Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment (2023)

Beginning in the mid-19th century, several generations of woman suffrage supporters lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and practiced civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans considered a radical change in the Constitution – guaranteeing women the right to vote. Some suffragists used more confrontational tactics such as picketing, silent vigils, and hunger strikes. Read more...

Primary Sources

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Teaching Activities

Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment (13)

The Women's Rights page on DocsTeach includesdocument-based teaching activities andprimary sources related to women's rights and changing roles in American history –including women's suffrage, political involvement, citizenship rights, roles during the world wars, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and more.

Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment (14)

Failure is Impossibleis a play that brings to life the facts and emotions of the momentous struggle for voting rights for women. It was firstperformed in 1995, as part ofcommemoration of the 75th anniversary of the 19th amendment at theNational Archives.The story is told through the voices of Abigail Adams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Frances Gage, Clara Barton, and Carrie Chapman Catt, among others.The script is available for educational uses.

Image:Suffrage Parade in New York City, ca. 1912

Additional Background Information

In July 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY. The Seneca Falls Convention produced a list of demands called the Declaration of Sentiments. Modeled on the Declaration of Independence, it called for broader educational and professional opportunities for women and the right of married women to control their wages and property. After this historic gathering, women’s voting rights became a central issue in the emerging debate about women’s rights in the United States.


Many of the attendees to the convention were also abolitionists whose goals included universal suffrage – the right to vote for all adults. In 1870 this goal was partially realized when the 15th amendment to the Constitution, granting black men the right to vote, was ratified. Woman suffragists' vehement disagreement over supporting the 15th Amendment, however, resulted in a "schism" that split the women's suffrage movement into two new suffrage organizations that focused on different strategies to win women voting rights.

The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was formed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in May of 1869 – they opposed the 15th amendment because it excluded women. In the year following the ratification of the 15th amendment, the NWSA sent a voting rights petition to the Senate and House of Representatives requesting that suffrage rights be extended to women and that women be granted the privilege of being heard on the floor of Congress.

The second national suffrage organization established in 1869 was the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), founded by Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. The AWSA supported the 15th Amendment and protested the confrontational tactics of the NWSA. The AWSA concentrated on gaining women’s access to the polls at state and local levels, in the belief that victories there would gradually build support for national action on the issue. While a federal woman suffrage amendment was not their priority, an 1871 petition, asking that women in DC and the territories be allowed to vote and hold office, from AWSA leadership to Congress reveals its support for one.

In 1890, the NWSA and AWSA merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). It became the largest woman suffrage organization in the country and led much of the struggle for the vote through 1920, when the 19th Amendment was ratified. Stanton became its president; Anthony became its vice president; and Stone became chairman of the executive committee. In 1919, one year before women gained the right to vote with the adoption of the 19th amendment, the NAWSA reorganized into the League of Women Voters.

The tactics used by suffragists went beyond petitions and memorials to Congress. Testing another strategy, Susan B. Anthony registered and voted in the 1872 election in Rochester, NY. As planned, she was arrested for "knowingly, wrongfully and unlawfully vot[ing] for a representative to the Congress of the United States." She was convicted by the State of New York and fined $100, which she insisted she would never pay. On January 12, 1874, Anthony petitioned Congress, requesting "that the fine imposed upon your petitioner be remitted, as an expression of the sense of this high tribunal that her conviction was unjust."

Wealthy white women were not the only supporters of women's suffrage. Frederick Douglass, formerly enslaved and leader of the abolition movement, was also an advocate. He attended the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. In an editorial published that year in The North Star, the anti-slavery newspaper he published, he wrote, "...in respect to political rights,...there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the elective franchise,..." By 1877, when he was U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia, Douglass's family was also involved in the movement. His son, Frederick Douglass, Jr.; daughter, Mrs. Nathan Sprague; and son-in-law, Nathan Sprague, all signed a petition to Congress for woman suffrage "...to prohibit the several States from Disfranchising United States Citizens on account of Sex."

A growing number of black women actively supported women's suffrage during this period. They organized women’s clubs across the country to advocate for suffrage, among other reforms. Prominent African American suffragists included Ida B. Wells-Barnett of Chicago, a leading crusader against lynching; Mary Church Terrell, educator and first president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW); and Adella Hunt Logan, Tuskegee Institute faculty member, who insisted in articles in The Crisis, a publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), that if white women needed the vote to protect their rights, then black women – victims of racism as well as sexism – needed the ballot even more.

In the second decade of the 20th century, suffragists began staging large and dramatic parades to draw attention to their cause. One of the most consequential demonstrations was a march held in Washington, DC, on March 3, 1913. Though controversial because of the march organizers' attempt to exclude, then segregate, women of color, more than 5,000 suffragists from around the country paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue from the U.S. Capitol to the Treasury Building.

Many of the women who had been active in the suffrage movement in the 1860s and 1870s continued their involvement over 50 years later. In 1917, Mary O. Stevens, secretary and press correspondent of the Association of Army Nurses of the Civil War, asked the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to help the cause of woman suffrage by explaining: "My father trained me in my childhood days to expect this right. I have given my help to the agitation, and work[ed] for its coming a good many years."

