the 19th Amendment, women's right to vote varied from state to state. However, after the amendment was passed (1919) and ratified (August 1920), the right to vote was extended to all citizens, including women.