This is prompted by a promise I made in the comments section of Scott Wooledge's diary, Women's suffrage next? It's more than three months later, but I needed the exercise, and it's prep for a spring course now.
Suffrage for women was a cause that began over seventy years before the nation saw fit to give women the vote, and it's one of those complicated stories you get in history that make the process even more interesting and dramatic. Here's the So-called "Susan B. Anthony" Amendment that it took so long to ratify:
Follow me below the great orange scrunchie to see what my classes learn about the process.
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.Doesn't seem like that would be so difficult, does it? The origins of Women's Suffrage in the United States are entwined with the antislavery movement. Scholars believe that antislavery activity was acceptable political activity for women who weren't allowed to take part in traditional politics, and that created a situation in which some women began to wonder why there couldn't be more. A committed abolitionist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
It took eight years, but Stanton, Lucretia Mott, who was with Stanton in London, and several other women organized the first women’s rights conference in history at Seneca Falls in 1848. 300 men and women crowded into the Wesleyan Chapel and debated the issue for two days (women only the first day, men the second to hear Lucretia Mott speak). The conference produced a Declaration of Sentiments, modeled on the Declaration of Independence, as you can see from the preamble:
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.The declaration then presented 15 clauses that enumerate the repeated injuries and usurpations women have endured from men throughout history, and the assembly voted on each one. #1,
He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.was considered especially extreme, and this was the only resolution produced by the convention that was not ratified unanimously. THESE included #s 2 and 3.
He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.
He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men--both natives and foreigners.
Nothing much happened on the women's rights front for the next twenty years because of the increase in antislavery activity (thank you, Mrs. Stowe, for writing Uncle Tom's Cabin and letting The National Era publish it as a serial starting in the spring of 1851) and because of the Civil War. The 14th Amendment was adopted after the war in 1868 to supersede Dred Scott v. Sandford, but it went well beyond that. Emancipation had invalidated the 3/5 clause, which had given the south even greater representation. The amendment altered federal-state relations by instituting the idea of national citizenship and a national principle of equality before the law, with enforcement powers to protect the civil rights of citizens against violations by the states. Here are the first two sections:
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. [This sentence in and of itself renders Dred Scott invalid and it’s STILL provoking debate] No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.Section 1 might be the most important set of words added to the Constitution after ratification, and it's certainly up there with the text of the 1st Amendment. Section 2, however, caused a problem. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and other leaders of the women’s suffrage movement
Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state.
As Stanton said, the black suffrage issue opened the constitutional door, and women intended to “avail ourselves of the strong arm and the blue uniform of the black soldier to walk in by his side.” Unfortunately, the political claims of women and those of the freedmen had become increasingly antagonistic. The champions of black suffrage spoke in terms of historically specific needs, and, as Frederick Douglass said, when women were “dragged from their houses and hung upon lamp-posts” they would need the vote as much as black men would. End of subject for the time being.
The following year, the 15th Amendment, which prohibited the federal and state governments from depriving any citizen of the vote on racial grounds, was approved by Congress in February 1869 and became part of the constitution a little over a year later. It looks good on the surface, but the amendment failed to say anything about the right to hold office (a provision that guaranteed black rights to hold office might have jeopardized the prospects of ratification in the North). It also failed to make voting requirements uniform throughout the land.
And of course, proponents of either a strong or weak Fifteenth Amendment ignored the claims of women, who began to claim their rights to the ballot not as individuals but as a sex. Now, the reason women gave for why they should vote was not because they were the same as men but because they were different: as Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, “There is sex in the spiritual as well as the physical and what we need to-day in government, in the worlds of morals and thought, is the recognition of the feminine element, as it is this alone that can hold the masculine in check.”
