I must confess. I was having second thoughts about getting out there and voting. I am not particularly found of either candidate and debating whether or not I should even bother. Then I remember those women that fought for my right to even have this decision.
There was a time that women were barred from voting. They were though of as not fit to make decisions. It took a century of fighting for women to be granted the legal right to vote and that is something we should not just take for granted. If you would like a brief history overview I somewhat cleaned up my notes from a college lecture I did a couple years back on Women’s Suffrage.
A Women’s status
After America gained its independence from Britain the status of women remained the same as stated under the British common law. It stated that once married a wife became “femme coverte” by her new status. What did this mean?
- She was overshadowed by her husband.
- Once married a woman lost “custody” of herself.
- Any money she earned went to her husband.
- Any personal property she owned became her husbands to do with it what he will.
- Any real estate she owned was now her husbands.
- She did not even have a right to her children should she ever seek and be granted a divorce.
Because of this subservient status, women were seen unfit to vote, hold office or sit on any jury.
Women were discriminated against legally:
Women were entitled to only 1/3rd of their husband’s estates and attempts were often made to limit their inheritance. For instance, Maryland had in place a stipulation that a woman must marry or remarry within seven years or lose her claims.
Divorcing was a challenge and even when they had grounds for divorce, whether that be cruelty, adultery, abandonment or non-support, judges would find loopholes in a women’s behavior to lessen what they received out of the divorce. A case from 1824 Peckford v. Peckford the wife was divorcing her husband because he committed adultery. The judge ruled in favor of Mrs. Peckford but because she went on a trip to England, she left her husband in a state of temptation and was therefore order to only 1/3 of their property instead of ½.
From 1776 to about 1800 voting for women was only allowed in the state of New Jersey. The rule being if you were free, of proper age, owned property and lived in state. However that soon came to an end because of that before mentioned idea that married women were property of the husbands, they had no right to income and therefore were not qualified voters. The law was then overturned and rewritten to only allow white property holding males the right to vote.
Women were discriminated against educationally
Women were considered to have inferior minds to men and therefore were not fit for the math and sciences. If they were to be schooled, and this was mostly reserved for the white and wealthy, it was in such subjects as sewing, painting or singing. College was a dare to dream!
The Women’s Movement and abolition
Sarah and Angelina Grimke- Upper class southern women who spoke out against slavery. They relocated from Charlotte to Philadelphia and join the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. They had the financial backing of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison who believed that women’s rights were equally as important as abolition.
The Grimke sisters were ostracized for speaking out against men on the subject of abolition. Churches argued that a woman speaking as a man made her unnatural.
Angelina Grimke: “I ask no favor for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks and permit us to stand on that ground which God designed us to occupy.”
This was a controversial stance even amongst some of her abolitionist peers but it propelled the topic of whether women were different or equal to men became a popular debate in the 19th century.
The experiences that women gain working during the anti-slavery movement encouraged women to fight for their own gender as well. They learned such skills as how to organize, hold public meetings, and gather petitions. Organizations began to flourish in the North that pushed for literacy and education. Educational opportunities opened up to women when they were needed to work in the expanded textile industries. Oberlin College was the first American college in 1830s that allowed entrance to women. These early women became the role models for the leaders of the historic women’s movement at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.
Key Players of the Women’s Suffrage Movement to 1906
Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) – Founder of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in London at an Anti-Slavery Convention. The refusal of recognition of women at this convention led the two women to take up women’s rights in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) – Became involved with women’s rights after meeting Lucretia Mott in England. Organized the Seneca Fall Convention and wrote the Declaration of Sentiments. She was well published in magazines and newspapers. She fought the New York Legislature on women’s rights to wages, property, custody of their children and divorce reform.
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) – Early career worked for temperance reform. 1850s began to organize petition drives for women’s suffrage. In partnership with Elizabeth Cady Stanton she organized numerous reform organizations. She fought not only for women’s vote. She also worked hard to fight for the expansion of the Married Woman’s Property Law in New York State.
