In 1848 an amendment to the U.S. Constitution was proposed to congress. It took 72 years between the first demand for women to vote and the passing of the 19th amendment in 1920. In 1971 Congress officially recognized August 26 as Women’s Equality Day. This shows that efforts of women to achieve full equality have not gone unnoticed.
Suffrage (not “sufferage”). The word suffrage originated with the Latin word suffragium, meaning a voting tablet or an actual vote. In the United States, the word means the right to vote. Woman suffrage, therefore, refers to women’s right to vote.
The first known appeal for the vote came in the Declaration of Sentiments, authored by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, presented at the July 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY. An actual amendment to the U.S. Constitution was first proposed to Congress in 1878. Seventy-two years passed between the first demand for the vote in 1848 and to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
August 26, 1920. Tennessee was the final state to ratify the 19th Amendment. It ratified on August 18, 1920. However, the U.S. secretary of state is required to certify the results of the ratification. Secretary of State Colby signed the document officially certifying the successful ratification and making the 19th Amendment law on August 26, 1920. August 26 is now known as Women’s Equality Day.
The 19th Amendment, in essence, gave American women the right to vote. Specifically, it prohibited denying anyone the right to vote because of their sex. The actual text reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
In the United States, the first call for women to have the right to vote appeared in the Declaration of Sentiments, a document modeled after the Declaration of Independence and written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stanton’s Declaration was presented at the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY. The idea was quite radical at the time, though other legal rights for women were being discussed in the 1840s.
Yes, millions of women did cast votes before 1920. The U.S. Constitution gives the states primary responsibility for voting rights. Fifteen states, mostly in the western U.S., gave women full voting rights between 1869 and 1919. Those states were Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, California, Oregon, Arizona, Kansas, Nevada, Montana, New York, Michigan, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. Women in some other states had partial voting rights before 1920.
The language of the 19th Amendment included all eligible voters but not all eligible voters could exercise their right to vote. First of all, 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.
African American women did NOT march at the back of the 1913 parade. This historical error often appears in suffrage histories, unfortunately. Several dozen black women participated in the 1913 parade, marching in various state, education, and occupation delegations. Ida B. Wells, marching with others from Illinois, was the most famous black marcher. A group of young college women from Howard University in Washington, DC marched with the college delegation. Delaware, New York and Michigan contingents all included black women. This information is verified in the NAACP’s April 1913 edition of the NAACP publication The Crisis.
Based on a 1910 essay written by Jane Addams, this exhibition explores the widespread grassroots national movement organized by American women demanding the right to vote and to be recognized as full citizens in the United States. As we approach the 2020 Centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution and look towards the 2020 presidential election, we reflect on questions of women’s leadership, electoral power, voice, racism within women’s movements and women’s power to impact civic affairs.
In the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, images from the 1913 Suffrage March on Washington, DC have begun to make their rounds on social media. Yet photographs do not tell the entire story. While African American women participated in the march, they are almost entirely absent from event photographs. This is not by accident. Both then and now, African American women have been erased from the narrative of women’s suffrage in America.