- The Nineteenth Amendment
- 1920s urbanization and immigration
- The reemergence of the KKK
- Republican ascendancy: politics in the 1920s
- The presidency of Calvin Coolidge
- 1920s consumption
- Movies, radio, and sports in the 1920s
- American culture in the 1920s
- Nativism and fundamentalism in the 1920s
- America in the 1920s
The Nineteenth Amendment
In 1920 women secured the right to vote.
- The Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920. It declares 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 sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
- The amendment, which granted women the right to vote, represented the pinnacle of the women’s suffrage movement, which was led by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
- In their decades-long struggle for female enfranchisement, women’s rights advocates met with strong opposition from anti-suffrage activists.
The women’s suffrage movement
The women’s suffrage movement has its origins in the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, the first women’s rights convention ever held in the United States. Approximately three hundred activists, female and male, gathered to discuss the condition of women and to devise strategies for achieving social and political rights for women. Though women’s suffrage was a topic of debate at the convention, it was not the main goal of the movement at this early stage, and the convention’s resolution demanding women’s suffrage was the only resolution that was not passed unanimously.
The first women’s suffrage organizations were created in 1869. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), while Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Henry Blackwell founded the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). These two rival groups were divided over the Fifteenth Amendment, which guaranteed African American men the right to vote. The AWSA supported the Fifteenth Amendment, while the NWSA opposed it because it did not include suffrage for women. In 1890, the two competing organizations were merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
During the 1870s, suffragists (women’s suffrage activists) began attempting to vote at polling places and filing lawsuits when their attempts were rejected. This drew attention to the women’s rights movement, particularly after Susan B. Anthony was arrested and put on trial for voting in the 1872 presidential election. Suffragists hoped that the lawsuits would work their way up to the Supreme Court, and that the justices would declare that women had a constitutional right to vote. In 1875, the Supreme Court, in Minor v. Happersett, rejected women’s suffrage, ruling that the US Constitution did not confer the right of suffrage to anyone.
After the Supreme Court ruling, leaders of the women’s rights movement adopted other strategies for securing universal suffrage. Activists began organizing a drive to pass a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. The National American Woman Suffrage Association launched a campaign to achieve victories at the state level, in the hopes that if enough states allowed women the right to vote, federal legislation would follow. These efforts were so successful that by the time of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, over half of all states had already granted limited voting rights to women.
Map showing the degrees of suffrage women had in each state. Women had full suffrage in 15 states before the 19th Amendment. women had presidential suffrage in Rhode Island, and presidential and municipal suffrage in North Dakota, Nebraska, and Illinois. Women had primary suffrage in Texas and Arkansas, municipal suffrage only in Vermont, and municipal suffrage in some cities in Ohio and Florida. Twelve states gave women the right to vote in school-related elections. But twelves states gave women no level of suffrage: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Opposition to women’s suffrage
Though the movement for women’s suffrage was well-organized and gaining momentum by the early twentieth century, it met with strong opposition from some sectors of US society. Brewers and distillers were opposed to female enfranchisement because they assumed that women would vote for the prohibition of alcoholic beverages, while businesses that employed children feared that women would vote to eliminate child labor.
Anti-suffrage organizations sprang up all over the country to oppose the drive for female enfranchisement. Anti-suffrage activists were not just men; indeed, many upper class women joined the movement, arguing that politics was a dirty business that would sully the moral and spiritual authority of women.
The Nineteenth Amendment
In January, 1878, Republican Senator Aaron A. Sargent of California formally introduced in the Senate a constitutional amendment to guarantee women the vote. The bill languished in committee until 1887, when it finally went up to a vote, and was defeated. Not until 1914 was another constitutional amendment for women's rights considered, and again rejected, by the Senate.
Photograph of Carrie Chapman Catt.
The following year, Carrie Chapman Catt, who had succeeded Susan B. Anthony as head of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1900, launched an effort to link the drive for female suffrage to the US war effort in the First World War. Though many of her fellow suffragists were anti-war pacifists, Catt made the controversial decision to support the war and to thereby portray the women’s suffrage movement as patriotic. The effort was a success; in his 1918 State of the Union address, President Woodrow Wilson declared his support for female enfranchisement.
On August 18, 1920, Congress ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, which guaranteed the right to vote to all US citizens regardless of sex. The Nineteenth Amendment represented a major victory and a turning point in the women’s rights movement.
What do you think?
Why do you think African American men gained the right to vote decades before women did?
How do you think the Nineteenth Amendment affected minority women?
Consider the map of women's voting rights before 1920. Why do you think so many western states permitted women to vote before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment?
