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
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
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony form the American Equal
Rights Association, an organization for white and black women and men
to the goal of universal suffrage.
The Fourteenth Amendment is ratified, which extends to all citizens
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,
Myra Bradwell —attempt to use the Fourteenth Amendment in the
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
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
A Woman Suffrage Amendment is introduced in the United States Congress.
The wording is unchanged in 1919, when the amendment finally passes
Colorado becomes the first state to adopt a state amendment enfranchising
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
working-class women dedicated to unionization for working women and
to women’s suffrage. This group later became a nucleus of the
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
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.
The Nineteenth Amendment is ratified. Its victory accomplished, NAWSA
ceases to exist, but its organization becomes the nucleus of the League
of Women Voters.