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We are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment’s adoption into the U.S. Constitution: the amendment that guarantees citizens the right to vote regardless of their gender, and the victory of the American Suffrage Movement. It took more than seventy years of protesting, picketing, and struggles for women to gain the civil right to vote in US elections. And many more decades passed before other disenfranchised groups were systematically denied the right to vote.
The Nineteenth Amendment was the capstone of that fight, but it took over seventy years to achieve it.
And still, the vote was not granted to Black women and men. That right came about much later than most people realize, June 6, 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed the discriminatory voting practices that some Southern states adopted after the Civil War.
During this election season, we call all Chanticleerians to Vote Your Conscious and to not let anything get in your way!
Women’s suffrage was not just a long fight, but one taken on by many pivotal figures. But the story of the suffrage movement is best told by remembering many of its impactful suffragists, such as Alice Stone Blackwell, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrel, and Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin.
Suffragists were physically attacked by mobs of angry men and boys while police looked the other way. They’d been roughly arrested; been held in fetid, cold, vermin-infested cells; been shackled to the wall; and endured abuse and even torture in jail. When they went on hunger strikes, they were force-fed, tubes rammed up their noses. The Christian Science Monitor.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was one of the women who first crystallized the Suffrage Movement, having helped organize the Seneca Falls Convention. Her unique background was pivotal in formulating the first demand for women’s suffrage in 1848.
As the movement grew and drew public attention, Stanton proved herself to be a skilled orator and writer, working closely with Susan B. Anthony throughout the years; Stanton actually wrote some of the speeches that Anthony delivered, and– along with Anthony– was one of the founders of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Stanton wrote for a more equitable future in more than voting; in addition to the question of suffrage, she championed a broader view of women’s freedoms, supporting labor rights, property rights, and the right to divorce. She saw that women should have the chance to lead their own lives, taking part in all aspects of society equally to men.
Movements don’t just happen, they come alive when a group of people decides to take action against injustice, and even small beginnings can lead to sweeping change.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton came from a privileged background and used her position and means to propel her views. Her father was a prominent attorney, Congressman, and a judge. He also was a slave owner. Elizabeth was exposed to the study of law and the government mechanisms that govern by her father. She was particularly against how religion was used to justify the oppression of women. She penned The Woman’s Bible to tackle misogynistic traditions rooted in religious dogma after being sent to a seminary at the age of sixteen.
She became an adamant abolitionist to end the practice of slavery in the United States in 1839 at the age of 24. Many historians believe that the Abolitionist Movement to End Slavery experiences and lessons were essential to pave the way for the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
Stanton wasn’t the only suffragist who saw the reality of sexist injustice throughout her society, and one of her contemporaries joined her in drawing attention to these wrongs. Matilda Joslyn Gage was considered a radical in her time, having fought against traditionalist views as Stanton had. Matilda was on the revising and editing committee for Elizabeth’s highly controversial The Woman’s Bible.
This right to vote was a battle, fought and won 100 years ago by women we will never know, but by what they have written, what others have written about them, and what they have done for all of us.
One of the women who played a significant role in uniting these two groups was Alice Stone Blackwell. She was in a position to do so because of her connection to the AWSA: her mother was Lucy Stone. Along with Alice’s father, Henry Browne Blackwell, they were some of the primary organizers of the group. As Alice Stone Blackwell grew up, she worked with her parents on their paper, the Woman’s Journal, and eventually ran the paper. Once the AWSA and NWSA had merged, Blackwell served as the NAWSA’s recording secretary.
While the centennial celebrates the federal adoption of women’s suffrage, we shouldn’t forget the smaller victories and works that punctuated the movement’s length, those who spoke out against injustice in many forms, while seeking the vote. One such woman was Ida B. Wells, who played an active role in the suffrage movement of Chicago. The city had given partial suffrage to women. Wells, along with a fellow suffragist Belle Squire, started the Alpha Suffrage Club to advance women’s suffrage further and educate women on civic involvement.
The club especially supported African American candidates for the city’s elections, working to break down multiple unjust barriers in politics. Wells participated in one of the NAWSA’s best-remembered marches, set in Washington D.C. the day before the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson. At the beginning of the rally, she was told to walk at the back, but she refused. Ida B. Wells marched with her sister suffragists from Illinois at the front. The power of social change comes from unified work between many people, and Wells refused the idea that she, as a suffragist, could be divided from anyone else.
Along with women like Wells and Ruffin, Mary Church Terrel was an advocate for racial equality. She was entwined with gender equality, which shows throughout her work with the NAWSA, where she frequently met with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She insisted that the movement fight for the rights of black women alongside those of white women, and spoke highly of the suffragists who fought for everyone oppressed by the political and social systems of the time. She spoke at NAWSA meetings, delivered speeches, and called for the suffragists to remember all of the women whose vote they worked so hard to gain.
Let’s not allow their work to be forgotten – and let us never give up our full Rights as U.S. Citizens to carry out this all-too-important privilege.
Despite the NAWSA’s issues with racism, some black women did act within that organization, such as Mary Church Terrel, who was an advocate for racial equality entwined with gender equality, which shows throughout her work with the NAWSA, where she frequently met with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Mary insisted that the movement fight for the rights of black women alongside those of white women, and spoke highly of the suffragists who fought for everyone oppressed by the political and social systems of the time. She spoke at NAWSA meetings, delivered speeches, and called for the suffragists to remember all of the women whose vote they worked so hard to gain.