Which strategies of the women’s rights movement were most effective? Why?
Want to join the conversation?
- according to a book I borrowed from the library it stated that women didn't gain the right to vote fully until after like the 1980s. I'm starting to think that some sites don't know the whole truth about sufferage.i mean don't get me wrong I'm glad that women have more rights than they used to but I'm starting to wonder where the truth is coming from...if anybody could shed some light on this subject I would be very greatful(31 votes)
- Hi Sara, Great question! I think what you might have heard is that some states didn't ratify the Nineteenth Amendment until the 1970s and 1980s (Mississippi was last in 1984). This is true! However, it was only necessary for 36 states to ratify it for it to become law. The 36-state ratification occurred in 1920, which made it legal for women to vote in ALL states (regardless of whether their state had ratified it).(86 votes)
- "Brewers and distillers were opposed to female enfranchisement because they assumed that women would vote for the prohibition of alcoholic beverages, while businesses that employed children feared that women would vote to eliminate child labor."
Were these "fears" legitimate? Although prohibition of alcohol occurred just prior to women earning the vote, if I am not mistaken, Child Labor Laws all occurred AFTER women earned the right to vote. That does not mean that the right of women to vote CAUSED these things though, or did it? What role, if any, do historians believe that suffrage had on child labor laws and on the legality of alcohol etc?(14 votes)
- Women were socially and politically active well before they had the vote. Lobbying, writing, and demonstrating are all ways of being politically active without the franchise. The specific mention of alcohol producers refers to the fact that women were extremely forceful and influential in the temperance movement well before they had the vote. In fact, Prohibition became law nationally with the 18th Amendment, preceding national suffrage for women. (Remember, though, women could vote in state and/or municipal elections in many places before 1920.)
Many women had also been active in pushing for limitations on child labor before 1920. Other women had not. Alcohol producers and manufacturers who relied on child labor feared that most women would vote in concert with activist groups. But, of course, 'women' are no more a hive-minded monolith than men are, so the results of suffrage on these issues are nuanced and complicated.
Issues like the prohibition of alcohol, labor law, and universal adult suffrage are not settled in a year or two. They are subjects of decades of activism and debate, so teasing out exact proportions of influence of one on another is extremely tricky (although an interesting exercise!) and unlikely to be perfectly definitive.
Finally, much of the opposition to women voting rested, as you have surmised, on entrenched ideas about power structures, class, and the role of women in a hierarchical society and not on specifically pragmatic issues.(30 votes)
- Why did the African women not get the right to vote when others did?(8 votes)
- They technically did, but due to Jim Crow laws, only African American women in the North could vote. In the South, things like grandfather clauses, poll taxes, and literacy tests prevented both African American men and African American women from voting.(29 votes)
- Why do you think African American men gained the right to vote decades before women did?(3 votes)
- White men who held the power, though reluctant to share that power with black men, were even MORE afraid of women. It was about fear.(10 votes)
- Why were some people against women voting(2 votes)
- This has been true in many societies until very recently. When political power belonged only to a minority, almost NOBODY had the right to vote. Eventually when the idea of monarchy came to an end, those in power (males) decided that they should make all the decisions for the community. In most places where this came about, it was for males of a particular race. Gender, wealth, race and ability to read & write have often defined who could and could not vote. It's an interesting history. In general, white males were in control of it.(7 votes)
- Why was African american women and women period so badly represented?(3 votes)
- Bad representation for women came because men were in control. Bad representation for black women came because white women told them to "go wait in the back of the bus". White women were not interested in black women's being uplifted or gaining equal treatment. They also feared that if they expanded their cause to include the plight of black women, all would be lost.(4 votes)
- im really stuck on the question that states why African americans were able to vote first can you help out(2 votes)
- When, by the 14th amendment, voting rights were extended to "other than white people", they were not yet extended to "other than male people". That took another 50 years.(3 votes)
- why weren't women allow to vote before African Americans got the right to vote.(3 votes)
- Men had the power. Men didn't want to release any of their power to ANYBODY else, especially not to any group, like women, that outnumbered them.(1 vote)
- why did the women not get the right o vote or not be treated equally like others(2 votes)
- That's what the 19th amendment was made to address. The history of voting in America was that it was first only for property owning white men. Then later was made available only to white men (whether they owned property or not). Then it was extended to males of all races, and only last of all were women allowed to vote. But, still, in many parts of America, political groups that gain power when fewer people vote use many methods to prevent people from actually casting ballots.(2 votes)
- How did women help the army?(2 votes)
- Women served the armies of several nations as "camp followers", providing commercial services that the armies didn't see to officially.(1 vote)