We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal. . . . In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Declaration of Sentiments, 1848
Suffragists and supporters believed that securing the vote was an essential step towards equality. Countless determined women organized, lobbied, paraded, petitioned, lectured, and picketed throughout the country. They were ridiculed, assaulted, and imprisoned simply for daring to claim that women deserved rights equal to men.
The campaign for women’s suffrage challenged long-standing concepts of democracy, existing gender stereotypes, and racial and class divides. The movement’s triumph – the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – was achieved 100 years ago, in August 1920, but this is not the end of the story. Inspired by this victory, the fight for full economic, social, and political equality for all people continues to this day.
Although women had been writing and speaking about inequality for many years, the beginning of the American women’s suffrage movement was marked by the two-day convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848.
There, more than 300 people converged to discuss to discuss “the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women” articulated in Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments. Lucretia Mott was among the organizers, and Frederick Douglass spoke in support. More national meetings followed, where advocates and leading abolitionists, including Lucy Stone and Sojourner Truth, lent their voices to the cause.
The movement split into two factions in 1869. The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), led by Lucy Stone, supported the 15th Amendment, which granted rights and the vote to newly emancipated slaves. However, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, refused to support the Amendment because it denied women their rights and the vote.
I am a woman’s rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?
Sojourner Truth, Woman’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, 1851
We ask only for justice and equal rights—the right to vote, the right to our own earnings, equality before the law.
At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the movement’s tactics became more aggressive. Some leaders worried that confrontational efforts would endanger state victories and antagonize Congress.
AWSA and NWSA, along with the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), succeeded at winning the vote through campaigns in western states, but progress at the federal level stalled.
In 1913, Lucy Burns and Alice Paul formed the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, later known as the National Woman’s Party (NWP), to focus on amending the federal Constitution. Supporters commanded attention by staging public demonstrations, protests, pickets, and parades. However, racial divisions persisted among the organizations, leading to many segregated events. One notable protest occurred when Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a leader of the National Association of Colored Women, refused to walk at the back of the first national women’s suffrage parade and instead marched with the main delegation from Illinois.
The first national suffrage parade occurred on March 3, 1913, intentionally coinciding with President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.
Organized by Paul and Burns, the parade included more than 5,000 costumed marchers in delegations representing countries, states, occupations, and various organizations. Harriet Hifton of the Library of Congress Copyright Division led the librarians’ contingent. The watching crowd was not kind; women were insulted, grabbed, and shoved, and more than 300 suffragists were injured. The parade culminated in an allegorical pageant, written for the event, to show “those ideals toward which both men and women have been struggling through the ages and toward which, in co-operation and equality, they will continue to strive.”