Lucy Stone (1818-1893) – First Massachusetts woman to earn a college degree. Graduated with honors from Oberlin College. She was the founder of the American Woman Suffrage Association. She also establish the Woman’s Journal and was its editor.
The Seneca Falls Convention 1848-1849
This convention was organized by N.Y Quakers and was led by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It met from July 19th to the 20th in 1848 and was the first women’s right meeting in history. The Seneca Falls convention was divided over the course of six sessions in the two days. During which the women and men discussed mostly politics and law and voted on resolutions.
Declaration of Sentiment
It was written at the Seneca Fall Convention. What was on the agenda? It was list of concerns that women wanted addressed in regards to how they are treated in comparison to men.
Written and read by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, this document is known as The Declaration of Sentiments. It begins by stating…
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal…”
Seem familiar? What famous work comes to mind when you hear that first line? Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.
They used the Declaration of Independence as a template for creating their own. They did not only borrow the Declaration of Independence’s preamble but also reworked the 18 grievances to ones that related to the women’s movement causes.
What did they want?
What did the women want? What was their purpose for calling a convention?
The list of grievances that were talked about and debated over for two days included issues such as equal access to education, more opportunities in trades and professions, equality in marriage, rights to make contracts, property ownership, the right to sue, testify in court and the right to have guardianship over their children.
The most hotly debated of the issues was the addition for the right to vote. Many had felt that putting down that women sought the right to vote would make the document and the convention fail and seem like a vile waste of time. Some, like Lucretia Mott, felt it was asking too much at one time. However, through the support of Frederick Douglas, a famous abolitionist and public speaker, the voting grievance was kept on the document.
By the end of the convention 100 people had signed the Declaration of Sentiment. 68 women and 32 men.
When the convention was over the results, like anything really, were mixed. It was mostly blasted in the newspapers and throughout the many communities. It was seen as ridiculous. Because of this many of the people that signed the document did eventually remove their names.
But from the positive side it brought more women out and on board with the suffrage movement. This was evident by the increase in Equal Suffrage Societies that sprung up all along the Northern United States. So bad press maybe bad press but bad press could also be good press. The word gets out!
The Women’s Movement in the 1850s
It wouldn’t be until 1850 that they would meet again for a convention.
That year the very first national women’s convention was held in Worcester, Massachusetts. They would hold a national women’s convention there once a year until 1860, the only exception being 1857. It was also during this decade that the women’s movement is introduced to Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony. In 1851, Stanton invited Anthony and Stone to her home where they forged a friendship that would last for a lifetime. They worked together on campaigns to change state legislature on the granting of custody of children to their mothers in the event of a divorce, protection from the seizure of income and the right to vote.
However, in the late 1850s the majority of the footwork fell on Anthony’s strong and capable shoulders due to the disruption in the lives of her contemporaries due to marriages and child births. Overall, the women’s rights movement picked up steam as the 1850s progressed even though they were often met with failure. However, the women’s movement would come to a halt at the start of the Civil War.
Women’s Movement and the Civil War
With the country going to war the question became how should the women’s movement proceed? There was a lopsided divide on the answer that did not favor for Anthony. It was believed by Stanton that during the war it was better for women to show a strong sense patriotism. This patriotism would win women the right to vote because it was believed that through women’s efforts to aid in the preservation of the Union and the end of slavery, women would prove their worthiness as citizens. This idea was opposed by Anthony who held that women would only be granted voting rights if they continued to push their demands. No prominent voice sided with this stance so Anthony joined Stanton.
Women’s Central Association of Relief was a conglomerate of aid societies that was established to care for the wounded Union soldiers. 100 women would be trained as nurses. Under the direction of Dorothea Dix, the War department’s superintendent of nurses, women were sent out onto hospital ships, camps and on the battlefields themselves. Due to the voluntary efforts of these women, more soldiers were saved in the Civil War than wars past. For the confederacy, women opened their homes to the wounded whenever needed and shared their provisions.
Women also served as scouts and spies. One of the well-known was Harriet Tubman who made around 19 trips between the North and South to rescue slaves.
