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The women’s suffrage movement began in 1848 when a group of women met in
Seneca Falls New York. These women issued what became known as the Declaration
of Sentiments and Resolution s, and 11 pt. document outlining the demand for
equal rights. Al of the articles of the Declaration passed except for the right
to vote. It was widely believed at that time, that women were both physically
and mentally inferior to men, and therefore should not have the right to vote.
The Seneca Falls convention was organized by a group of women who had been
active in the antislavery movement. When they were rejected as delegates to an
abolitionist convention because of their sex, they vowed to turn their attention
to women’s rights. This convention attracted lots of attention from the press,
mostly negative. One of the organizers, Elizabeth cady Stanton, welcomed even
the negative attention. She said “It might start women thinking; and men to;
when men and women think about a new question they the first step is taken.
Because of their involvement in the abolitionist movement, women had
learned to organize, to hold public meetings, and conduct petition campaigns.
As abolitionists, women first won the right to speak in public, and they began
to evolve a philosophy of their own place in society. When the 15th amendment,
which gave black men the power to vote, was passed women became furious. Julia
Ward Howe said “For the first time, we saw… every Negro man govern every white
woman. This seemed to me intollerable tyranny.”
After the fifteenth amendment was passed, the women’s suffrage movement
turned its attention towards gaining the right to vote state by state. Susan B.
Anthony, a leader in the movement, met a wealthy businessman named George
Francis Train while campaigning in Kansas. He offered her the money to launch a
suffrage newspaper. In return he would be allowed to write a column about
economics. Thus the Revolution was born. It’s motto was “Men, their rights and
nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.”
Lucy Stone and a group of conservative suffragists broke away from
Anthony’s National Woman’s suffrage Association and founded the American Woman
Suffrage Association. The NWSA attracted younger and more radical women who
worked for a constitutional amendment to get the vote. The AWSA directed its
efforts toward getting states to give women the right to vote. Anthony believed
that this would take to long and tried to the the courts to declare that voting
is the right of all citizens. She based this belief on the fact that the 14th
amendment made women citizens. In 1872 she went to the polls and cast her
ballet for president. Two weeks later she was arrested for voting illegally.
Virginia Minor, a friend of Anthony’s and president of the Missouri Woman
Suffrage Association, tried to vote in 1872. The election registers refused
to let her cast her ballet, so she brought a suit against them. She claimed
that they had interfered with her right as a citizen to vote. The Supreme court
ruled that the Constitution “does not confer the right of suffrage upon anyone,
and that the constitutions and laws of several states which commit that
important trust to men alone are not necessarily void.” meaning that the
Constitution does not give the right to vote to everyone and that the
constitutions and laws of the states that only allow men to vote are not
In 1878 Senator Aaron Sargent of California finally introduced the
proposed the Sixteenth amendment which many people called the Anthony Amendment.
This amendment stated “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall
not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”
This amendment remained unchanged and unpassed for fourty-two years even though
both the House and Senate committees favored it. Some argued that the
amendment would destroy homes and break up families. Others argued that the
vote would degrade women. Senator George C. Vest explained why he felt this way,
“It would take her down from that pedestal where she is today, influencing by
her gentle and kindly caress the actiuon of her husband towards the good and the
Meanwhile none of the dire consequences predicted by the antisuffragists
had occured in the few states where women voted. In 1869 the Wyoming Territory
adopted a constitution granting both men and women the right to vote. When they
asked to join the union they were pressured to banish the women’s right to vote.
Wyoming stood firm and even adopted the motto “America will be a better place to
live when women go to the polls.” Until the early 1900’s , only a few states,
all of them western, had granted women the right to vote. By this time the two
organizations had merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage
On June 4, 1919 women were finally granted the right to vote. Congress
ratified the 19th amendment to the Constitution which stated that no citizen
could be denied the right to vote “on account of sex”. This victory was not
only for women, but for democracy and the principle of equality upon which our
great nation was founded.
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