Causes: The Woman Suffrage Movement

 

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman's Party, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., mnwp 159001

The woman suffrage movement actually began in 1848, when the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. For the next 50 years, woman suffrage supporters worked to educate the public about the validity of woman suffrage. Under the leadership of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other women’s rights pioneers, suffragists circulated petitions and lobbied Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment to enfranchise women.

At the turn of the century, women reformers in the club movement and in the settlement house movement wanted to pass reform legislation. However, many politicians were unwilling to listen to a disenfranchised group. Thus, over time women began to realize that in order to achieve reform, they needed to win the right to vote. For these reasons, at the turn of the century, the woman suffrage movement became a mass movement.

Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin speaks from the NAWSA headquarters, 1917, Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman's Party, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., mnwp 156007

In the 20th century leadership of the suffrage movement passed to two organizations. The first, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, was a moderate organization. The NAWSA undertook campaigns to enfranchise women in individual states, and simultaneously lobbied President Wilson and Congress to pass a woman suffrage Constitutional Amendment. In the 1910s, NAWSA’s membership numbered in the millions.

The second group, the National Woman’s Party (NWP), under the leadership of Alice Paul, was a more militant organization. The NWP undertook radical actions, including picketing the White House, in order to convince Wilson and Congress to pass a woman suffrage amendment.

 

Members of the National Woman's Party picket the White House,
Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-31799 DLC

In 1920, due to the combined efforts of the NAWSA and the NWP, the 19th Amendment, enfranchising women, was finally ratified. This victory is considered the most significant achievement of women in the Progressive Era. It was the single largest extension of democratic voting rights in our nation’s history, and it was achieved peacefully, through democratic processes.

 

For a detailed history of the Woman Suffrage Movement, visit the NWHM's Online Exhibit "Rights for Women: The Suffrage Movement and its Leaders"

 

 

 

Copyright © 2007 National Women's History Museum.