Unfortunately, the women involved in this early suffrage movement disagreed on tactics. The National Suffrage Association (NSA) took as their slogan: “national protection for national citizens.” Even more unfortunately, they demonstrated some race antagonism in combination with elitist arguments for rejecting the enfranchisement of black males while women of culture and wealth remained excluded. As Elizabeth Cady Stanton said,
“Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Ung Tung, . . who never read the Declaration of Independence . . . making laws for Lydia Maria Child or Lucretia Mott”The NSA purged all men from their organization which led Lucy Stone to form the more moderate American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), which welcomed sympathetic men.
Other women in the movement took a different direction, resting on the premise that women had merely to take a right that was already theirs, because it came with citizenship (as the 14th and 15th amendments suggested).
“The result [of allowing women to vote] is political profligacy and violence verging on anarchy . . . the fact that practical working of the assumed right would be destructive of civilization is decisive that the right does not exist”As you can see, the war on women has been going on for a loooooooooooong time.
The Minors initiated their own lawsuit, based on the idea that the Constitution already gave women the right to vote, arguing that the benefits of national citizenship guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment included the universal right to suffrage. In Minor v. Happersett (1875), the Supreme Court ruled that the right of suffrage was not a necessary attribute of national citizenship, affirming that the Fifteenth Amendment forbade only disfranchisement by race, and this led to major abuses in the registration of freedmen who now could be discriminated against based on education or income.
By 1890, since neither the NSA nor the AWSA could claim gains (and since Lucy Stone had died) the two groups merged as the NAWSA, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton became its president. Two year later, she turned the group over to Susan B. Anthony, because she said she was getting more radical as she aged (that sounds familiar!). Despite the organizational challenge, there were gains. Wyoming gave women full voting rights in 1890, and Colorado, thanks to the efforts of Carrie Chapman Catt,
Susan B. Anthony died in 1906, and again the movement was split between moderates and radicals. Carrie Chapman Catt, the consummate tactician, became the head moderate, and under her direction the NAWSA became today's League of Women Voters upon passage of the amendment by Congress. But I'm getting ahead of myself there.
The radicals were led by Alice Paul, a generation younger than Catt (and two generations younger than the founders of the American suffrage movement). She went to England for graduate study in social work, and, while in London, met Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, at the forefront of the British suffrage movement. Paul was arrested at a number of protests. When she returned to the United States in 1910, she found the NAWSA meetings unpleasantly boring, and when Washington passed a referendum giving women the vote the same year without the NAWSA's help, she knew there had to be another path that would give women suffrage everywhere.
By 1910, women made up 80% of the nation’s teachers, 93% of the nurses, and 79% of the librarians. The leaders in each field aspired to professional autonomy, social status and economic rewards enjoyed in other fields, but they achieved minimal success, and the control of institutions in which they worked remained largely in the hands of men. Librarians often described their work as an extension of traditional sphere as guardians of culture, and, during the Progressive era, a university-educated elite among library workers began to concentrate efforts on working-class and immigrant children (traditionally barred from libraries because feared that fiction could distract from schoolwork). This went along with the settlement house movement: the rise in social work as a career created what was essentially missionary work for non-religious women. At base these women were“friendly visitors,” who took up residence in immigrant neighborhoods although they judged working-class life by their own middle-class standards. Conditions for women were improving, but this didn't necessarily translate into political success.
Nevertheless, women got the vote in California in 1911, and in Oregon, Arizona and Kansas in 1912. In 1913, Harriot Stanton Blatch (who we saw earlier in her mother's arms),
( “Suffrage parade, New York City, May 6, 1912,” 1912. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-10845.)
By the time the Presidential campaign of 1912 came around, both Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party and Woodrow Wilson’s Democratic party included woman suffrage in their party platforms. Thus it's not surprising that 8,000 women held a suffrage parade organized by Alice Paul in Washington D.C. the day before Wilson's inauguration in March 1913.
