The 19th Amendment says that the right to vote shall not be denied because of gender.
The American colonies adopt the English system of property ownership for married women as stated by Judge John Wilford Blackstone: “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in the law. The very being and legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated into that of her husband under whose wing and protection she performs everything.” As a result, women cannot own property in their own name or keep their own earnings.
The original 13 states pass laws that prohibit women from voting. Abigail Smith Adams, wife of John Adams, the second president, and mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president, writes that women “will not hold ourselves bound by any laws which we have no voice.”
About 300 activists, including 40 men, gather for a two-day convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., to strategize how to obtain women’s suffrage nationwide. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, along with 60 other women and 32 men, sign and issue the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, modeled on the Declaration of Independence, which calls for equal treatment of women and men under the law and voting rights for women. Former slave Frederick Douglass addresses the crowd, showing unity between the anti-slavery and women’s rights movements. Two years later, the first National Women’s Rights Convention is held in Worcester, Mass., and attracts more than 1,000 participants.
The American Equal Rights Association is founded by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martha Coffin Pelham Wright and Ernestine Rose. Its mission is to promote equal rights, with an emphasis on gaining the right to vote for women.
Disagreements over the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments and the relationship between women’s suffrage and the movement for racial equality split the women’s rights movement with allegiances divided between two main organizations: the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association. With the passage of the 15th Amendment (the first step toward ratification), which granted the right to vote to men of color and former slaves, but not women, the National Women’s Suffrage Association, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, broke with their abolitionist and Republican supporters. Accusing them of emphasizing civil rights for African Americans at the expense of women’s rights, Stanton and Anthony lobbied for a constitutional amendment to give women the right to vote at the federal level. At the same time, the American Woman Suffrage Association worked for voting rights state by state.
The Territory of Wyoming passes the first law giving women over age 21 the right to vote. When Wyoming joins the Union in 1890, it becomes the first state to permit women the right to vote in all elections, although in 1887, Kansas permitted women to vote in municipal elections. In 1893, Colorado grants women the right to vote, followed by Utah and Idaho in 1896; Washington state in 1910; California in 1911; Oregon, Kansas and Arizona in 1912; Illinois in 1913; Montana and Nevada in 1914; New York in 1917; Michigan, South Dakota and Oklahoma in 1918.
After Susan B. Anthony casts her first vote as an attempt to test whether the 14th Amendment would be interpreted broadly to guarantee women the right to vote, she is tried and convicted in Canandaigua, N.Y., of “unlawful voting.”
Two rival women’s voting rights groups, the National Women’s Suffrage Association and the American Women’s Suffrage Association merge to form one organization, the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. The new organization works for passage of a constitutional amendment to guarantee women the right to vote.
Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Mary Church Terrell, Anna Julia Cooper and other leaders of the more than 100 African American women’s clubs unite to form an organization to promote equality for women, raise funds for projects that benefit women and children and oppose segregation and racial violence.
The Congressional Union is founded by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns and sets as its goal the passage of a federal constitutional amendment that would give women the right to vote. The organization is later renamed the National Women’s Party
Suffragists from the Western states drive across the country to support voting rights for women in the East. Twelve Western states already had granted women the right to vote in state elections. Their leader was Sara Bard Field of Oregon, a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. A petition with 500,000 signatures in support of an amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote is given to President Woodrow Wilson.
The National Women’s Party organizes protests at the White House in support of women’s voting rights. Mrs. S.H.B. Gray of Colorado writes, “I have no son to give my country to fight for democracy abroad, and so I send my daughter to Washington to fight for democracy at home.” Police arrest the demonstrators and charge them with obstructing traffic. Alice Paul, the party leader, argues to one judge: “We do not consider ourselves subject to this court, since as an disenfranchised class we have nothing to do with the making of the law which has put us in this position.” Some of those arrested refuse to pay their fines and are sent to prison. After the party publicizes the harsh prison conditions, President Woodrow Wilson pardons the protesters in December 1917.
Jeannette Rankin of Montana is the first women to serve in either branch of Congress. She is elected at a time when women in most states are still not allowed to vote.
Upon ratification of the 19th Amendment, the National American Woman Suffrage Association establishes the League of Women Voters to encourage women to use their newly acquired right to vote. Today, the League promotes greater participation in the democratic process and advocates on a wide range of public policy issues, such as health care reform, campaign finance reform and environmental protection. The League of Women Voters also sponsors debates between candidates for political office, including presidential debates.
After a 72-year fight, the ratification of the 19th Amendment formally guarantees women the right to vote. It is quietly signed into law at a ceremony to which the press and suffragists are not invited.
In a South Carolina murder case, the defense argues that the exclusion of women from the jury pool after passage of the 19th Amendment was a reversible error. In Mittle v. South Carolina, the South Carolina Supreme Court rejects the defendant’s claim, finding that the 19th Amendment cannot be read to grant a right to vote or participate in jury service. Rather, the court finds it simply says that gender cannot be a basis for discrimination when determining voting qualifications. If men are allowed to vote, women are as well. The U.S. Supreme Court refuses to accept the case for review.
In the first major demonstration of the women’s rights movement since the suffragist protests, thousands of women march in New York City and in cities across the nation in the first Women’s Strike for Equality. The National Organization for Women calls the strike to mark the 50th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification.
However, at the time of the protest, women still had not achieved equality with men in many areas, such as the workplace In many states, women could not get credit cards, make wills, or own property without a husband. Basic rights, such as serving on juries, were not given to women.