Powerful, dedicated, and persistent are just some of the many adjectives that should be used to describe the diligent women who participated and led in the women’s suffrage movement from “1848 until 1920” (Pruitt). The women’s suffrage movement was an uphill battle that consisted of courage and remarkable acts of survival, along with a brilliant showcasing of perseverance and vigor. From the valiant women who fearlessly fought for what they believed in to the uphill battles they fought to keep going, this is the women’s suffrage movement.
In 1848 the first woman’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. The convention initiated the movement toward gaining women’s suffrage. Sixty-eight women and 32 men signed the Declaration of Sentiments. This declaration was modeled after the Declaration of Independence” (History.com). The document outlined the unjust treatment of women, helped organize a future precedent for all meetings, and stated 12 objectives that had to do with the equal treatment of women and men that are agreed upon and put into writing” (History.com).
“In one line, the authors wrote, He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self respect and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life (Stanton, Anthony, and Cage).‘This was just one of the 12 objectives included in the ‘Declaration of Sentiments’. This statement depicted the deceptiveness of husbands’ actions towards their wives by suppressing their wives’ personal judgment, as well as inhibiting their wives’ ability to consider their own beliefs or morals. The second objective from the Declaration clearly demonstrated the resolution the movement had intended to instill into the nation: Resolved, That woman is man’s equal – was intended to be so by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such”(Stanton, Anthony, and Cage)
The Seneca Falls Convention is known as the starting point of the women’s suffrage movement. “The meeting launched the women’s suffrage movement, which more than seven decades later ensured women the right to vote.” (Seneca Falls Convention) News of the Seneca Falls Convention and its intentions for women broke to the public, the news spread through “New York and erupted like wildfire all over the US! (Ridarsky).“Newspapers began to cover the convention and the movement itself, some papers argued for women’s rights, others argued against.”(Ridarsky).
‘During this time Horace Greely, who was the founder and editor of The New York Tribune, held a large amount of power over the people and their beliefs.’ (Ridarsky). Horace began to utilize his paper to voice his opinions and share them with the public, the public agreed with Horace on many of his views and beliefs.” (Ridarsky). In 1848, Horace expressed “that even though he was wary of granting women the right to vote, if the American people truly believed in the constitution, then women must be granted the right to attain equal rights.” (Ridarsky).
Horace Greely stated that: “When a sincere republican is asked to say in sober earnest what adequate reason he can give, for refusing the demand of women to equal participation with men in political rights, he must answer, None at all. However unwise and mistaken the demand, it is but the assertion of a natural right, and such must be conceded.” (Zahniser, Fry, Paul). The women of the women’s suffrage movement thought they had found a powerful ally to help them, however, “Horace went back on his word and amended his report changing his vote to support black men instead of women.” (Zahniser, Fry, Paul).
In 1890, the National Woman’s Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), which would be “led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton” (American Bar Association). “The NAWSA worked by going state to state, guiding women in the direction they needed to go so they would receive the right to vote.” (American Bar Association.) As the uphill battle for women’s rights continued, an outside force began to “conspire against the movement.” (Lange). In 1911, the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS) “was founded and led by Josephine Jewell Dodge, a wealthy upper class woman from New England” (Lange).“Anti-suffragists argued that most women did not want the vote. Because they took care of the home and children, they said women did not have time to vote or stay updated on politics.
(Lange). This hypocritical movement’s members often consisted of elite, “upper class women who circulated in the same social circles” (Lange). The movement also consisted of activists, philanthropists, and journalists.
