1889 – 1920 Modernizing America Woman Suffrage

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.

Introduction

A horizontal pennant, or flag that tapers, reading

“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.

Explore the progress of women’s voting rights using this interactive timeline!

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?

Resources

A suffrage poster with a multi-faceted view of womanhood that places men and women as equals, but still celebrates women as homemakers and caretakers.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Progressive Era, women's rights movement
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A pair of documents that present competing arguments for and against women gaining the right to vote.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Progressive Era, women's rights movement
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An article written by Black suffragist Adella Hunt Logan and published in the NAACP’s publication The Crisis. It includes reasons why the vote was particularly important to Black women.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Progressive Era, women's rights movement, race and racism
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A photograph taken as the Tennessee state legislature debated ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. It aligns the anti-suffragist campaign with the preservation of the Old South.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Jim Crow era, race and racism
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The front page of the The West Virginian newspaper on Election Day 1920, the first national election after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Progressive Era, women's rights movement
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An excerpt from the NAACP’s testimony before Congress that includes the challenges Black women faced as they attempted to exercise their Constitutionally-granted right to vote.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Progressive Era, U.S. Constitution, Jim Crow era, race and racism
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Life Stories

The story of the first female member of Congress and her refusal to allow politics to influence her personal beliefs and morals, particularly in regards to peace.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Progressive Era, World War I, World War II, Vietnam War
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The story of a lifelong activist who advocated for suffrage and equal rights on local, national, and international stages.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Jim Crow era, race and racism, segregation, women's rights movement
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