The National Story and Strategy

After the Seneca Falls Convention, women’s rights conventions became annual events. Women who supported and worked with men for the abolition of slavery believed universal suffrage would follow, but both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments ignored their right to full rights of citizenship, including the right to vote.

The 14th amendment, ratified in 1868, “granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States—including former slaves—and guaranteed all citizens “equal protection of the laws.”  The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870 granted African American men the right to vote by declaring that the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on right to full rights of citizenship, including the right to vote.

 

In 1878 the first federal women’s suffrage amendment, written by Susan B. Anthony, was introduced but was defeated later in the first full Senate vote in 1887. As the nineteenth century came to an end, and following the advice of Anthony and Elizabeth Caty Staton, competing national suffrage groups reunited as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA. The groundwork was laid for a national movement. 

They partnered with new organizations, including the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), which expanded the reach of their message.

Top photo: Silent Sentinels - Suffragists on picket line in front of the Woodrow Wilson White House, circa 1917. One banner reads: “Mr. President How Long Must Women Wait For Liberty.” 

Driving the Message Home

Suffragettes worked to teach women across the nation that they deserved the same rights that men took for granted, while also appealing to male political leaders to support their cause. They used traditional approaches like petitioning and lobbying, but also new techniques such as parades and public demonstrations, political art, and the use of planes, automobiles, motion pictures, and other emerging technologies to spread their message.

Bunting and Stands were Already in Place for Wilson’s Inauguration

The first national suffrage parade occurred on March 3, 1913, to “coincide” with President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. At the time, the concept of suffrage for women was still unpopular in the United States. Though some states allowed women to vote, a majority of men, and some women thought that women should stay home and let their husbands exercise political power.

 

Though suffragists had been fighting for decades for the vote, the movement felt stagnant and lacked national support. The defeat of Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party in the recent election seemed to strike a further blow to the prospect of suffrage. The parade put the president-elect and Congress on notice that suffragists would hold the Democratic Party responsible if it failed to pass a women’s suffrage amendment.

Bunting and Stands were in Place for Wilson’s Inauguration. An estimated 5,000 to 8,000 marchers from all around the world were there. When police would not protect the parade route, crowds of rowdy and inebriated men cursed, threatened, and mobbed the marchers, more than 300 suffragists were injured, before a cavalry unit restored order.

Gallery of National Images - On the March to the Ballot Box

Photos: The Library of Congress

World War I Gives a New Perspective to Women's Suffrage

The controversial and “unladylike” practice of picketing the White House began in 1917. At first, President Wilson was tolerant of the pickets, but when the United States entered World War I in April, any criticism of the government was considered treasonous. As World War I progressed, many suffragists, including longtime pacifists, stopped campaigning for the vote and devoted themselves to war work between 1917-1919..

Women supported the war effort in 1917 by selling war bonds and conserving food. Women also worked for the American Red Cross and the United Service Organizations, as well as in factory, office and transportation jobs. Over 12,000 American women served stateside “freeing the men to fight.” At the end of World War I 24% of aviation plant workers were women. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC) established the Overseas Service Unit, which consisted of 100 women who went to Europe to assist wounded soldiers after World War I had ended.

Suffragists' decision to focus on the nation's needs during this time of crisis proved to help their cause. Their activities in support of the war helped convince many Americans, including President Woodrow Wilson, that all of the country's female citizens deserved the right to vote.

Navy Yeomen during World War I. They were the first enlisted women in the U.S. Navy.

Tennessee freshman delegate Harry Burn and his mother Febb, who urged him to vote for the 19th amendment in a letter.

After Congress passed the 19th Amendment, the suffragettes turned their attention to state ratification.  Tennessee turned out to be the tipping point state becoming the thirty-sixth state to ratify the 19th Amendment.

It was won by the single vote of a legislator, Harry T. Burn, who had opposed the amendment but changed his position after his mother sent him a telegram saying:

“Dear Son, Hurrah! and vote for suffrage. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.”

States Ratification

After Congress passed the 19th Amendment, the suffragettes turned their attention to state ratification.  Tennessee turned out to be the tipping point state becoming the thirty-sixth state to ratify the 19th Amendment.

It was won by the single vote of a legislator, Harry T. Burn, who had opposed the amendment but changed his position after his mother sent him a telegram saying: “Dear Son, Hurrah! and vote for suffrage. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.”

The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 did not guarantee full voting rights for all women—women of color had additional struggles ahead. The work and contributions of African American, Asian American, Latina, and Native American suffragists are just beginning to be discovered.

Yesterday's Newsreel (1940) Looks Back 20 Years on Women's Suffrage

 

This episode of “Yesterday’s Newsreel” film features women’s suffrage and protests outside the White House in 1917, culminating in the approval of the 19th Amendment in 1919.  Vice President Thomas R. Marshall is shown signing the document giving women the right to vote, as well as scenes of governors ratifying the legislation. It ends with scenes of celebration and voting by women.

The suffrage cookbooks came garnished with recipes for the Great Cause: the fight for getting women the right to vote.
Sold at fairs, bazaars and women's exchanges, these cookbooks not only raised funds for the suffrage movement, but also helped women network, and gain new skills in the fields of publishing, advertising and sales.

The Woman Suffrage Cookbook, originally published in 1886, is a collection of recipes and miscellaneous tips and tricks is a volume published almost entirely by women for women. The book was launched to raise funds for the women’s suffrage movement and to communicate―in the shared, common language of a cook book―that a woman’s place at the polls was not a replacement for her place at the home.   Included in the long list of contributors are the names of housewives, doctors, political writers, and prominent suffragists like Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Frances Willard. Contained in this volume are not just the instructions for preparing classics like “Rebel Soup,” “Election Cake,” or “Gravy as Mother Did it,” but also tips for plain living and high thinking. The final pages include a section entitled, “Eminent Opinions on Woman Suffrage.”