When were women allowed to vote? Have you ever asked that question? It seems normal for us that women vote just like men, but there were times when even the thought of women’s right to vote was considered weird.
Women were allowed to vote in the United States almost 100 years ago, via the 19th Amendment. Voting is widely recognized as the most basic function of a democratic society. In fact, some countries consider voting to be the most important human right.
If a government does not give its citizens the right to vote, then it is easy for that government to abuse its citizens՚ rights and mistreat its population. It is easy for a government to become tyrannical when its citizens do not have the right to have a say in what goes on in their country and whom they entrust their country’s control to.
However, for a long time, most groups of people did not have the right to vote. This stemmed from the fact that, in Ancient Greece, only male citizens could vote; women, even though they were citizens, did not have the right to participate in politics, nor did children or slaves, as they were not considered citizens.
The right to vote is something many groups of people have fought for centuries to do, perhaps most notably, women. Unfortunately, for most of history, an entire half of the population did not have the right to have a say in their country’s decisions.
In order for us to fully appreciate the rights that we as women have today, it is also important to know how exactly those rights were brought about, and how much people fought for us to have those rights.
History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement
The women’s suffrage movement dominated Western societies for much of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
People began fighting for women’s suffrage in the United States in the decades before the Civil War. It can be said that the movement as we know of it today officially started in 1848, when the first Women’s Rights Convention took place in Seneca Falls, New York.
The main topic of discussion at this convention was the passage of laws that would allow women to vote. At this convention, the Declaration of Sentiments, written primarily by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was read aloud. It primarily stated that women and men are equal and that American women lacked many of the rights that men had.
It was intended to be similar to the United States Declaration of Independence and express all the wrongs that men had committed against women in prohibiting women from having equal rights. In the years of the Civil War, the women’s suffrage movement was placed on the back burner, because almost everyone’s attention shifted to the war effort.
After the Civil War, however, the two main initiators of the women’s suffrage movement were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. They formed the National Woman Suffrage Organization (NWSA) in 1869, which had the intention of ensuring women’s right to vote via a constitutional amendment.
Conservative activists Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, Julia Ward Howe, and others formed the American Woman Suffrage Association, which, in contrast to the NWSA, intended to obtain the right to vote for women via state-by-state constitutions.
In 1872, fifteen women, including Susan B. Anthony, tried to vote in the presidential election in favor of Ulysses S. Grant, but were arrested and tried in Rochester, New York, based on the grounds that they voted illegally.
In 1887, the goal of having the issue of women’s suffrage reach Congress was achieved for the first time; however, the vote was taken to the Senate and defeated. The next year, in order to support women’s advancement in American society, the National Council of Women in the United States was formed.
In 1890, Wyoming became the first state in the US where women were allowed to vote. Since it became evident that it was much easier to obtain women’s suffrage on a state-by-state basis, the NWSA and AWSA merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association, whose main goal was to campaign for women’s suffrage state-by-state and whose first president was Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
1890 also marked the beginning of the Progressive Era, where women began to participate more in politics and enter public life. More and more people began to support the fight for women’s suffrage. Gradually, more individual states allowed for women to vote in their state constitutions and elections.
The Fight in the 20th Century
The first time women’s right to vote was supported by a major political party was in 1912, when the Bull Moose Party led by Theodore Roosevelt gave its support to the cause.
A year later, in 1913, NAWSA (the National American Woman Suffrage Association) formed the first major parade by the White House in Washington, D.C. The first woman, Jeannette Rankin, from Montana, was elected to Congress in the House of Representatives in 1916.
This was, naturally, a huge step forward in the fight for women’s rights and women’s political involvement. She was officially inaugurated as a Representative of Montana in the House of Representatives in 1917. That same year, protests began to take on a different face.
The leader of the National Women’s Party, Alice Paul, was placed in the mental ward of a prison so that it would destroy her morale and ruin her reputation. More picketers from the National Women’s Party were arrested and sentenced to six months in jail.
Thankfully, the intention of ruining the party members’ reputation did not work; the government released everyone who was arrested because of public outcry and because the government was unable to stop the hunger strike organized by the party. After this, the fight for women’s suffrage had finally reached its climax.
Even the President, Woodrow Wilson, supported there being a constitutional amendment which would give women the right to vote. Finally, in 1919, the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote, was passed in the Senate. On August 18, 1920, the required three quarters of state legislatures ratified the amendment, and American women were finally granted the right to vote.
Different countries throughout the world also granted women the right to vote around the same time period. For example, most Canadian women were given the right to vote in 1917, equal voting rights were granted to women in Ireland and the United Kingdom in 1922, Armenia in 1917, Austria in 1919, Germany in 1918, and Sweden in 1921.
The first country in which women were given the right to vote was New Zealand, where the law was passed in 1893. Saudi Arabia was the last country which gave women the right to vote, albeit not fully; women voted for the first time in 2015, but only in municipal elections are they allowed to vote.
Did all women have the right to vote?
It is important to also mention that, while all women were technically included in the United States’ Nineteenth Amendment, for African-American women, voting was made very difficult. Yes, they were technically legally allowed to vote, but there were many complications when they chose to go vote in elections.
Some of the issues African-Americans faced when going to vote included literacy tests and having to pay a tax. The literacy tests were nearly impossible to pass, and even into the 1960s were African-Americans forced to go through such treatment if they wished to vote.
They were sometimes asked such difficult logic questions that experts even would not have been able to answer. Even for immigrants in New York, people had to take an English literacy test after 1921.
But sometimes, people would simply make it impossible for African-American voters to get to the polls by changing the polling places at the last minute, or making polling stations in such locations that were nearly impossible to find.
However, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ensured that such measures could no longer legally be taken against African-Americans. In 1982, the Act also extended protection for voters who were blind, disabled, or illiterate.
In districts where certain ethnic groups either numbered 10,000 people or were 5% of the population, Congress required that there be language assistants at the polling stations starting in 1975. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act required that all polling stations be accessible to those with disabilities.
Voting laws today
With these laws put into place, people all across the United States who are US citizens, over the age of 18, registered to vote, and not convicted of a felony, are allowed to vote in elections, regardless of gender, race, political party, or socioeconomic status.
This is also the case for most countries; all registered adult citizens can vote in all elections. The 19th Amendment was a major step in ensuring that all citizens, regardless of who they are, can have a voice in their country’s future.
It is important when going to vote that one remembers how much those in generations before us fought for us to have the right to vote, and all that they went through for that to become a reality. It is also important to exercise the right to vote, because it is a very fundamental part of any democracy.
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