Women also dressed as men in order to fight as soldiers. Many of them amongst the dead.
At the end of the war, Stanton, Anthony, Stone and others helped petition for universal emancipation, not just for the former confederacy.
The Women’s Movement after the War
Anthony’s fears were realized after the war with the proposal of the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment granted suffrage to African-Americans males, which the women’s suffragists supported, but did not mention anything in regards to women voting.
Stanton and Anthony opposed the amendment and sought support from fellow abolitionist supports but did not receive it. They wanted them to withdraw support until the government added a stipulation about women. After all, as Stanton stated “Do you believe the African race is composed entirely of males?” Stanton would find herself regretting not agreeing with Anthony in 1861. Suspending women’s rights agenda pushed them out of sight out of mind.
Challenge to the 14th Amendment
In 1869 a lawyer by the name of Francis Minor wrote up a challenge to the fourteenth amendment claiming that women were already voting citizens.
The Constitution stipulates that
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States… are citizens of the United States”
“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”
Since women were citizens of the United States, Minor believed they already had the right to vote.
Victoria Woodhull, a controversial woman and one of the new generation of activists, was the first woman stockbroker, and a self-declared candidate for the presidency. She took this resolution to Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives for review in 1871. The result was a negative reply.
That did not stop around 150 women in 1872 from showing up at the polls and voting. Among them was Anthony. She and some of the others were arrested and charged with unlawfully voting. Ruled incompetent to testify on her own behalf she was found guilty by Judge Hunt and fined $100 that she had refused to pay.
Women’s Movement Divided
It was also at this point however there was a change in the women’s movement. Stanton, Anthony and Stone had differences in opinions on supporting the 14th and 15th amendments and how the movement should move forward.
By 1869 the women’s rights movement leaders divided into two organizations.
Stanton and Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA)
Lucy Stone the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA).
- AWSA decided that a state-by-state campaign for women’s suffrage. Anthony disagreed with this approach because it was felt that it was too much to ask a moneyless class to traverse the country.
- AWSA was only interested in focusing on the question of women’s suffrage
- AWSA received a “Republican Party is mindful of its obligations to… women… and the honest demands of any class of citizens for additional rights should be treated with respectful consideration.”
- NWSA launched federal campaign to have an amendment added to the constitution. “Men their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less” Anthony.
- NWSA sought to add other reforms for marriage and divorce.
- NWSA received recognition when the House of Representatives and the Senate appointed Select Committees on Woman Suffrage in 1882. Wyoming was the first state to include woman suffrage in their state constitution when they were admitted into the Union in 1890.
This split would carry on for twenty years.
The two organizations would reunite under the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890 due to discontent amongst women for the split in the movement and a growing desire for unity as the 40th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention approached.
Women rights at the turn of the Century
Now we have come to the turn of the century and while there is still no universal women’s suffrage, the women’s rights movement has created new opportunities for the generations that will follow.
Some of these changes are as follows:
- 40,000 women were enrolled in colleges
- 3 million women were working for their own wages
- 2/3rd of the states allowed women to own their own wages
- 3/4th of the states allowed women to own and manage property separate from their husbands
- Nine states granted equal guardianship rights to children
- Four states allowed women to vote
With the deaths of prominent leaders such as Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony; the end of the first wave of women’s suffrage came to an end.
Key Players of the Women’s Suffrage Movement 1906 to 1920
Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947) – Early career as an educator and a journalist. She took over for Susan B. Anthony as President of the NAWSA. In 1912 she took control over the women’s suffrage movement and worked tirelessly at her “Winning Plan” which led to the ratification of the 19th amendment. Afterwards she started the League of Women Voters to educate the new voting group.
Lucy Burns (1879-1966) – Was a graduate of Vassar College. She went on to graduate school at Yale University and began a doctorate at Oxford University before quitting to join the suffrage movement in Britain. In the United States she worked with Alice Paul as a part of the National Woman’s Party and was involved in many of the aggressive tactics.
