About three hundred women and men gather for a convention in Seneca Falls, New York, to discuss various ways of obtaining woman suffrage. They issue the “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions,” modeled on the Declaration of Independence, calling for equal treatment of women and men under the law, and voting rights for women.
Differences in opinion between women activists over the relationship between woman suffrage and the movement for racial equality split the women’s rights movement. Allegiances divide between two main organizations, the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association, which is led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Stanton and Anthony break with their abolitionist supporters and accuse them of emphasizing African American civil rights at the expense of women’s rights.
The attorney Victoria Chaflin Woodhull becomes the first woman to run for President of the United States, as a candidate of the Equal Rights Party. Neither she nor any other woman is allowed to cast a vote in that election.
Susan B. Anthony attempts to cast her first vote to test whether the Fifteenth Amendment will be interpreted broadly enough to guarantee women the right to vote. She is arrested, tried, and found guilty of “unlawful voting” in Canandaigua, New York. Anthony refuses to pay the $100 fine, but is never jailed.
In Minor v. Happersett, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a Missouri law limiting the right to vote to male citizens. The Court rejects Virginia Minor’s claim that the state law deprives her of a “privilege or immunity” of citizenship in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court reasons that the privileges and immunities clause does not create new rights, but only guarantees the rights of citizens that were recognized at the time of the Constitution’s drafting.
Although Anthony has collected more than ten thousand signatures from twenty-six states in support of her proposed constitutional amendment that will guarantee women the right to vote, Congress refuses to act on it. Anthony testifies before every Congress from 1869 to 1906 to ask for passage of a voting rights amendment.
Wyoming, which as a territory had allowed women to vote, joins the Union and becomes the first state to permit women to vote and hold office. In 1893, Colorado grants women the right to vote, followed by Utah, Idaho, Washington, California, Oregon, Kansas, Arizona, Illinois, Montana, Nevada, New York, Michigan, South Dakota, and Oklahoma in the years before the Nineteenth Amendment is ratified.
Alice Paul and Lucy Burns form the National Women’s Party to lobby for a federal constitutional amendment that will allow women to vote. In 1916, the party organizes protests at the White House to dramatize their case. Police arrest the demonstrators and charge them with obstructing traffic. Some of those arrested refuse to pay their fines and are sent to prison. President Woodrow Wilson pardons the protesters in 1917.
Soon after women gain the vote in Montana, Jeannette Rankin wins election as the Republican candidate for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She serves one term and then loses a race for the U.S. Senate. Rankin later serves a second term in the House from 1941 to 1943. In 1932, Hattie Carraway of Arkansas becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
Seventy-two years after the Seneca Falls Convention first called for women’s voting rights, the Nineteenth Amendment permits women to vote in the 1920 elections. Only one person who signed the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, Charlotte Woodward, is still alive and able to exercise her right to vote. The National American Woman Suffrage Association establishes the League of Women Voters to encourage women to use their newly acquired right to vote. The league promotes greater participation in the democratic process, advocates on a wide range of public policy issues, and sponsors debates between candidates for political office.
In a South Carolina murder case, the defense protests the exclusion of women from the jury following the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. In Mittle v. South Carolina, the supreme court of South Carolina finds that the Nineteenth Amendment cannot be read to grant a right to vote or participate in jury service. 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.
In 1961, women are eligible to serve on juries in all but three states. Florida is one of seventeen states that exempt women from jury duty unless they voluntarily register to be called. After an all-male jury convicts a Florida woman of murdering her husband when she discovered his infidelity, the woman argues that the jury’s verdict might have been different if the jury had included women, who were more likely to be sympathetic with her. She notes that in 1957, when the trial took place, only 220 women had registered for jury duty, out of 46,000 registered women voters in the county. In Hoyt v. Florida (1961) the Supreme Court rules that the Florida statute is based on a reasonable assumption that women are “still regarded as the center and home of family life,” and so can be excused from mandatory civic duties.