History Of 19Th Amendment – Voting Equality For Women

Overview of the women’s movement to gain the right to vote in the United States from the mid-1800’s to the early 1900’s.

The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified on August 18, 1920, marked a pivotal moment in American history, forever transforming the nation’s political landscape by granting women the right to vote. This milestone was the culmination of a relentless and courageous struggle by women’s suffrage advocates, who battled societal norms and legal barriers to secure this fundamental democratic right.

This article explores the arduous journey, the key figures, and the lasting impact of the 19th Amendment on American society.

What Was the 19th Amendment?

The 19th Amendment is a simply worded Article to the U.S. Constitution.

Article XIX reads that the voting rights of citizens of the United States shall not be denied on the basis of sex. The House of Representatives passed the 19th Amendment in 1919 by a vote of 304 to 90. The Senate passed the Amendment 56 to 25. The required thirty-six states finally ratified the Article on August 18, 1920.

The Seeds of Suffrage

Women had lobbied for their voting rights, or suffrage, for many years before this Amendment came into being. Many historians place the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement in July of 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. It was there that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first convention regarding women’s rights and the women’s right to vote. Many of the backers of the suffrage movement were also abolitionist sympathizers.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
source: www.womenshistory.org

Many abolitionists promoted universal voting rights for blacks and whites. Abolitionists saw success as the 15th Amendment of 1870, which granted voting rights to black men, was passed. It was a natural connection, then, for anti-slavery persons to be involved in women’s voting rights.

Frederick Douglass, the great black abolitionist leader, attended the Seneca Falls convention. In an editorial in the North Star, Douglass wrote that he saw absolutely “no reason” to withhold women’s right to vote.

Later, in 1877, Douglass also signed a petition to the U.S. Congress in regard to women’s suffrage.

Suffrage Organizations and Leadership

In 1869, well-known suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association, or NWSA. In 1871, a petition signed by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cody, and many other suffragists was sent to Congress asking that voting rights be given to women. The petition also asked that women be given the right to speak in Congress. It was obviously not granted at that time.

Following the Civil War, the suffragist movement was divided due to differences in ideology. Two separate organizations pursued voting rights for women. The NWSA was more aggressive in its attempts to win suffrage.

Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson did not agree with this more militant attitude. They formed a separate organization, the American Woman Suffrage Association, or AWSA, in November 1869. These two groups pursued women’s right to vote separately until 1890 when they joined together and formed the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Elizabeth Stanton was the new organization’s president. In 1919, this group later changed and became the League of Women Voters.

Opposition to women’s suffrage came from women, as well. Some women believed the political process was demeaning to their roles as wives and mothers. In the state of New York, for example, there was a Women Voters Anti-Suffrage Party that circulated a petition against women’s suffrage in 1918.

At the same time, pro-suffragists were pushing President Woodrow Wilson to support the proposed Amendment. The suffragists held vigils outside the White House. They carried banners attacking Woodrow Wilson and compared him to the leader of World War I Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II. These vitriolic demonstrations often ended in arrests and public violence. Some women would suffer arrest in promoting the suffragist cause.

In 1872, Susan B. Anthony registered and voted in Rochester, New York. She was arrested, convicted, and fined $100. Susan B. Anthony never paid the fine and, in 1874, petitioned the United States Congress to release from the fine. She argued that the conviction was unjust.

Several states promoted suffrage for women.

New York State passed a women’s voting law in 1917. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson began to support the need for a constitutional amendment to which he had previously been opposed. When ratification by the states began on June 4, 1919, it only took six days for Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin to all ratify the Amendment.

Kansas, New York, and Ohio followed on June 16, 1919. The last required 36th state to ratify was Tennessee, which barely ratified the Amendment on August 18, 1920.

The Tennessee vote to ratify hinged on one vote, the vote of a 24-year-old state legislator by the name of Harry Burn. He had originally voted against ratification. He changed his vote after his mother urged him to do so. Even after his vote, anti-suffrage rallies were held, and anti-suffrage state legislators left the state so that a legislative quorum could not achieved. The Tennessee ratification was achieved, and the required 36 states met the constitutional requirement.

The remaining twelve states of the Union took over sixty years to add their ratifications of the 19th Amendment. Ten of these states originally had rejected ratifying the Amendment. Mississippi was the last state of the 48 states to ratify the Amendment when it did so on March 22, 1984.

The 19th Amendment and its Aftermath

The ratification of the 19th Amendment was a monumental victory for women’s rights, but it was not the end of the struggle. While it legally enfranchised women, many, particularly African American and minority women, continued to face barriers to voting, such as poll taxes and literacy tests. The suffrage movement’s legacy, however, paved the way for subsequent civil rights advancements and laid the groundwork for further reforms.

A century after its ratification, the 19th Amendment stands as a testament to the enduring importance of civic engagement and the ongoing pursuit of equality. Its centennial offers an opportunity to reflect on the progress made and the challenges that remain in the quest for a more inclusive and equitable democracy.

The history of the 19th Amendment is a testament to the power of persistent advocacy, courage, and the pursuit of justice. It altered the fabric of American society, reshaping the political landscape and reaffirming the core democratic principle of equality. As we reflect on this pivotal chapter in history, we are reminded of the significance of the right to vote and the importance of continuing the fight to ensure that this right is upheld and accessible to all citizens.

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