Beside, the movement was fragmenting as Paul and Catt realized they couldn't work together, and Paul created her own organization, the Congressional Union. The House of Representatives took its first vote on suffrage in January 1915, and defeated it by a vote of 207-174. Suffrage became a serious issue in the election of 1916. Republican candidate Charles Evans Hughes, like Teddy Roosevelt, had been Republican governor of New York (1907–10), where he brought about the establishment of the public service commission, the passage of various insurance-law reforms, and the enactment of much labor legislation. Hughes resigned the governorship after President Taft appointed him Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1910, but left the Court in 1916 to run for President on the Republican ticket. Hughes was supported by woman suffragists because Hughes accepted the federal amendment while Wilson rejected it (although by 1918, Wilson made a speech in which he stated “We have made women partners in the war; shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?”) A difference of fewer than 4000 votes in California (because Hiram Johnson couldn’t support Hughes) would have removed Wilson from the White House, and Wilson wound up with a margin of nine seats in the Senate and basically none in the House (216 D, 210 R, 6 I).
The first women's picket line went up at the White House on January 10 1917, and Alice Paul kept up media interest in it well into 1918.
Congress convened December 4, and the House voted on suffrage January 10, 1918, passing it 274-136. The Senate stalled until June 27 (Why? Several states had by referendum rejected women's suffrage, and some Senators didn't want to go against the will of those states to impose suffrage on them), when they decided not to vote on the amendment during that session. On August 6 48 women were arrested outside the White House and given light sentences. The Senate finally voted at the beginning of October 1918 and failed to reach the 2/3 required by two votes. FINALLY, after more demonstrations and more arrests, this time in Boston, the Senate passed the amendment June 4, 1919.
When the Amendment went to the states, 15 states had full women's suffrage and another 13 allowed women to vote in presidential elections, but the amendment needed 36 states for enactment.By Mid-February, 1920, 24 states had ratified the amendment, and another 9 ratified by Memorial Day. By now, there was an active anti-suffrage movement which tried (and failed) to get some of the ratifications annulled. Here's a map that details the order in which the states ratified the amendment, and here's the key to the map: Ratification on June 10, 1919 (yellow); ratification from June 16, 1919 to July 28, 1919 (chartreuse); ratification from August 2, 1919 to December 15, 1919 (aqua); ratification from January 6, 1920 to March 22, 1920 (gray-green); ratification on August 18, 1920 (gray).
Tennessee seemed like the most likely state to be the 36th, and Carrie Chapman Catt arrived in Nashville on July 17. A special session of the Tennessee legislature convened on August 9 as the fight over suffrage played itself out on the society pages of Tennessee's newspapers. On Friday, August 13, the State Senate voted for ratification by a comfortable margin. The House stalled, finally voting 50-46 for on August 18. The certificate arrived in Washington D.C. August 26, 1920, and the 19th Amendment became law. Now women could vote!
What impact did the women's vote have in 1920? 20,000,000 of them voted in the Presidential election, mostly for Warren Harding and his "Return to Normalcy." As Eleanor Clift, whose book Founding Sisters and the Nineteenth Amendment provides an excellent summary of the events described above (and which I mined shamelessly for the post-1877 parts of this diary), wrote
Almost as soon as women got the vote, they took it for granted. It was as though the decades of struggle had never happened. They resumed their lives, caring for families and communities. Voting rates for women dropped nearly as precipitously for women as they did for men, a reality that Catt, who died in 1947 at age eighty-six, would find despairing. "Women have suffered an agony of soul which you can never comprehend that your daughters might inherit political freedom. That vote has been costly. Prize it."
Another case where a picture is worth a thousand words. The 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, only took thirty years from conception to final ratification; Congress to 3/4 of the states only took four months. By then, the war on women was being waged against an amendment Alice Paul wrote in 1921 that came through Congress at the same time the 26th Amendment did: the Equal Rights Amendment. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Fri Nov 30, 2012 at 7:06 AM PT: Thank you, Pink Clubhouse and Community Spotlight, for republishing this!