Suffragists, more precisely, members of the suffrage movement were advocating for women’s constitutional right to vote and were fighting for justice and equality. These are the women who made history.
The Women’s suffrage in the US was established over the course of several decades. in the 1840s, the demand for the legal right of women to vote became popular. In 1848, the first women’s rights convention (the Seneca Falls Convention) passed a resolution in favor of women’s suffrage.
In 1850, during the first National Women’s Rights Convention suffrage movement gradually became an important part of the women’s rights activities.
The first national suffrage organizations were formed in 1869. One was led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the other one by Lucy Stone. After some years these organizations merged in 1890 as the National American Woman Suffrage Association and Anthony became its leading force.
In the early 1870s, suffragists made several attempts to vote and then filed lawsuits when they were rejected. Susan B. Anthony succeeded in voting in 1872 but unfortunately was arrested for that act.
Furthermore, she was found guilty in a widely publicized trial that gave the movement and its’ activists fresh energy. After the Supreme Court ruled against them in 1875, suffragists began the decades-long campaign for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would enfranchize women. Much of the movement’s energy, however, went towards working for suffrage on a state-by-state basis.
In 1916 Alice Paul formed the National Woman’s Party that was focused on the national suffrage amendment. Approximately 200 NWP supporters were arrested in 1917.
Importantly enough, the two-million-member NAWSA also made a national suffrage amendment its top priority. After a series of hardships by suffragists and its activists, the Nineteenth Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution in 1920.
According to this amendment, “The right of citizens of the USA to vote shall not be denied or restricted by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
Now, let’s have a closer look at some of the most remarkable suffragists who achieved groundbreaking reforms and changes in the history of Women’s suffrage movement.
Outstanding suffragists 1) Susan B. Anthony
It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union.
One of the best-known suffragists, Susan B. Anthony’s was known as the better and more effective speaker of the movement. Her fame led to her image being put on a U.S. dollar coin in the late 20th century.
Undoubtedly, she is the most popular women’s rights activist in history. From her early childhood, Anthony was raised to be independent and outspoken. Her parents believed that men and women should live as equals.
Before she joined the women’s suffrage campaign, she was an activist in New York, where she worked as a teacher. Anthony believed that drinking alcohol was a sin and that drunkenness was particularly harmful to children and women, who suffered not only from the poverty but also from violence it caused.
Susan considered that women needed the vote so that they would be sure that the government kept women’s interests in mind. In 1853, this brilliant activist began to campaign for the expansion of married women’s property rights.
Soon, she joined the American Anti-Slavery Society and delivered abolitionist lectures. She continued to fight for women’s rights and the basic right to vote until she died in 1906.
Outstanding suffragists 2) Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Woman will always be dependent until she holds a purse of her own.
One of the most remarkable women’s rights activists and philosophers of the 19th century, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born to a prominent family in New York.
After Stanton’s marriage to abolitionist Henry Brewster Stanton, the couple traveled to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Unfortunately, they were turned away as they were told female delegates were not welcomed there.
This injustice confirmed her beliefs that women need to pursue equality for themselves. In 1848, she along with some other abolitionists, activists and reformers organized the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York.
About 240 men and women gathered to discuss the civil, social and religious condition and rights of women. The delegates signed a Declaration of Sentiments (that was modeled on the Declaration of Independence), announcing that women were citizens equal to men. This Convention marked the beginning of the campaign for women’s suffrage.
She worked closely with Anthony. As it is said, while she was the writer and theorist of their activities, Anthony was the speaker and strategist. Together they began publishing a weekly newspaper called The Revolution. The motto of this newspaper later became one of the most powerful and famous quotes of all times “Men, their rights and nothing more: women, their rights and nothing less.“
Elizabeth Stanton also advocated for the expansion of educational opportunities for girls and the reform of marriage and divorce laws. She even fought for the adoption of less confining clothing in order that women could be more active.
Today, her statue (along with her other fellow women’s rights activists, Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony) stands in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
Outstanding suffragists 3) Lucretia Mott
The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of women, the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source.
A women’s rights activist, abolitionist and a social reformer, Lucretia Mott, helped to form the idea of reforming the position of women in society. She helped to write the Declaration of Sentiments during the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention.
Moreover, it was due to Mott’s speaking abilities that she became a prominent abolitionist and feminist. In 1865, when slavery was outlawed, she campaigned for giving former slaves (whether male or female) within the boundaries of the United States the right to vote.
Lucretia Mott remained a key figure in the suffrage and abolition movement until her death in 1880.
Outstanding suffragists 4) Alice Paul
I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me, there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.