During World War I, suffragists tried to embarrass President Woodrow Wilson into reversing his opposition and supporting a federal woman suffrage amendment. But in the heated patriotic climate of wartime, such tactics met with hostility and sometimes violence and arrest. Frustrated with the suffrage movement’s leadership, Alice Paul had broken with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to form the National Woman’s Party (NWP). It employed more militant tactics to agitate for the vote.

Most notably, the NWP organized the first White House picket in U.S. history on January 10, 1917. They stood vigil at the White House, demonstrating in silence six days a week for nearly three years. The "Silent Sentinels" let their banners – comparing the President to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany – speak for them. Many of the sentinels were arrested and jailed in deplorable conditions. Some incarcerated women went on hunger strikes and endured forced feedings. The Sentinels' treatment gained greater sympathy for women's suffrage, and the courts later dismissed all charges against them.

When New York adopted woman suffrage in 1917 and President Woodrow Wilson changed his position to support an amendment in 1918, the political balance began to shift in favor of the vote for women. There was still strong opposition to enfranchising women, however, as illustrated by petitions from anti-suffrage groups.

Eventually suffragists won the political support necessary for ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. For 42 years, the measure had been introduced at every session of Congress, but ignored or voted down. It finally passed Congress in 1919 and went to the states for ratification. In May, the House of Representatives passed it by a vote of 304 to 90; two weeks later, the Senate approved it 56 to 25.

Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan were the first states to ratify it. On August 18, 1920, it appeared that Tennessee had ratified the amendment – the result of a change of vote by 24 year-old legislator Harry Burn at the insistence of his elderly mother. But those against the amendment managed to delay official ratification. Anti-suffrage legislators fled the state to avoid a quorum, and their associates held massive anti-suffrage rallies and attempted to convince pro-suffrage legislators to oppose ratification. However, Tennessee reaffirmed its vote and delivered the crucial 36th ratification necessary for final adoption. While decades of struggle to include African Americans and other minority women in the promise of voting rights remained, the face of the American electorate had changed forever.

Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment (15) Materials created by the National Archives and Records Administration are in the public domain.


What did the 19th Amendment do for women's suffrage? ›

What is the 19th Amendment? The 19th Amendment makes it illegal to deny the right to vote to any citizen based on their sex, which effectively granted women the right to vote. It was first introduced to Congress in 1878 and was finally certified 42 years later in 1920.

How did the 19th Amendment mark a turning point in women's history? ›

“The ratification of the 19th Amendment marked a great turning point in United States women's history. Before the ratification, women were not taken seriously and could not participate in any political activity. After the amendment was passed, women began to lead new, liberated lives.”

What were the main points of women's suffrage? ›

Their broad goals included equal access to education and employment, equality within marriage, and a married woman's right to her own property and wages, custody over her children and control over her own body.

What were the two main arguments for women's suffrage? ›

Instead of promoting a vision of gender equality, suffragists usually argued that the vote would enable women to be better wives and mothers. Women voters, they said, would bring their moral superiority and domestic expertise to issues of public concern.

What was the main reason for the 19th Amendment? ›

The 19th Amendment was added to the Constitution, ensuring that American citizens could no longer be denied the right to vote because of their sex. Michael Boyd was a legal studies intern at the National Constitution Center.

Did the suffrage movement lead to the 19th Amendment? ›

The suffrage movement had found a way to get Congress to approve the proposed 19th Amendment, with the endorsement of outgoing President Woodrow Wilson (who hadn't supported it until it became needed as part of the war effort). By the middle of 1920, a total of 35 states had voted to ratify the amendment.

How did women's lives change after the 19th Amendment? ›

The 19th Amendment guaranteed that women throughout the United States would have the right to vote on equal terms with men. Stanford researchers Rabia Belt and Estelle Freedman trace the history of women's suffrage back to the abolition movement in 19th-century America.

Why World War 1 was the turning point for the women's suffrage movement? ›

The suffrage movement seemed stalled by the first decade of the 20th century. But World War I changed the dynamic and ultimately strengthened the suffrage movement. The industrial demands of modern war meant that women moved into the labor force and contributed to the war effort on the home front.

How did the women's right to vote movement start? ›

The movement begins

In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first convention regarding women's rights in the United States. Called the Seneca Falls Convention, the event in Seneca Falls, New York, drew over 300 people, mostly women.

What is a short summary of women's suffrage? ›

The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted women the right to vote. This right—known as women's suffrage—was ratified on August 18, 1920: “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.”

Why was women's suffrage so important? ›

The woman's suffrage movement is important because it resulted in passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which finally allowed women the right to vote.

How successful was the women's rights movement? ›

The women's movement was most successful in pushing for gender equality in workplaces and universities. The passage of Title IX in 1972 forbade sex discrimination in any educational program that received federal financial assistance. The amendment had a dramatic affect on leveling the playing field in girl's athletics.

