The First Feminist Movement in History- Women’s Right to Vote

The Right to Vote is one of the most fundamental and inalienable right that people have in a democracy. But a century earlier, in most countries, Women were denied to exercise their political franchise until the early 20th Century. This was due to the patriarchal mindset present at that time which could not see the role of Women in anything beyond the four walls of a home. Even a country like Switzerland, which is thought to be very progressive, did not gave the Right to Vote to Women until 1971.

In this post, we shall explore the first Feminist Movement, that is, Women’s Suffrage Movement, by analysing the progress of the movement in a country which is believed to be the bedrock of the democracy, the United States of America-

1848- The Beginning

The Seneca Falls Convention is held in the New york state, credited as the first big step towards women’s right to vote or suffrage movement. The rights of the women were outlined in the Declaration of Sentiments. The major organisers of the convention were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott.

Declaration of Sentiments

1851- Ain’t I a Woman

Sojourn Truth gives her famous speech “Ain’t I a woman” at the Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio.

Enactment of Sojourn Truth’s famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman”

1869- NWSA

On May 15, 1969, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) is formed to work for women’s suffrage in United States. The main leaders of the association were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Another organisation American Women Suffrage Association (AWSA) is formed at the same time, with Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe as its prominent leaders. The main point of contention between the two organisation is the issue of 15th Amendment to the US constitution.

1870- 15th Amendment

The 15th Amendment to the US constitution is ratified enfranchising the Black Men to vote. The women suffragists were hoping that it will also enfranchise women voters but there hopes were shattered.

1872- The Imprisonment

Elizabeth Cady Stanton is arrested while trying to cast her vote in the US presidential election. She was fined, but she replied by saying “I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

1878- The Amendment

Senator Aaron A. Sargent, a friend of Susan B. Anthony, introduces into Congress a women’s suffrage amendment. More than forty years later it would become the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution with no changes to its wording.

1890- NAWSA

The two women’s organisation NWSA and AWSA is merged into a single organisation National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) with Susan B Anthony as the leading force.

1890s- States giving suffrage

Many US States granted the Right of Vote to women, but a national right to vote for women was still a long miles away. The first state to give Right to Vote to women was Wyoming in 1890 (however it had granted this right in 1869 itself while being a territory). Afterwards, in 1893, Colorado granted the Right to Vote to Women and in 1896, Utah (originally granted in 1870, but in 1896 Utah was admitted as a State) and Idaho also granted these rights to women.

1908- The Parade

Maud Malone organises the New York City Suffrage Parade of 1908, the first suffrage march in United States. Around 2000 men and 30 women suffragists participated in the march.

1910- Washington gives suffrage to Women

Washington grants the Right to Vote to Women, the fifth US State to do so.

1913- Washington Procession

Inez Milholland leads the Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington D.C. on horseback in advance of President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett also takes part in the first suffragist parade in Washington, D.C. which is organized by the National American Woman Suffrage Association, as the sole Black woman in the Illinois delegation. Wells marched with this group despite being asked at the last moment to move to the back of the procession with the segregated contingent.

Inez Milholland, dressed in a flowing white cloak and crown and riding a white horse representing “New Woman”
Ida B Wells-Barnett in the procession

1913- NWP

The Congressional Union for Women Suffrage (later known as National Woman’s Party or NWP) is formed by Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and others. There approach was to fight for Women’s suffrage in an aggressive manner, as they thought NAWSA to be too mild.

Alice Paul

1917- The Silent Sentinels

The National Woman’s Party organises “Silent Sentinels” protests in front of the White House after President Woodrow Wilson’s repeated opposition to the women’s suffrage.
Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and others were arrested for obstructing traffic in front of the White House. Detained in the District of Columbia Jail and Virginia’s Occoquan Workhouse, the women began a hunger strike. Striking suffragists were forced-fed through tubes, and on November 14, 1917, known as the “Night of Terror,” the superintendent of the Occoquan Workhouse ordered his guards to batter the sentinels into submission. These actions helped garner the support of general public for women’s suffrage.

The Silent Sentinels Protests

1917- US enters WW-I

US enters World War 1. Women also supports war efforts bringing more support for the cause of Women’s suffrage.

1917- New York follows suit

New York grants the Right to Vote to Women.

1918- President’s speech

President Woodrow Wilson, in a speech before Congress, for the first time endorses Women’s Right to Vote.

1919- The Prohibition

The 18th Amendment is ratified, which banned “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” effectively prohibiting alcohol. Women also played a major role in Prohibition movement.

1920- The Victory

The historic 19th Amendment to the US constitution is ratified forbidding the United States from denying or abridging the right to vote to any citizen “on account of sex”.

The States giving support to the 19th Amendment

The passing of the 19th Amendment was also dramatic. For the Amendment to be effective, it had to be ratified by atleast 3/4th of the States or 36 states. The Amendment was ratified by 35 states and it needed another State to ratify the Amendment. Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, approving it just by one vote. The victory was ensured only after a 24-year-old legislator Harry Burn changed his previous vote at the request of his mother, who told him “to be a good boy.”

An excerpt from the famous letter

1924- Native Indians gets Citizenship

Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 is passed granting US citizenship to “Native Indians” (such a misnomer!!). Seems strange that they have been given Citizenship so late, for the region that historically belonged to them. Now, Native Indian Women also had the right to excercise their franchise.

1965- The Final Victory

Voting Rights Act of 1965 is passed by the US strenthening the franchise of African-Americans and Native Indians and prohibiting racial discrimination in voting. It prohibited literacy tests, poll taxes and similar devices that were historically used to disenfranchise racial minorities. This Act truly ended years of discrimination in voting on account of race or sex.

In the hindsight, the Women’s suffrage movement was a watershed event in the history of Women’s Empowerment, which gave Women the Social, Economical and Political power, and gave thrust to further change in the patriarchal mindset of the society. Similar movements also happened in Countries like UK, Australia, NewZealand, India, Canada, Germany, Switzerland etc. So, next time, when we exercise our franchise to vote, we should be thankful to our Older Generations to fight for our most fundamental right- “The Right to Vote”.


11 thoughts on “The First Feminist Movement in History- Women’s Right to Vote

    1. To me American are the people residing in the west of Atlantic Ocean which includes native people originally belonging there, European settlers, African people who came here as Slaves but later inhabited it as their homeland and any other people residing there with the purpose of settling there.

      Liked by 3 people

  1. Such a well researched post. I am not as knowledgeable as I should be about the Suffrage movement in the USA as I was brought up in Scotland. Your comment about ‘who is an American’ should be on all the cars here in Texas.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great piece.
    It is barely credible that it was in 1928, less than a century ago, that all women in the UK were ‘given’ the right to vote.
    Outstanding courage shown by so many women across the world to gain this inalienable right.
    And now, in the UK, they are trying to disenfranchise the poor and immigrant classes.

    Liked by 1 person

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