Alice Paul (1885-1977) – Received a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1912. She became involved with women’s suffrage while conducting post-graduate work in Britain. In the United States, Paul introduced militant methods to the suffrage movement and was imprisoned. After the passing of the 19th amendment, Paul went on to receive several Law degrees. She helped find the World Woman’s Party and fought to have sex equality included in the preamble to the United Nations charter.
Women’s Movement and Strikes
Women’s lives had clearly changed by the beginning of the 20th century and the need to vote became even more apparent. They needed to be able to vote in order to protect themselves from poor working conditions… it was a way of letting their protest be known.
This new group of women devised different approaches than the early leaders. They conducted themselves in two major ways: strikes and parades.
Working conditions were horrendous. Women were working 12 hour days six to seven days a week for very little pay… and more than not in work place environments that were in violation of the safety codes.
A series of strikes would follow:
- 1909- Triangle Shirtwaist Company of New York
- Shirtwaist workers in Philadelphia that same year
- 1912- 20,000 workers in the textiles in Lawrence, Massachusetts
Women’s Movement and Parades
Militant methods or parades
- 1910 the Women’s Political Union held the first suffragist parade in New York City
- 1911 the second one drew 3,000 marchers. Also a large funeral parade that year in honor of those that perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire. The building had in adequate fire escapes, no sprinkler system and doors that locked from the outside so the women could not leave work. So when the fire broke out they were trapped inside the building. 146 died in that fire.
- 1912 NYC suffrage parade grew to 20,000 marchers and this growth pattern grew even larger in 1913
Women’s Suffrage and War… again
Once again as a War loomed suffragists were faced with the decision of what to do. This time around they would not make the same mistake that the past leaders made. They would stay the course.
A new party led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, National Woman’s Party (NWP) held a picket outside of the White House gates that began in January of 1917. In June many of the women, Alice Paul included, were arrested and charged with “obstructing traffic.” They were sentenced for up to six months and were held in the Occoquan workhouse. While imprisoned they were physically abused, put in solitary confinement, and force fed when they refused to eat. The District of Court Appeals would find the arrests and imprisonment invalid.
Women also began working for the war cause just as they did during the Civil War. They worked as nurses, filled in for male positions in private industries, and made weapons.
Winning the Vote
It was through the private appeals from Carrie Chapman Catt that President Woodrow Wilson finally agreed to intervene with Congress on the subject of a federal amendment.
September 30th 1918. In part of his speech to Congress he mentions how “We have made partners of the women in this war; shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?
This first measure was defeated only obtaining two votes.
Through campaigns against those who opposed in addition to the numerous countries granting women suffrage, on May 21, 1919 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Federal Woman Suffrage Amendment, the 19th Amendment and on June 4th it passed in the Senate. After fifteen months of taking it to the states, the 19th amendment on August 26,, 1920 was finally ratified.
“The United States Constitution prohibits any United States citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex.”
If you are still with me… In the end I decided to vote. I could not let the years of blood, sweat, and tears fail because I wasn’t a fan of either candidate. So I preform my civic duty and my hard fought right and voted.
I voted for the person I felt would be best able to handle the job of President.
I voted for someone who would not disrespect those who fought so hard for our rights.
I voted for someone who can keep their cool and not finger point blame because they cannot get past their own self importance.
I voted for someone who wouldn’t embarrass this country with name calling and insinuating violence.
I voted for someone that wouldn’t divide this country by singling out entire groups of people by race or religion and putting them in the line of danger. We need someone that will work towards protecting American people not pitting us against each other.
I voted for someone that didn’t need to have their Twitter account taken away from them because they cannot handle criticism to the point it keeps them up at night. After all when it comes down to it I cannot trust someone with nuclear codes when they cannot be trusted with something as simple as a social media account.
I voted for someone who understands the constitution and how the government works. That the government has checks and balances and one cannot just step in and press delete on legislation they do not agree.
I voted for someone who doesn’t talk about the presidency as if this is an autocracy.
I voted for someone that I know is not perfect but knows how to listen to opinions other than their own without storming around like a bull being tempted by the red flag.
While neither is the best option I voted for the person that would be, in my opinion, the most capable President.