Alice Paul was one of the most popular activists in the suffrage movement in the 20th century. She brought a more confrontational and radical approach to winning the vote.
When in 1920 women won the right to vote, she proposed an Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution. Alice Paul was well-educated. She had a Ph.D. degree in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. She believed that people would never manage to reach a new world order until women are a part of it.
When she became the chair of National American Woman Suffrage Association’s Congressional Committee, she began to campaign for the adoption of a federal suffrage amendment to the Constitution.
In 1914, Alice Paul left the organization and started her own, the Congressional Union that soon became known as the National Woman’s Party. During the World War I, the NWP kept up its protests and even staged a seven-months demonstration of the White House.
Alice and other members of the NWP suffragists were arrested and imprisoned for their activities. She died at the age of 92, in 1977 and was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Outstanding suffragists 5) Emmeline Pankhurst
We have to free half of the human race, the women so that they can help to free the other half.
Along with her daughters, Christabel Pankhurst and Sylvia Pankhurst, Emmeline Pankhurst was the leader of the radical wing of the British suffrage movement.
She was one of the most important figures in the history of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WPSU). Moreover, as an iconic figure, her image is often used when representing the history of women’s suffrage.
In 1999 Time magazine named Emmeline Pankhurst as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. As they stated “she shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back“.
Emmeline founded the Women’s Franchise League that advocated for suffrage for both married and unmarried women, but soon the organization broke apart.
In 1903, she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), dedicated to “deeds, not words”. The union identified itself as independent and sometimes even in opposition to political parties. She and other WSPU activists received many prison sentences, where they organized hunger strikes to secure better conditions.
Later Pankhurst transformed the WSPU into the Women’s Party, dedicated to promoting women’s equality in social life. In 1918 the Representation of the People Act granted votes to all men over the age of 21 and women over the age of 30.
The difference was planned to ensure that men did not become minority voters as a consequence of the huge number of deaths suffered during the First World War.
Only weeks before her death, in 1928, the Conservative government’s Representation of the People Act (1928) extended the vote to all women over 21 years of age.
Outstanding suffragists 6) Ida B. Wells
I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap.
One of the most known activists for women’s suffrage and famous anti-lynching journalist, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, was also an important figure in the larger women’s suffrage movement for excluding black women.
She was born in Mississippi in 1862 and worked as a schoolteacher in Memphis. Wells wrote for a black newspaper, called ‘The Free Speech’ where she not only exposed but also condemned the inequalities and injustices that were so common during that period.
Notably, when Ida Wells prepared to join the suffrage parade in 1913, organizers requested her to stay out, as some of the white suffragists refused to march alongside blacks.
Nonetheless, Wells joined the march but her experience demonstrated that to the majority of white suffragists, “equality” didn’t apply to everyone. This outstanding woman continued to fight for civil rights until she died in 1931.
Outstanding suffragists 7) Lucy Stone
I believe that the influence of woman will save the country before every other power.
Born in Massachusetts in 1818, Lucy Stone was a remarkable abolitionist and women’s rights activist. But perhaps she is best known for refusing to change her last name when she married the abolitionist Henry Blackwell.
They stated that this tradition refused to recognize the wife as an independent person and granted the husband an unnatural superiority. By the way, her husband was the brother of famous physicians, Elizabeth Blackwell and Emily Blackwell.
Stone was a traveling lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society and continued her activism on behalf of abolitionism and women’s rights until 1857.
She was one of the leaders and activists that helped to establish the American Woman Suffrage Association that fought for woman suffrage on a state-by-state basis. This organization was considered less radical than Anthony’s and Stanton’s National Woman Suffrage Association and was the larger of the two groups.
In 1871, she and Blackwell began to publish the weekly feminist newspaper, known as The Woman’s Journal that survived until 1931. Lucy Stone died in 1893, 27 years before American women finally won the right to vote.
Outstanding suffragists 8) Carrie Chapman Catt
This world taught woman nothing skillful and then said her work was valueless. It permitted her no opinions and said she did not know how to think. It forbade her to speak in public and said the sex had no orators.
In 1900 Susan B. Anthony stepped down from the presidency of the NAWSA and Carrie Chapman Catt was elected to succeed her. She represented the less confrontational and more conservative wing.
Anthony was one of the initiators and founders of the Women’s Peace Party and the International Woman Suffrage Association. She led an army of women to pressure Congress to pass the constitutional amendment that would grant them the right to vote.
Furthermore, she convinced state legislatures to ratify it in 1920. You can find her name on all lists of famous American women.
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