Women’s suffrage had a complex relationship with black civil rights in large part thanks to the period of history in which the suffrage movement began: the Seneca Falls Convention took place in 1848, seventeen years prior to the abolition of slavery. This meant that the women’s rights movement was progressing and focusing at the same time that black people across were achieving freedom and directing themselves in a country that, while changing dramatically, still marginalized them.
Harriet Tubman’s work is an example of how black women fought on both fronts; she’s a figure best remembered for her work as a liberator, freeing slaves prior to and during the civil war, but she took part in the suffrage movement as well. During the time of the NAWSA, she traveled to meetings and demonstrations to give speeches, telling of her experiences fighting for freedom and facing down oppressive and dangerous power structures during the time of slavery, and how important the struggle for freedom is. She bridged her advocacy for equality into the fight for the vote, and during this time, Ruffin’s The Woman’s Era wrote a profile on Tubman, as the country’s attention was once again drawn to her fight.
All of these histories show that the suffrage movement’s victory– the adoption of the nineteenth amendment– was the result of disparate people, dedicated and idealistic people coming together and fighting hard for their rights. They gave time, energy, and passion to a movement that would, eventually, provide them with the right to participate in the democracy of their country. The fact that the suffrage movement stayed strong for 70 years united its two significant organizations, tackled legislation at both the national and local levels, is a testament to the people who refused to give up, and whose worked– together– to win the fight.
It’s been a century since women won the right to vote, and more than 170 years since the American suffrage movement started in earnest. This movement has a lot it can teach us: the value of working together, across the country, to bring about change; the importance of remembering that there is always more than one fight for progress and rights, that we should listen to the voices of everybody who’s been pushed down and denied their rights and opportunities; and, of course, that even in the face of a power structure that calls rebellion and the fight for equal freedoms’ radical’, that fight is a good one, and worth taking on.
At the Seneca Falls Convention, the call for women’s suffrage rang out in America, whereas before it had been considered a fringe idea, or even impossible. The fight was long, but after seventy-two years, the suffragists made what was ‘radical’ a reality.
So, in the spirit that the right to vote is something that all people deserve, and should never have been restricted to any one group over another, let’s celebrate the centennial of a victory that brought America one step closer to the ideals of equality, freedom, and the rights of all. The power of the vote has shaped America’s history. We must all understand the importance of voting, and today we recognize those who fought for our rights. We are thankful for those brave suffragettes, for it is their struggle that has given us the right to participate in our democracy regardless of gender.
It required three generations of fearless activists over a span of more than seven decades working in more than 900 state, local, and national campaigns to finally win the vote for American women. And that active verb – win – is important: Women were not given the vote; they were not granted the vote. As one commentator so aptly describes it: “They took it.” Christian Science Monitor
Links to articles and sources are listed at the end of this blog post.
We want to thank Scott Taylor, our newest member of the Chanticleer Team, for his research for the blog post in this collaborative effort of honoring and remembering the women who struggled and worked for ratifying the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920.
We thought you might enjoy viewing some of our very favorite books about Suffrage and Strong Women we admire:
Love of Finished Years is one of Kiffer’s favorite novels as it tackles workers rights, women’s suffrage, the looming shadow of World War One, the plight of immigrants, and the horrors of wars from the trenches. Phillips reminds us that love, light, and perseverance can help us find a way to overcome almost any obstacle. Love of Finished Years won the Chanticleer Overall Grand Prize for Best Book while it was still in manuscript form.
From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream by Dr. Janice S. Ellis
This pivotal work serves as an historical record which serves as a historical record amid one of the most tumultuous yet empowering eras in American history. Complete with a discussion guide in the Appendix, the book can serve as a text for a college course or a community book club exploring themes of race and gender.
Janice’s overarching message is to stay true to oneself and continue to follow your heart, no matter how unpopular or uncomfortable your choices. From Liberty to Magnolia was awarded the Journey Book Awards Grand Prize.
Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina
A story based on the mysterious, mystical Victoria Woodhull, a free-thinking woman well ahead of her time with a rags to riches story. Woodhull was the first woman to run for president of the United States, at a time when, with the full support of the law, most American men did not even regard their mothers, wives and daughters as citizens. She was also the first woman to own a brokerage firm on Wall Street. Nicole Evelina brings Victoria Woodhull vividly to life in this award winning novel.
Chanticleer Non-fiction Award-winning Books — just click on the link to read our reviews.
The Romance Diet: Body Image and the Wars We Wage on Ourselves by Destiny Allison
Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife: Not Just Surviving, but Thriving by Barbara McNally
Inside: One Woman’s Journey Through the Inside Passage by Susan Marie Conrad
Fishing With Hyenas by Teresa Matthews
Links to Sources and Resources:
A Timeline of Voting Rights Acts: https://www.businessinsider.com/when-women-got-the-right-to-vote-american-voting-rights-timeline-2018-10#1965-congress-passes-the-historic-voting-rights-act-removing-discriminatory-barriers-that-kept-many-people-of-color-from-voting-12
19th Amendment: The six-week ‘brawl’ that won women the vote –https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2020/0803/19th-Amendment-The-six-week-brawl-that-won-women-the-vote
Brooklyn Museum – Alice Stone Blackwell: https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/heritage_floor/alice_stone_blackwell
Americans Who Tell the Truth – Elizabeth Cady Stanton
NPS – Ida B. Wells
Blackpast – Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin
Wikipedia – Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin
National Womens’ History Museum – Mary Church Terrell
Blackpast.org – Mary Church Terrell
Harriet Tubman Historical Society – Harriet Tubman
National Parks Foundation – Harriet Tubman