On August 18th 1920, the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by Congress. This amendment gave American women the right to vote. It’s hard to believe that women have only had the right to vote for less than 100 years.
After I wrote my post at the end of July (Boom: Who Knew?) about the six different generations still alive today, one of my friends texted me a question. He asked:
“If you could live during any other period in time, when would you choose to live and why?”
I’ve thought about my answer a lot since then and after much consideration, I’m sticking to it. Here’s what I said:
“I would choose to live at the turn of the 20th Century and be a part of the women’s suffrage movement.”
The word, “suffrage” means the right to vote in public, political elections.
I have a family connection to the women’s suffrage movement. My great-grandfather’s sister…who would technically be my great-grandaunt…was a suffragist and according to family stories, hosted women’s suffrage meetings at her home in Elkhart, Indiana during the early 1900’s.
Her name was Laura Mae (Parker) Foster but she went by her middle name. I am her namesake and my middle name is also Mae. I never knew Aunt Mae (she died eight years before I was born) but I inherited some items that once belonged to her.
I also have an old, yellowed newspaper clipping of her obituary from 1952 which ran in The Elkhart Truth, my hometown newspaper. Apparently, she was also president of the Progress Club and the Thursday Club in addition to being a charter member of the Elkhart chapter of the League of Women Voters. Oh, how I would have loved to talk with her about her experiences during that time.
The women’s suffrage movement in the United States began officially with the first women’s rights convention in the world which was held in1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. The convention was organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who were also active members of the abolitionist (anti-slavery) movement.
In 1851, Stanton met Susan B. Anthony and the two women formed a life-long friendship and collaboration focused on obtaining voting rights for all women. Once slavery was abolished after the Civil War, the two women founded the “National Woman Suffrage Association” (NWSA) and began campaigning for a constitutional amendment for universal suffrage and for other women’s rights.
Another organization, the “American Woman Suffrage Association” (AWSA) was formed around the same time by Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Josephine Ruffin. The AWSA focused on trying to win the women’s right to vote state by state.
In 1890, the two organizations merged in order to be more effective. The new organization was called the “National American Women Suffrage Association” (NAWSA). Led in the early 20th century by Carrie Chapman Catt, the NAWSA held parades and rallies to draw attention to their cause, and allied themselves with local women’s clubs and some labor unions.
At the time, marching in parades and giving speeches on street corners was considered by many to be “unladylike” behavior and there was a wave of hostility against the suffrage movement by both men and some women. Many women wanted the right to vote and believed in the work of the suffragists, but were too timid or afraid to openly join the effort.
On March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration, 8,000 women suffragists marched up Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. demanding the right to vote. Using the nation’s capital as a backdrop for their event was intended to show the world the national importance of their cause.
The parade turned into a near riot when the crowds of mostly men surged into the street grabbing, shoving, tripping, and jeering at the participants. Police who were there to protect the marchers, stood back…and in some cases joined in. The events of the day were in the papers for weeks and ultimately publicized and helped the cause of women’s suffrage.
In 1916, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns organized the National Women’s Party (NWP) and began a more militant campaign for women’s suffrage. The NWP picketed and held demonstrations in front of the White House and all over the country.
Many suffragists were arrested for “obstructing traffic” and thrown in jail where they went on hunger strikes and endured force feedings. Women kept marching and demonstrating and believing in the cause of suffrage for three generations until their efforts finally paid off.
The 19th amendment was ratified by a margin of just one single vote in August of 1920. Seventy-two long years after the Seneca Falls Convention, the 19th Amendment read:
Section 1. The right of the 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.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
I’m proud that my great- grandaunt was one of the women who worked so tirelessly to gain the right to vote for all women in the United States. If you’re wondering when other countries granted women the right to vote, here’s a sample list:
1893 – New Zealand
1894 – South Australia
1907 – Finland
1913 – Norway
1915 – Denmark
1917 – Russia
1917 – 1919 – Most of Canada
1918 – Germany
1918 – Poland
1919 – Austria
1919 – Netherlands
1921 – Sweden
1922 – Ireland
1928 – United Kingdom
1931 – Spain
1934 – Cuba
1934 – Turkey
1944 – France
1945 – Yugoslavia
1946 – Italy
1946 – Vietnam
1947 – China
1947 – India
1947 – Japan
1948 – Israel
1949 – Syria
1952 – Greece
1961 – Paraguay
1961 – Rwanda
1962 – Monaco
1963 – Iran
1971 – Switzerland
1980 – Iraq
1984 – Liechtenstein
1997 – Qatar
2002 – Bahrain
2003 – Oman
2015 – Saudi Arabia