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The History of the Women’s Vote

One Hundred Years toward the Women’s Vote
Compiled by E. Susan Barber

Today every U.S. citizen who is 18 years of age by election day and a resident of the local precinct at least 30 days is eligible to cast a ballot. However, women, African Americans, Native American Indians and members of certain religious groups were not allowed to vote during the colonial period and the early years of the country’s history. In 1774 the U.S. Constitution granted each state government the power to determine who could vote. Individual states wrote their own suffrage laws. Early voting qualifications required that an eligible voter be a white man, twentyone years of age, Protestant, and a landowner. Many brave citizens who recognized the importance of the right to vote led the suffrage movement.

Read the timeline for some specific events in the history of the women’s voting movement.


Abigail Adams writes to her husband, John, who is attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, asking that he and the other men — who were at work on the Declaration of Independence — “Remember the Ladies.” The Declaration’s wording specifies that “all men are created equal.”

The first women’s rights convention in the United States is held in Seneca Falls, New York. Many participants sign a “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions” that outlines the main issues and goals for the emerging women’s movement. Thereafter,
women's rights meetings are held on a regular basis.

1861 to 1865
The American Civil War disrupts suffrage activity as women, North and South, divert their energies to "war work." The War itself, however, serves as a "training ground," as women gain important organizational and occupational skills they will later use in postbellum organizational activity.


Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony form the American Equal Rights Association, an organization for white and black women and men dedicated
to the goal of universal suffrage.

The Fourteenth Amendment is ratified, which extends to all citizens the protections
of the Constitution against unjust state laws. This Amendment was the first to define “citizens” and “voters” as “male.”

The Fifteenth Amendment enfranchises black men.

1870 to 1875
Several women — including Virginia Louisa Minor, Victoria Woodhull, and
Myra Bradwell —attempt to use the Fourteenth Amendment in the courts
to secure the vote (Minor and Woodhull) or the right to practice law (Bradwell). They all are unsuccessful.

Susan B. Anthony is arrested and brought to trial in Rochester, New York, for attempting to vote for Ulysses S. Grant in the presidential election. At the same time, Sojourner Truth appears at a polling booth in Grand Rapids, Michigan, demanding a
ballot; she is turned away.

The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is founded by Annie Wittenmyer. With Frances Willard at its head (1876), the WCTU became an
important force in the fight for woman suffrage. Not surprisingly, one of the most vehement opponents to women's enfranchisement was the liquor lobby, which feared women might use the franchise to prohibit the sale of liquor.

A Woman Suffrage Amendment is introduced in the United States Congress. The wording is unchanged in 1919, when the amendment finally passes both houses.


Colorado becomes the first state to adopt a state amendment enfranchising women.

Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells- Barnett, Margaret Murray Washington, Fanny Jackson Coppin, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Charlotte Forten Grimké, and former slave Harriet Tubman meet in Washington, D.C. to form the National Association of Colored Women (NACW).


Mary Dreier, Rheta Childe Dorr, Leonora O’Reilly, and others form the Women’s Women’s Trade Union League of New York, an organization of middle-and
working-class women dedicated to unionization for working women and
to women’s suffrage. This group later became a nucleus of the International
Ladies' Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU).

The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS) is organized.
Led by Mrs. Arthur Dodge, its members included wealthy, influential women and some Catholic clergymen — including Cardinal Gibbons who, in 1916, sent an address to NAOWS’s convention in Washington, D.C. In addition to the distillers and brewers, who worked largely behind the scenes, the “antis” also drew support from urban political machines, Southern congressmen, and corporate capitalists — like railroad magnates and meatpackers — who supported the “antis” by contributing to their “war chests.”


Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive (Bull Moose/Republican) Party becomes the first national political party to adopt a woman suffrage plank.

Alice Paul and Lucy Burns organize the Congressional Union, later known as the National Women’s Party (1916). Borrowing the tactics of the radical, militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in England, members of the Woman’s Party participate in hunger strikes, picket the White House, and engage in other forms of civil disobedience to publicize the suffrage cause.

The National Federation of Women's Clubs — which by this time included more than two million white women and women of color throughout the United States — formally endorses the suffrage campaign.

Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first American woman elected to represent her state in the U.S. House of Representatives.

August 26, 1920.
The Nineteenth Amendment is ratified. Its victory accomplished, NAWSA ceases to exist, but its organization becomes the nucleus of the League of Women Voters.