Key Ideas

1. The fight for woman suffrage was not new in this era, but the rise of social reform gave it new momentum.

2. Women across racial, economic, and social lines fought for the vote using a variety of strategies and tactics.

3. Not all women wanted the vote, and the anti-suffrage movement was led by many outspoken women.

4. The ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment enfranchised women nationally, but it also raised questions about how to empower women to exercise their new right to vote.


“Votes for Women” Pennant, 1910-1920, United States. New-York Historical Society

Woman Suffrage

The fight for woman suffrage was not new in this era, but it did have new momentum.

The rise of social reform and progressive politics breathed fresh life into a movement that had begun decades earlier. As early leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony retired, new leaders across the nation brought vitalized energy to the movement. Membership in the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) jumped from 13,000 in 1893 to around 75,000 in 1910.

Early twentieth century suffragists embraced the strategies of cross-class activists. Demonstrations and parades took the movement into the streets. By downplaying the demand for equality and emphasizing women’s special domestic qualities, suffragists rebranded themselves as non-threatening reformers.

The road to suffrage was not without challenges. Although women of diverse backgrounds fought for suffrage, the movement’s leadership remained white and middle class. Black women in particular were forced to fight on the margins and faced racism from suffragists who saw black activism as a direct threat to the cause. Furthermore, not all women wanted the vote, and many vehemently fought against suffrage.

Suffragists were rewarded on August 26, 1920, when Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. Election Day 1920 was a cause for celebration. But when only one-third of eligible women voted and most women of color were barred from the polling place, new challenges became clear.

Section Essential Questions

1. Why was obtaining the vote so critically important to so many women

2. How did the suffrage movement intersect with the broader social reform movement of the era?

3. What were the arguments and tactics suffragists and anti-suffragists used to promote their respective sides?

4. How did race, class, and geography factor into the debate over suffrage and ultimately shape how different women were able to participate in the movement?


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