How Women Got the Vote, a Quiz by Keith Williams was published in the New York Times on June 4, 2019 (the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment by the US Congress). Test your knowledge!
"The politicians used to ask why we wanted to vote. They seemed to think we want to do something particular with it, something we were not telling about. They did not understand that women wanted to help improve the general welfare of the people." - Carrie Chapman Catt, April, 1919
Carrie Chapman Catt founded the League of Women Voters on February 14, 1920 during the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The League began as a "mighty political experiment" designed to help 20 million women carry out their new responsibilities as voters. It encouraged them to use their new power to participate in shaping public policy. It was then, and is now, a nonpartisan organization. League founders believed that maintaining a nonpartisan stance would protect the fledgling organization from becoming mired in the party politics of the day. However, League members were encouraged to be political themselves, by educating citizens about, and lobbying for, government and social reform legislation.
This still holds true today. The League does not support or oppose candidates or political parties at any level of government.
The League of Women Voters is celebrating our history by taking action for the future. Our founders achieved the impossible by getting the 19th Amendment passed 100 years ago, so today we honor their fight by continuing to push our democracy forward so that every voter can play a critical role in shaping our country.
"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
-19th Amendment, United States Constitution
The 19th Amendment was passed by the US Congress on June 4, 1919 and sent for ratification to the states. It was ratified by Tennessee, the 36th and last state needed, on August 18, 1920 and officially adopted on August 26, 1920 (a date now celebrated annually as Women's Equality Day). The fight for women's suffrage had taken over 70 years since the Declaration of Sentiments, calling for equality between the sexes and a resolution for women's suffrage, was signed by 68 women and 32 men at the Seneca Falls convention in 1848.
New territories and states, particularly in the West, started to grant women the right to vote in the late 1800's. Wyoming was the first state to enact full suffrage for women in 1869. Other states followed, including California, in 1911. By the late 1890's, however, the momentum had shifted to passing a national amendment while continuing the fight at the state and local level.
Three generations of dedicated suffragists waged the 72 year battle to pass the 19th Amendment. Many who had started the movement were no longer alive when success came. During this landmark 100th anniversary year, we will honor and celebrate the suffragists (women and men) who had the courage and determination to ensure that women were able to vote and to capture their power as citizens.
In 2020, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment and the foundation of the League of Women Voters. To commemorate these events, LWVSF member and historian Jennifer Helton is writing a monthly series for LWVSF on the history of the women’s activism in California and the San Francisco Bay Area.
The ratification of the 19th amendment was the result of more than a century of activism on the part of American women. Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John Adams in 1776 to suggest that women’s rights should be protected by the new government being formed by American revolutionaries. He responded, “I cannot but laugh.”
Changing this mindset would take decades of argument, debate and activism. Nationally known leaders such as Susan B Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Anna Dickinson, and Lucy Stone argued for women’s economic and political equality, often facing harassment and derision as they traveled the country speaking on behalf of temperance, abolition and women’s rights.
But while the national aspect of the women suffrage movement is well known, most people are less familiar with the role that the American West, including California, played in the expansion of women’s political rights. By the time the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, all of the mainland western states and territories, except for New Mexico, had already granted women full suffrage rights. The success of women’s suffrage in the west played an important role in convincing the rest of the country of the justice and efficacy of women’s rights.
In this series, we will be looking at some of the diverse California women and communities who played important roles in the expansion of suffrage and equality.
Robert W. Cherny, Mary Ann Irwin, and Ann Marie Wilson, California Women and Politics: From the Gold Rush to the Great Depression
Ellen Carol DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women's Movement in America, 1848–1869
Martha Gardner, The Qualities of Citizens: Women, Immigration, and Citizenship, 1870–1965
Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America
Lori D. Ginzberg, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life
Ann D. Gordon, African American Women and the Vote, 1837–1965
Nell Painter Irvin, Sojourner Truth
Martha S. Jones, All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830–1900
Rebecca Mead, How the Vote Was Won: Woman Suffrage in the Western United States, 1868 - 1914
Jennifer M. Ross-Nazzal, Winning the West for Women: The Life of Suffragist Emma Smith DeVoe
Lisa Tetrault, The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women's Suffrage Movement, 1848–1898
Roslyn Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920
Judy Yung, Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco
Judy Yung, Unbound Voices: A Documentary History of Chinese Women in San Francisco
Lori Lahlum and Molly P. Rozum, edtiors. Equality at the Ballot Box: Votes for Women on the Northern Great Plains