Twenty thousand women marched in the parade for suffrage in New York City, Oct. 23, 1915. Five years later, after ratification of the 19th amendment, women nationwide were finally eligible to vote. Photo Courtesy George Grantham Bain Collection, Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2001704302/
In January 1917 the National Woman’s Party tried a more aggressive but peaceful tactic. Its members started picketing the White House. These “Silent Sentinels” picketed for nearly an entire year, in all kinds of weather. They set important precedents for future protesters, long before these tactics were used during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Photo Courtesy Harris & Ewing. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/resource/hec.07113/
Today there are marches and protests supporting Black lives and police reform; 100 years ago there were parades, petitions, pickets and imprisonments over voting rights for women. The Votes for Women movement culminated in the ratification of the 19th amendment on August 18 and its adoption as part of the U.S. Constitution on August 26, 1920.
August 2020, National Women’s Suffrage Month, commemorates the centennial of
enfranchisement for women. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the League of Women Voters. Both deserve our attention and gratitude.
The League of Women Voters of Los Alamos (LWVLA) planned to celebrate the
centennial of women’s suffrage and the founding of the national league with an exhibit in the gallery of the Mesa Public Library. Because of the pandemic, the exhibit may not open until sometime next year. In the meantime, the LWVLA wishes to recognize the two centennials by sharing some information that members learned while doing research for the exhibit.
This procession of pickets at the White House occurred on the eve of President Wilson’s second inauguration, March 3, 1917. Photo Courtesy Harris & Ewing. Retrieved from the Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/resource/mnwp.159040/
The Hope for Women’s Suffrage Began Much More Than a Century Ago
Some history books say women were given the right to vote. In truth they fought long and hard for that right. The U.S. Constitution originally gave suffrage only to white, male landowners, although colonial women asked for the right to vote in the 1600s.
In 1776, Abigail Adams (who later became the second First Lady of the U.S.) wrote to
her husband, John, who was attending the Continental Congress. “Do not put such
unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember, all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation.”
The rebellion did not begin until 1848, at a convention on women’s rights in Seneca Falls, N.Y., where 300 women and men debated Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments, modeled after the Declaration of Independence. It began with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women [emphasis added] are created equal . . .”;
Abolitionist Frederick Douglass described Stanton’s declaration as “the grand movement for attaining the civil, social, political, and religious right of women.”
The declaration passed unanimously. However, the resolution calling for women “to
secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise,” passed by a slim margin. As anticipated, “misconceptions, misrepresentations and ridicule” followed, and as a result of the public backlash, some signers subsequently withdrew support.
Despite those problems, the suffrage movement continued to grow with Lucy Stone,
Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony joining Stanton as the leading activists during that period. But the movement would take millions of volunteers, thousands of speeches, hundreds of petitions, and more than 70 years to reach its goal.
During the following decades, those suffragists who were also abolitionists worked to
end slavery. They hoped that nationwide suffrage would follow naturally and quickly for all. Although the 15th Amendment stated 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 account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” women were still excluded.
When the first federal amendment for women’s suffrage was introduced in Congress in 1878, it stalled and was eventually defeated nearly a decade later, in 1887.
While picketing on the sidewalk, Mary Winsor and other suffragists were arrested for reasons such as “obstructing traffic” and sentenced to Occoquan Workhouse, where they experienced horrible conditions and even violence. Photo retrieved from the Library of
An Organized National Movement for a Federal Amendment
As the nineteenth century neared its end, a serious nationwide movement began. From 1900 to 1920, the battlefields of the suffrage movement reached far and wide throughout the U.S.—from rural meeting rooms to the halls of Congress, from tearooms to dormitory rooms.
Many suffragists and suffragents (male suffragists) devoted their entire lives to the cause. They marched in parades and protested outside the White House (in all kinds of weather for almost an entire year). They lobbied Congress. Some, including Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, even endured arrest, jail, hunger strikes and force-feedings of milk and raw eggs. Eventually public sentiment began to shift, and support for suffrage grew.
On May 21, 1919, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the so-called Susan B.
Anthony Amendment, and two weeks later the Senate did the same. The final battle
required three-fourths of the states to ratify the proposed 19th amendment. But strong opposition arose.
Finally, on August 18, 1920, the last of the required number of states ratified the
amendment, and on August 26 it was adopted. New Mexico was the 32nd of 36 states
needed to ratify. (There were only 48 U.S. states at that time.) As we cast our ballots this year, let us remember the ladies, the suffragists and the suffragents who won access to the ballot box for millions of American women. Also remember the League of Women Voters, which after 100 years continues to educate male and female voters and encourages citizens to participate fully in our government.