The Significance of Suffrage: A Brief History of The Women's Suffrage Movement

    On November 8th, 2016 the American people will vote to decide the nation’s 45th president of the United States. While every election is a historic occasion, this year’s holds extra weight. Not only will it mark the end of one of the most controversial and grisly campaign seasons in recent history, but it may result in the first female president of the United States of America. The significance of that statement becomes more evident when one considers that a hundred years ago women in the United States could not cast a ballot, let alone run for political office.


Moira Gorman-Fisk   LinkedIn

Moira Gorman-Fisk

LinkedIn


     In 1787, the authors of the Declaration of Independence penned the now famous quote, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…’ The Declaration has been referenced by many minority groups during their fights for equal rights; however, the document that guaranteed men inalienable rights made no mention of women. At the time that our country was founded, the norm was for women to remain in the private sphere. They were expected to care for the home, raise children, and uphold an image of chasteness. They had very few rights of their own and very little say in how policies were developed; however, it did not take long before women began to question the system.


     By the 1820s and 1830s, all white men had been granted the right to vote (regardless of their socioeconomic status or the amount of land that they owned). Concurrently, in the years leading up the Civil War, reform groups of all kinds began to pop up across the country. Women played a significant role in many of these religious, temperance, and antislavery groups which led to an increased interest in pursuing their right to participate in the democratic process.


     In 1848, two leaders in the suffrage movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, brought together a group of activists in Seneca Falls, New York to discuss and strategize how to best tackle the issue of women’s rights. This gathering resulted in the ‘Declaration of Sentiments’ which states, “all women and men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In issuing such a statement, they formally advocated for women’s right to vote.


     Though this was a momentous step in the suffrage movement, the fight lost some steam and attention as the nation turned its focus toward the Civil War. However, it was far from forgotten. As the war drew to a close, leaders of the women’s suffrage movement began to push for their political rights with more fervor. The National Women Suffrage Association was formed in 1869 and they began to argue for a universal-suffrage amendment to the Constitution. This group was somewhat controversial in that they came out against the 15th amendment because although it was progressive in allowing black men to vote, it still did not extend the right to women. Not all of those fighting for women’s suffrage felt comfortable speaking out against the 15th Amendment and formed their own group, the American Women Suffrage Association.


     By the end of the 19th century, the two groups put their differences aside and merged to fight for their common goal. As a result, the National American Woman Suffrage Association came to be in 1890. They retired the rhetoric of men and women being created equal as it did not seem to be garnering a wide enough support base. Instead, they argued that the ways that women differed from men were precisely the reason that they should be allowed to vote. They appealed to a larger demographic by suggesting that if women had the right to vote the country would experience a more pure and moral society.


     This rhetoric proved convincing to some and slowly a few states began to extend the right to vote to women. Still, other states held out. In 1916, the NAWSA began an intensive campaign to encourage local and state suffrage movements to become increasingly active in the areas that were exhibiting the most resistance. At the same time, the National Women’s Party began to make increasingly drastic moves in order to attract attention-- they organized hunger strikes and protested outside the White House. Again, our nation’s attention was diverted when we became involved in another war. However, women’s involvement in World War I actually aided their cause. During this time women filled new roles and stepped further into the public sphere than ever before, taking on jobs and responsibilities that had previously only been held by men. Finally, on August 20th, 1920, their efforts were realized when 19th Amendment was ratified. At last, women were able to vote.


      It has yet to be determined if 2016 will be the year that the U.S. elects the first female president. One would hope, however, that those women on the fence about voting consider the time and effort that those before them invested in order to ensure their political freedoms, and take the time to exercise their right to vote for the candidate of their choice this November.

     If you need even more proof as to why you should go vote, then check out this video: "One Vote That Changed America."