What were the three most important issues of the women's rights movement? ›

The main issues that third wave feminists are concerned about include: sexual harassment, domestic violence, the pay gap between men and women, eating disorders and body image, sexual and reproductive rights, honour crimes and female genital mutilation.

What is the 19th Amendment in simple terms? ›

Nineteenth Amendment Explained. 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.

What was the social impact of the women's suffrage movement? ›

One study found that as American women gained the right to vote in different parts of the country, child mortality rates decreased by up to 15 percent. Another study found a link between women's suffrage in the United States with increased spending on schools and an uptick in school enrollment.

Who pushed for women's right to vote? ›

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton form the National Woman Suffrage Association. The primary goal of the organization is to achieve voting rights for women by means of a Congressional amendment to the Constitution.

What impact did the 19th Amendment have on women's role in the government? ›

Voting ensures women's reproductive and economic progress. The 19th Amendment helped millions of women move closer to equality in all aspects of American life. Women advocated for job opportunities, fairer wages, education, sex education, and birth control.

How did the 19th Amendment affect society overall? ›

The face of the American electorate changed dramatically after the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Having worked collectively to win the vote, more women than ever were now empowered to pursue a broad range of political interests as voters.

How has the women's movement changed society? ›

The feminist movement has effected change in Western society, including women's suffrage; greater access to education; more equitable pay with men; the right to initiate divorce proceedings; the right of women to make individual decisions regarding pregnancy (including access to contraceptives and abortion); and the ...

How did ww1 lead to the 19th Amendment and women's suffrage? ›

The mainstream suffragists' decision to focus on the nation's needs during this time of crisis proved to help their cause. Their activities in support of the war helped convince many Americans, including President Woodrow Wilson, that all of the country's female citizens deserved the right to vote.

How long did it take for women's right to vote? ›

Women's legal right to vote was established in the United States over the course of more than half a century, first in various states and localities, sometimes on a limited basis, and then nationally in 1920 with the passing of the 19th Amendment.

What was the biggest result of the women's rights movement? ›

But on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified, enfranchising all American women and declaring for the first time that they, like men, deserve all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

What made the women's suffrage successful? ›

Through constant agitation, the NWP effectively compelled President Wilson to support a federal woman suffrage amendment. Similar pressure on national and state legislators led to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

What was one result of the women's movement? ›

1920: The 19th Amendment Becomes Law

Congress finally ratified the 19th Amendment in 1920, granting women across the United States the right to vote and moving one step closer toward equality for women.

Why is the women's suffrage movement important in history? ›

The woman's suffrage movement is important because it resulted in passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which finally allowed women the right to vote.

What were the 3 characteristics of the 19th century women's rights movement? ›

The spearheads of the women's movement were equality in education, labor and electoral rights.

How did the civil rights movement contribute to the women's movement? ›

Advancing women's liberation was not limited to women's attempts to be included in Civil Rights legislation, women also adopted some of the popular participatory tactics of the Civil Rights movement. Women found value in Civil Rights tactics such as sit-ins, marches, grassroots campaigns, and consciousness-raising.

How did women's suffrage affect American society? ›

One study found that as American women gained the right to vote in different parts of the country, child mortality rates decreased by up to 15 percent. Another study found a link between women's suffrage in the United States with increased spending on schools and an uptick in school enrollment.

What was the lasting impact of women's suffrage? ›

It stimulated important policy changes but left many reform goals unachieved. It helped women, above all white women, find new footings in government agencies, political parties, and elected offices—and, in time, even run for president—and yet left most outside the halls of power.

What was the most important event in the women's suffrage movement? ›

March 3, 1913: Woman Suffrage Parade. More than 5,000 women marched in Washington the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration to push for the right to vote.

What are three key events in the women's suffrage movement? ›

1869 National Woman Suffrage Association is founded with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as president. American Woman Suffrage Association is founded with Henry Ward Beecher as president. Wyoming Territory grants suffrage to women.

What were two major accomplishments of the women's rights movement? ›

Divorce laws were liberalized; employers were barred from firing pregnant women; and women's studies programs were created in colleges and universities. Record numbers of women ran for—and started winning—political office.

What are the two important parts of women's movement? ›

While the first-wave feminism of the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on women's legal rights, especially the right to vote (see women's suffrage), the second-wave feminism of the women's rights movement touched on every area of women's experience—including politics, work, the family, and sexuality.


1. Women's Suffrage: Crash Course US History #31
2. The 19th Amendment - A Woman's Right to Vote
(Annenberg Classroom)
3. 19th Amendment: 'A Start, Not A Finish' For Suffrage | NPR
4. Votes for Women: Suffrage and the 19th Amendment Centennial
(The Dole Institute of Politics)
5. RESOLVED: Songs of Women’s Suffrage and the 19th Amendment
(National Constitution Center)
6. Resolved: Songs of Women's Suffrage and the 19th Amendment
(National Constitution Center)
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