By Julia Ornelas-Higdon, PhD
“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 the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 marked the beginning of women’s long struggle for suffrage in the United States. That year, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the Convention to address equal rights for women, including the right to vote (suffrage). Twenty years later, Stanton collaborated with Susan B. Anthony to found the National Woman Suffrage Association, which focused on gaining the vote through a constitutional amendment. Significantly, Stanton and Anthony refused to support the 15th Amendment because it granted suffrage to black men but not to women.
By the late 19th century, suffragists were campaigning at local, state and national levels. They found early success in local elections, where women could vote in school board elections in limited locations. By 1900, suffragists had also gained the vote in several of the newly organized states of the American West, including Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.
In 1913, Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and a new generation of college-educated women organized the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage. The National Women’s Party arose out of a 1916 convention sponsored by the CU, and the two groups merged in 1917 under the NWP name. They borrowed militant strategies from suffragists in England. During World War I, suffragists organized by Paul carried signs comparing President Woodrow Wilson to the Kaiser. Most famously, she and a group of supporters also chained themselves to the gates of the White House and were subsequently imprisoned. After widespread public outcry over the poor treatment of the suffragists in prison, Wilson publicly declared his support for women’s suffrage.
Women’s long struggle for the vote finally ended after World War I. On June 4, 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, which prohibited any American citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex. This became law when it was ratified by the states on Aug. 18, 1920.