Women’s Right to Vote
The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was formed on February 18 to advocate for women’s suffrage
Alice Paul founded the Silent Sentinels and began a series of protests, six days per week for three years, for women’s right to vote
PASSED BY CONGRESS
The 19th Amendment granting women’s suffrage was passed by Congress on June 4
The 19th Amendment was ratified by Congress
Women’s Right to Vote - A 70-year Struggle
After a 70-year struggle, ratifying the 19th Amendment came down to the wire and a single vote.
Tennessee Legislator Casts the Decisive Vote
All the other Southern states opposed the 19th Amendment and voted it down. In Tennessee the vote was tied. A 23-year-old Tennessee Representative named Harry T. Burn (1895-1977) cast the vote that broke the tie. Burn opposed the amendment, but his mother convinced him otherwise. Reportedly, Mrs. Burn wrote to her son: “Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.” Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment just days before the bill timed out in 1918.
“Suffrage” means “an Inalienable Right to Vote”
The women’s right movement, also known as the women’s suffrage movement, was long fought. Maybe it was the odd name, “suffrage,” which caused the movement to stretch over multiple decades. Actually, the word “suffrage” means “an inalienable right to vote” and appears in the 1787 U.S. Constitution. It has the dual meaning of “to endure pain and hardship.”
Women Dedicate Themselves to the War Effort
World War I (1917) and women’s participation in the war effort were pivotal in changing public opinion and finally passing the 19th Amendment. There were two women’s groups working on the cause of women’s right to vote. One of these, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), decided that dedicating themselves to the war effort would build up sympathy for the cause of women’s voting rights.
It was a difficult decision because many members were pacifists. Nevertheless, the NAWSA and their millions of members sold war bonds, preserved food and promoted public morale. They took numerous actions to generate a link in public perception between women and patriotism. Additionally, scores of women went to work to do the jobs vacated by men.
The second women’s rights group, the National Women’s Party (NWP), was more militant. During this same time, they lead parades, marches, and picketed the White House. During one of their protests at the White House, several women were arrested, jailed and went on a hunger strike. President Wilson was appalled to learn that the jailed suffragists were being force-fed, and he finally stepped in to champion their cause.
President Woodrow Wilson Gets on the Train to Women’s Rights
Suffragists and their supporters agreed that Wilson had a debt to pay to the country’s women, who were contributing to the war effort on the home front. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson gave a speech before Congress in support of guaranteeing women the right to vote. Though Wilson came around and supported women’s rights, it took another year before Congress voted in favor of the 19th Amendment and before the Amendment was ratified by 36 of the 50 states. The rest is history.
Did You Know?
- The 19th Amendment doesn’t specifically mention “women”.
- The last state to ratify the 19th Amendment was Mississippi in 1984.
- Alice Paul founded the Silent Sentinels, who protested for women’s right to vote, six days a week between 1917 and 1920. Once arrested, she led a hunger strike in prison.
Both the History.com and Wikipedia have detailed history of the Women’s Right’s movement, events and participants. Such a riveting history!
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