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August 28, 2020

Lesson Plan: Build your own knowledge of the suffrage movement

Blue and white, suffrage pennant or banner, with the slogan “Votes for Women, ” and ten stars to celebrate Illinois becoming the 10th state to grant women the ballot in Presidential elections, produced for the American market in 1913. Photography by Emilia van Beugen. (Photo by Ken Florey Suffrage Collection/Gado/Getty Images)



U.S. history, social studies, civics

Estimated Time

One hour of reading and writing, plus online sharing time among three different groups.

Grade Level

9 – 12


Students will read primary sources and biographies and share with the entire group what they have learned about local suffragists in their own state, suffragists of color and anti-suffrage arguments. In many historical educational materials, these aspects of suffrage are generally addressed minimally, if at all.


There have been many dates in recent national and local history that honor the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Some women had the right to vote before the passage of the amendment, and 23 states had granted women suffrage. The first territory or state to do so was the Wyoming Territory (1869), 50 years before the passage of the 19th Amendment.

On June 4, 1919, the 19th Amendment, which stated that “the rights 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,” passed both houses of Congress. It was then sent to the 48 states for the required two thirds ratification.

Three suffragists casting votes in New York City in 1917. The original news caption read, “Calm about it. At Fifty-sixth and Lexington Avenue, the women voters showed no ignorance or trepidation, but cast their ballots in a businesslike way that bespoke study of suffrage.” Photo courtesy Library of Congress/ National Photo Company Collection

On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, passing it by a single vote in the legislature. A young man named Harry Burns cast that fateful vote; he carried in his pocket a letter from his mother urging him to change his mind and vote for ratification.

The 19th Amendment officially took effect on August 26, 2020, eight days after the Tennessee vote, when it was certified by U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby.

This lesson gives students a chance to look closely at some stories that may have been overlooked in their classroom studies, including the stories of some local suffrage leaders within their own states, along with:

  1. The “unenfranchised” minority suffragists from groups of women who could not vote even after the amendment passed: Black women denied their rights in the Jim Crow South who fought for them until the 1965 Voting Rights Act; Chinese American women who did not become citizens until 1943; Native American women who were not counted as voting citizens in some states until 1962 (Utah).
    • Be sure to check out the Library of Congress’s Shall Not Be Denied exhibit, including “More to the Movement” which discusses this issue. 
  2. The Anti-Suffrage Movement, which was active and vocal for decades in the U.S. It was a conservative political movement that called itself “domestic feminism,” and included the belief that women’s role should be limited to the home.
    • Check out this New York Times article to learn more and this photograph via the Library of Congress.

      Photograph shows men looking at material posted in the window of the National Anti-Suffrage Association headquarters; sign in window reads “Headquarters National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage.” via Library of Congress


  1. The teacher splits the class into thirds and each group researches a suffrage leader from their state, an “unenfranchised” suffrage leader, and a voice from the Anti-suffrage movement. If remote learning is in place, separate the groups digitally.
  2. Students write up three paragraphs together telling a story of the suffrage movement in their state, including details about the Anti-Suffrage voices standing against the suffragists and who in the state may have remained unenfranchised through the passage of the 19th Amendment.
  3. Each group presents a review of their readings, including their story via a Google doc or video sharing program.
  4. Finally, the class addresses these general questions together.
    • How important is local history compared to the national interpretations of history?
    • How can we work toward guarantees that our study of history is inclusive of underrepresented Americans?
    • Which of the ideas of the AntiSuffragists persist in American society today, and which do not?

Any of these summary questions could be assigned in Honors or AP classes as an essay to be submitted.


With the exception noted above for advanced classes, class discussion is sufficient.

Tooltip of materials

Finding Local Suffragists in Your State:

  1. Look through the timeline below to see when suffrage milestones occurred in your own state.
  2. You can Google those events for the names of participants, or use these two websites to investigate at least one local suffragist who has not been in the limelight during this year’s centennial celebrations:
  3. Take notes to present on the person you researched.

The Unenfranchised

Read these stories to help imagine what fights continued for women to access the vote even after the passage of the 19th Amendment.

The Anti-Suffragists

Use this lesson and handouts from Kids Voting USA, Inc. or one of the following links to understand the arguments of the Anti-Suffragists.


Syd Golston is a past president of the National Council for the Social Studies. She has served as a history teacher, school administrator, and curriculum writer for many decades. She is the author of Changing Woman of the Apache, Death Penalty, Studies in Arizona History, and other publications and articles.

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  • Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
      Thematic Standards
    • Standard 2: Time, Continuity and Change
    • Standard 3: People, Places and Environments
    • Standard 4: Individual Development and Identity
    • Standard 5: Individuals, Groups and Institutions
    • Standard 6: Power, Authority and Governance
    • Standard 10: Civic Ideals and Practices
    • Disciplinary Standards
    • Standard 1: History
    • Standard 3: Civics and Government

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