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Leader of Women's Suffrage Parade
Politics and Economy:
Women and the Vote
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They who say that women do not desire the right of suffrage, that they prefer masculine domination to self-government, falsify every page of history, every fact in human experience. It has taken the whole power of the civil and canon law to hold woman in the subordinate position which it is said she willingly accepts. -- Elizabeth Cady Stanton

PUNCH magazine women's suffrage satire

Many textbooks date the history of women's rights in America to 1848. In that year, in a small Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York the first Women's Rights Convention was held. Its organizers were veterans of the abolition and other social reform movements — several of them smarting from not being seated as full participants at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Organizers included abolitionist activists Quaker Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Three hundred women and men attended the convention, including famed former slave Frederick Douglass. At the conclusion, 68 women and 32 men signed the Declaration of Sentiments drafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton — this document included a demand for female suffrage.

Anti-Suffrage Cartoon

There were a variety of groups working for changes in the status of women during the early years of the United States. Together with groups focused on voting rights, they came up with a critique of women's place in society, focusing on the link between women's social and political standing. They campaigned for married women's property and wage rights, custody rights for mothers, and for the right to divorce.

In 1869 Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and began to focus on the vote as a way to cure many of womens' ills. The NWSA began to agitate for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution — an amendment like the recently added 14th and 15th Amendments which guaranteed the rights of African-American men to vote. The NWSA's insistence that educated white women deserved to vote even more than African-American men led to a split in the suffrage movement. Another organization, the American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Lucy Stone, retained the pre-war alliance between abolition and women's suffrage, and worked for the vote through the state legislatures.

As the women's suffrage movement gained press and momentum, so did the anti-suffragists. The "antis," as they were known, often relied on satire to make their point. A prime example is the cartoon to the left where the "natural" order of things appears turned upside down as women go out to vote. The antis also maintained that a mere minority of women wanted the vote and that women would lose their special place "above" politics by entering the fray.

Suffrage protest at the Wilson White House

The campaign for women's suffrage heated up in the latter part of the 19th century under the leadership of Anna Howard Shaw, Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul. Starting with Wyoming in 1869, several of the states and territories granted suffrage to the women within their borders. By 1913 there were 12 U.S. areas where women could vote and Paul's National Woman’s party decided to try to use the voting power of the enfranchised women to force a suffrage resolution through Congress and secure ratification from the state legislatures.

The American suffrage movement was less radical than some of its counterparts across the Atlantic in England, where arrests, hunger strikes and broken windows were the hallmark of the Pankhurst's Womens' Social and Political Union. But as in England, women's labor during the First World War seemed to make the case for their right to vote. Under pressure President Woodrow Wilson changed his position to support a women's suffrage amendment in 1918. On May 21, 1919, the House of Representatives passed the amendment, and 2 weeks later, the Senate followed. When Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution granted nationwide suffrage to women.

1970 ERA protest

Just as the abolition movement had led women to compare their lot to that of the slaves, the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s inspired the women's liberation endeavors of the 1970s. With one of its slogans — "the personal is political" — the second wave of American feminism addressed issues of sexual liberation, pay equity and reproductive rights.

But the women's movement also was determined to make a change to the American political backbone with its attempt to add the Equal Rights Amendment to the American Constitution. The ERA had actually been written years earlier by Alice Paul, who considered it to be the next necessary step after the 19th Amendment in guaranteeing "equal justice under law" to all citizens.

From the time Paul wrote it in 1923, the ERA was introduced into every session of Congress. In 1972 it was passed and sent to the states for ratification. The seven-year time limit in the ERA's proposing clause was extended by Congress to June 30, 1982, but at the deadline, the ERA had been ratified by 35 states, leaving it three states short of the 38 required for ratification.

Today more women vote in presidential elections than do men — though this number is still less than in rest of the world.

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