Community Wellbeing

How Much Do You Know About the History of Women’s Suffrage?

2020 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s* voting rights in the US. Read on to get an overview of this historic event and how it came to be!

The Challenge

The 19th Amendment turns 100 this year! How much do you know about our foremothers’ efforts to secure the right to vote? Check out the Purpose Challenge this month to see how you can increase voter engagement and voter turn-out. 100 years is a milestone to be celebrated!


2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the right for women* to vote in the US. But, did you know the campaign for women’s suffrage began well before the Civil War? While reform groups started proliferating in the 1820s and 1830s, the meeting that launched the women’s suffrage movement occurred in 1848, when a group of activists met in Seneca Falls, New York, to discuss women’s rights. This became known as the Seneca Falls Convention. Most Convention delegates agreed that women should have the right to vote, and the campaign began. However, the suffrage movement faced a setback during the Civil War years. Efforts were renewed post-Civil War as the 14th and 15th amendments were passed.

In 1890, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (“NAWSA”) was formed. By 1910, NAWSA’s membership numbers were in the millions. As NAWSA campaigned throughout the country, a second suffrage organization, the National Women’s Party (“NWP”), was founded. NAWSA put special focus on eastern and southern states, while the NWP engaged in hunger strikes and White House pickets to try to garner publicity for their cause.

Who were the women pioneers leading the movement in the US? Susan B. Anthony might be the most recognizable name in suffragette history, but she didn’t act alone. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the first NAWSA president. The NWP was headed by a woman named Alice Paul. And Carrie Chapman Catt mobilized NAWSA’s nation-wide campaign starting in 1916.

The 19th Amendment was finally ratified on August 18, 1920, giving millions of American women the right to vote. Later that year, more than eight million women voted for the first time.

Did you know?
  • The women’s rights and abolition causes were closely linked before the Civil War, but their ties were severed during post-Civil War expansions of civil liberties. This was due to disagreements over who should receive priority: newly-free African American men, or women?

  • While African-American women were involved in the suffragette movement, most major suffragette organizations were white-led, meaning African-American women were largely excluded.

  • Idaho and Utah were the first two states to grant women the right to vote, but not until the end of the 1800s. Before 1920, 15 states (mainly in the West) already had female suffrage, granting women either full or partial voting rights.

Tools Needed 

The internet, and a platform for virtual gatherings, such as Zoom or FaceTime.

Let’s Get Together

If your alumnae association is having virtual meetings, plan to have women’s suffrage as a topic. You could make a quiz to test your Sisters’ knowledge! Or, research how Alpha Xi Delta was involved in the Women’s Suffrage movement, and make a brief presentation at the meeting. Prior to the meeting, ask for volunteers to research and present on a prominent suffragette. Or, plan a virtual movie night, where you and the women in your life all watch a suffrage-themed movie, then have a virtual chat afterwards to discuss.

Resources:

*DID THE 19TH AMENDMENT GIVE ALL WOMEN THE RIGHT TO VOTE? 

The language of the 19th Amendment included all eligible voters, but not all eligible voters could exercise their right to vote. The Constitution in 1920 mandated a minimum voting age of 21, so the 19th Amendment allowed for women 21 and over to vote. Then, although the 19th Amendment included women of color, many were unable to vote. In the southern United States, restrictive state or local laws called for poll taxes and/or literacy tests before a citizen could vote. Eighty percent of African Americans lived in the southern U.S. in 1920. As more black women moved north, they were able to vote more freely. Full exercise of black voting rights was intended with the Voting Rights Act of 1965; however, even today some states continue to erect barriers to black voting. Native American women were largely excluded from voting before the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924; some states and localities still passed laws effectively barring Natives from voting until the late 1940s. Not until the late 1940s and 1950s were restrictions on Asian American voting removed. 

Source: 2020 Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative (WVCI); www.2020centennial.org

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