The Women’s Rights Movement

The beginning of the fight for women’s suffrage in the United States grew out of a larger women’s rights movement. The reform evolved in the 19th century emphasized a large spectrum of goals before focusing on securing the franchise for women. Women’s rights movements are concerned with making political, social and economic status of women equal to men and establish safeguards against discrimination. Just like any movement there were enemies, but in this case the enemy was not a foreign citizens or different cultures but the enemy was men.

Early before 1849 the idea of a women’s rights movement came to the United States and many women decided to take a stand and they stood up against the men of the country to fight for their rights as American Citizens. In 1789, when the United States constitution went into effect only 60% of American citizens could vote. Those voters were wealthy white men that held a large sum of land. “Many white men and most African Americans, Native Americans, and women were excluded” (WB 4). During this time women were not considered equal as citizens and were not given the equal rights they deserved.

At the time of this segregated suffrage the idea of women’s suffrage leaders came about. Women’s suffrage leaders would often disagreed about the tactics for their reform efforts and could never agree on how to start the movement. Ultimately, the suffrage movement provided political training for some of the early women pioneers in Congress, “but its internal divisions foreshadowed the persistent disagreements among women in Congress and among women’s rights activists after the passage of the 19th Amendment” (History, Art & Archives).

The idea of leaders and women’s rights conventions were only the beginning for the head strong women of the 19th century. In the United States the first definitive position on women’s rights was taken in 1848 under the leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, N. Y. A social visit brought together Mott, Stanton, Wright, Mary Ann McClintock, and Jane Hunt. They began to plan their convention.

The time had come, Stanton argued, for women’s wrongs to be laid before the public, and women themselves must shoulder the responsibility. Before the afternoon was out, the women decided on a call for a convention “to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman” (Seneca Falls). Around 100 people attended this convention in Seneca, 2/3’s being women and the other 1/3 we men. At the convention The Declaration of Sentiments was presented.

The Declaration was modeled after the Declaration of Independence beginning with “We both hold truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.. ” (WB 14). But in the Declaration of Sentiments they added that “all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.. ” (WB 14). Elizabeth Stanton got the job of creating this Declaration, she added eleven resolutions, making the argument that women had a natural right to equality in all spheres.

“The ninth resolution held forth the radical assertion that it was the duty of women to secure for themselves the right to vote” (Seneca Falls). Some people believed that Stanton was foolish for attempting to gain so man equal rights for women but it did not stop them try to pass the Declaration. Before leaving the convention one hundred women and men signed the Seneca Falls Declaration. The Seneca Falls convention only marked the start of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States.

All the women that attended the convention were not only concerned with the subject of voting but also improving women’s status in society. Women would march along the streets of their home towns caring banners and signs and “addressed social and institutional barriers that limited women’s rights; including family responsibilities, a lack of educational and economic opportunities, and the absence of a voice in political debates” (History, Art & Archives).

They pressed for a whole range of reforms including marriage and property rights. The women’s rights campaigners remained involved in the abolition movement and supported the Union side during the American Civil War (1861-1865). They welcomed constitutional amendments that ended slavery throughout the United States in 1865 and that gave slaves citizenship in 1868. Although the women were thrilled about the end of slavery they also so craved the idea of the end of women’s suffrage to be amended into the constitution.

“In 1869 Elizabeth Stanton and American social reformer Susan B. Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association to work for a women’s suffrage amendment to the Constitution” (KB 156). The NWSA, which was based in New York, relied on its statewide network but also drew recruits from around the nation, largely on the basis of the extensive speaking circuit of Stanton and Anthony. “Neither group attracted broad support from women, or persuaded male politicians or voters to adopt its cause” (History, Art & Archives).

The turning point for women’s suffrage came in the late 1880s and early 1890s, during the election of Carrie Chapman Catt, when the nation experienced a surge of volunteerism among middle class women, activists in progressive causes, members of women’s clubs and professional societies, temperance advocates, and participants in local civic and charity organizations. With the help of all of the volunteers the women of the United States got the whole country talking about equality and women’s suffrage.

During this time the United States was expanding westward and quickly becoming industrialized. “Immigrants were pouring into American cities. More girls and women were attending American schools and colleges than ever before” (WB 22). But still life for women during this time was difficult and women could still not vote. All throughout the world women’s suffrage started to come to an end. In 1893 New Zealand granted women the right to vote, in 1908 women were gained the right to vote in Australia.

The women in the United States knew about these great steps for women in other countries and began to become jealous. Four States had enfranchised women in the 1890’: Wyoming in 1890, Colorado in 1893, Idaho and Utah in 1896. Despite the huge efforts by suffragists, no political progress was made until 1910. “Between 1910 and 1914, the NAWSA intensified its lobbying efforts and additional states extended the franchise to women: Washington, California, Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon” (History, Art & Archives).

In Illinois Ruth Hanna McCormick helped lead the fight for suffrage as a lobbyist in Springfield, when the state legislature granted women the right to vote in 1913; this marked the first such victory for women in a state east of the Mississippi River. One year later Montana would grant women the right to vote. Although all of the progress with in states was helping women defend their cause the United States Government still had not passed a law. In 1913, Alice Paul, a young Quaker activist who

had experience in the English suffrage movement, formed the rival Congressional Union. Her group freely adopted the more militant tactics of its English counterparts, picketing and conducting mass rallies and marches to raise public awareness and support. “Embracing a more confrontational style, Paul drew a younger generation of women to her movement, helped resuscitate the push for a federal equal rights amendment, and relentlessly attacked the Democratic administration of President Woodrow Wilson for obstructing the extension of the vote to women” (Scholastic).

By the war outbreak it was easier for women to become international. There was faster transportation and communication systems that made it easier for women around the world to voice their opinion and share ideas. But still the most effect system was public speaking events. By 1916, The National Women’s Suffrage Association had 200,000 members and we granted voting rights in 11 states. But working for suffrage state by state was slow and demoralizing and took a lot out of the suffrage leaders.

This is when Catt informed suffrage leaders that they needed to change their tactics so the suffrage leaders launched her “Winning Plan”. The “Winning Plan” strategy called for disciplined and relentless efforts to achieve state referenda on the vote, especially in non-Western states. “Key victories—the first in the South and East—followed in 1917 when Arkansas and New York granted partial and full voting rights, respectively” (History Art & Archives). Catt launched a coordinated political campaign, and her winning plan worked.

Under Catt’s dynamic leadership, NAWSA won the backing of the House and Senate, as well as state support for the amendment’s ratification. In 1917, New York passed a state woman suffrage referendum, and by 1918, President Woodrow Wilson was finally converted to the cause. The nineteenth amendment was “Passed by Congress June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment guarantees all American women the right to vote” (National Archives). Achieving this milestone required a lengthy and difficult struggle.

The victory took decades of agitation and protest. Beginning in the mid-19th century, with several generations of woman suffrage supporters lecturing, writing, marching, lobbying, and practicing civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans considered a radical change of the Constitution. And only a few early supporters lived to see the day. Although women in the United States finally won their victory they still were faced with many problems down the road. The suffrage movement created higher expectations for women.

By the early twentieth century, women were able to attend college and to train for professions, although not in the same numbers as men. They began to enter male dominated professions like law, medicine, clergy and corporate. The Women’s Suffrage movement allowed for women to secure their place in society and take a closer step to complete equality amongst the people of America. The fight for Women’s suffrage was a tough fight but the women of that time held strong and fought for what they believed was right.

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