“One of the most famous anti-suffragists, Annie Nathan Meyer, was a writer, philanthropist and founder of New York City’s first liberal arts college for women, Barnard College. Her sister, Maud Nathan, publicly supported women’s suffrage. Ida Tarbell, who is credited with pioneering what is today known as investigative journalism, publicly opposed women’s suffrage, arguing that a woman’s place is in the home and not in the man’s world — even though her groundbreaking career was an exception to that rule.” (Schmidt)
After women are eventually granted the right to vote, “the anti-suffragists group tries to continue to push its cause onto people.” (Schmidt). With no luck, they disbanded their movement. “Although, two years after Oklahoma would grant women the right to vote, Alice Robertson decided to run for office. Alice was the vice president of the state’s anti-suffrage association. She would eventually become the first woman from Oklahoma elected to Congress.” (Schmidt)
One force after another tried to destroy the hope and dream that the suffragists were working to achieve, yet no matter how many hardships they continued to face the Suffragists refused to back down. In 1917, the “Suffragists were constantly harassed while peacefully protesting, eventually they would begin to be arrested.” (Hartley-Kong). “The first of the “silent sentinel” protests occurred on January 10, 1917. Twelve women, fighting for their right to vote, stood peacefully before the White House with picket signs all day, and every day after that, even as the nation entered the Great War in April.” (Hartley-Kong).The suffragist protesters were not surprised by the public’s reaction to their silent protests, nevertheless this strong group of women refused to let themselves get pushed away. The suffragists eventually decided to make this a routine.
“Going forward, everytime they would protest, eventually they would get arrested. After the women paid the fine, they would go home and come back the next day, repeating the cycle.” (Hartley-Kong). The gGovernment soon grew tired of the women constantly protesting, on June 22 of 1917 things took a turn when their presence embarrassed “President Woodrow Wilson in front of Russian dignitaries.” (Pruitt). “President Wilson and the Government were displeased and exasperated, they wanted the protests to stop.” (Pruitt)
The Washington DC police began arresting the protesters but they would get released immediately after because not only did the police not know where to hold these women, but they had no legal reason to arrest them. “-Were brought to a D.C. jail, then released immediately because local law enforcement could not figure out what to charge them with, or even what to do with the women.” (Hartley-Kong). The DC police required a reason to arrest these women as time went on and more spectators would watch, so they needed to come up with an arrestable action.
The police decided to begin to say that the women were illegally obstructing traffic, giving them grounds for an arrest.
“The timbre of the suffrage story changed on July 14, Bastille Day, after a month of the charade. This time, a heated trial ensued, with the women serving as their own attorneys. A D.C. judge sentenced 16 suffragists to 60 days in the Occoquan Workhouse, a “progressive rehabilitation” facility for low-level offenders that was part of the sprawling Lorton Reformatory 20 miles south from D.C. in Fairfax County, Virginia.” (Hartley-Kong).
This act from the government was seen as a turning point in the suffrage movement, because the government had “never sentenced any of the women to such serious extents before.” (Hartley-Kong) “The women’s sentencing to Occoquan marked a shift in the government’s response to the protest, one which would ultimately lead to what some historians regard as the turning point in the movement towards suffrage.” (Hartley-Kong). “Out of the 100 who were arrested only 33 would be held in prison that night where they would be starved, beaten, and tortured.” (Hartley-Kong). It would be called ‘the Most Harrowing Night in History,’ the heroic women of the Suffrage movement facing torment, abuse, and excruciating actions made towards them.
“Burns had her hands shackled to the top of a cell, forcing her to stand all night; the guards also threatened her with a straitjacket and a buckle gag. Day (the future founder of the Catholic Worker Movement) was slammed her down on the arm of an iron bench twice. Dora Lewis lost consciousness after her head was smashed into an iron bed; Alice Cosu, seeing Lewis’ assault, suffered a heart attack, and didn’t get medical attention until the following morning.” (Pruitt).
Even after the vile mistreatment and mutilation they had faced in the hands of the justice system that night, the Suffragists persevered and, like the champions they were, they continued to fight for their rights.
On May 21, 1919, everything the women had been fighting for was finally in their view when congress granted women the right to vote, the law officially went into action on August 18, 1920. (19th Amendment.)
“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 amendment passed its final hurdle of obtaining the agreement of three-fourths of the states. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification on August 26, 1920, changing the face of the American electorate forever.” (19th Amendment,)
After enduring years of torture, fighting, and brutailty, the battle was won. This pivotal moment in history changed lives for the better, and set forth the notion that not only would women fight for what they believe in, but they would win.
The women who led and participated in the women’s suffrage movement were resilient, brave, and heroic. From putting their lives on the line each time they attended a protest, to breaking down barriers in hopes that the future generations would not have to face the same hardships they did, the women persisted in a fight for justice. They changed the course of history and to this day still inspire so many young women by providing assurance that if people stand up and fight for what they believe in, then they will achieve great success.
‘19th Amendment: A Timeline of the Fight for All Women’s Right to Vote.’ Sarah Pruitt, History.com. August 13th, 2020. https://www.history.com/news/19th-amendment-women-vote-timeline
‘19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Women’s Right to Vote (1920)’ National Archives, Sixty-sixth Congress of the United States of America, February 8th, 2022. https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/19th-amendment#:~:text=Passed%20by%20Congress%20June%204,decades%20of%20agitation%20and%20protest.
‘19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Women’s Right to Vote.’ National Archives. https://www.archives.gov/historical-docs/19th-amendment#:~:text=Passed%20by%20Congress%20June%204,decades%20of%20agitation%20and%20protest.
‘29 Real Ads Against Women’s Suffrage That Make Me So Deeply Angry.’ Hope Laster, Buzzfeed, March 31st 2021. https://www.buzzfeed.com/hopelasater/anti-suffrage-ads
‘A timeline of Women’s Voting Rights.’ October 14,2020. https://www.womenforwomen.org/blogs/timeline-womens-voting-rights
‘History of Women’s Suffrage and “First” Women in Politics – the Southwest Indiana Experience’ Roberta Heiman, My League Online. November, 2019. https://my.lwv.org/indiana/southwestern-indiana/event/history-women%E2%80%99s-suffrage-and-%E2%80%9Cfirst%E2%80%9D-women-politics-%E2%80%93-southwest-indiana-experience
‘Key facts about women’s suffrage around the world, a century after U.S. ratified 19th Amendment’ Katherine Schaeffer, Pew Research Center. October 5th, 2020. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/10/05/key-facts-about-womens-suffrage-around-the-world-a-century-after-u-s-ratified-19th-amendment/
‘National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage’ Crusade for The Vote.org, Allison Lange, Ph.D. Fall 2015 http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/naows-opposition
‘Radical Protests Propelled the Suffrage Movement. Here’s How a New Museum Captures That History.’ Alli Hartley-Kong, Smithsonian Magazine. October 26, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/radical-protests-propelled-suffrage-movement-heres-how-new-museum-captures-history-180976114/
‘Seneca Falls Convention’ History.com, Editors. November 10th, 2017. https://www.history.com/topics/womens-rights/seneca-falls-convention
‘Thousands of women fought against the right to vote. Their reasons still resonate today’ Samantha Schmidt, The Washington Post, August 9th, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/local/history/anti-suffrage-women-vote-19-amendment/
‘The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolution.’ The National Women’s History Museum. From Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and M.J. Cage. A History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 1 (Rochester, N.Y.: Fowler and Wells, 1889). https://www.womenshistory.org/resources/primary-source/declaration-sentiments-and-resolution
‘The Night of Terror: When Suffragists Were Imprisoned and Tortured in 1917.’ Sarah Pruitt, March 4th, 2019. History.com. https://www.history.com/news/night-terror-brutality-suffragists-19th-amendment
‘Women’s Rights Movement’ National Park Service. February 26, 2015. https://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/womens-rights-movement.htm#:~:text=The%201848%20Seneca%20Falls%20Woman’s,movement%20in%20the%20United%20States.
‘Women’s Suffrage’ History.com Editors. A&E Television Networks, October 29, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/the-fight-for-womens-suffrage
‘Woman Suffrage in the Mid-Atlantic.’ Christine L. Ridarsky, National Parks Service,November 2, 2020
‘Women’s Suffrage Timeline’ American Bar Association. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_education/programs/19th-amendment-centennial/toolkit/suffrage-timeline/
‘Woman Suffrage Timeline (1840-1920)’ National Women’s History Museum. http://www.crusadeforthevote.org/woman-suffrage-timeline-18401920
(Photo Credits: History of Evansville, Area Suffragists. Roberta Heiman, November, 2019)