The women's suffrage movement lasted at least 70 years, from the first formal women's convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, to the passage of the 19th amendment. English women won full voting privileges later than American women, but women in both countries began the worldwide suffrage movement.
Beginnings of the Women's Suffrage Movement
Changing social conditions for women during the early 1800's, combined with the idea of equality, led to the birth of the woman suffrage movement. For example, women started to receive more education and to take part in reform movements, which involved them in politics. As a result, women started to ask why they were not also allowed to vote.
One of the first public appeals for woman suffrage came in 1848. Two reformers, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, called a women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., where Stanton lived. The men and women at the convention adopted a Declaration of Sentiments that called for women to have equal rights in education, property, voting, and other matters. The declaration, which used the Declaration of Independence as a model, said, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal. ..."
Suffrage quickly became the chief goal of the women's rights movement. Leaders of the movement believed that if women had the vote, they could use it to gain other rights. But the suffragists faced strong opposition.
Most people who opposed woman suffrage believed that women were less intelligent and less able to make political decisions than men. Opponents argued that men could represent their wives better than the wives could represent themselves. Some people feared that women's participation in politics would lead to the end of family life.
Growth of the Women's Suffrage Movement
The drive for woman suffrage gained strength after the passage of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave the vote to black men but not to any women. In 1869, suffragists formed two national organizations to work for the right to vote. One was the National Woman Suffrage Association, and the other was the American Woman Suffrage Association.
The National Woman Suffrage Association, led by Stanton and another suffragist named Susan B. Anthony, was the more radical of the two organizations. Its chief goal was an amendment to the Constitution giving women the vote. In 1872, Anthony and a group of women voted in the presidential election in Rochester, N.Y. She was arrested and fined for voting illegally. At her trial, which attracted nationwide attention, she made a stirring speech that ended with the slogan "Resistance to Tyranny Is Obedience to God."
The American Woman Suffrage Association, led by the suffragist Lucy Stone and her husband, Henry Blackwell, was more conservative. Its main goal was to induce individual states to give the vote to women. The two organizations united in 1890 to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union and other organizations also made woman suffrage a goal.
During the early 1900's, a new generation of leaders brought a fresh spirit to the woman suffrage movement. Some of them, including Carrie Chapman Catt and Maud Wood Park, were skilled organizers who received much of their support from middle-class women. These leaders stressed organizing in every congressional district and lobbying in the nation's capital. Other leaders, including Lucy Burns, Alice Paul, and Stanton's daughter Harriot E. Blatch, appealed to young people, radicals, and working-class women. This group of leaders devoted most of their efforts to marches, picketing, and other active forms of protest. Paul and her followers even chained themselves to the White House fence. The suffragists were often arrested and sent to jail, where many of them went on hunger strikes.
Women's Suffrage in Other Countries
Suffrage movements also arose in other Western countries during the 1800's and early 1900's.
In 1893, New Zealand became the first nation to grant women full voting rights. In 1902, Australia gave women the right to vote in national elections. Other countries that enacted woman suffrage during the early 1900's included Britain, Canada, Finland, Germany, and Sweden. Swedish women with property could vote in city elections in 1862. Sweden granted women full suffrage in 1921. In Britain, the suffrage movement began in the 1860's, though women did not win full voting rights until 1928. One of the leading suffragists in England was Emmeline Pankhurst.
During the mid-1900's, China, France, India, Italy, Japan, and other nations gave women the right to vote. By 1990, women had the right to vote in almost every country where men had the right. Some countries still did not allow many or all of the people to vote. Only Kuwait extended the vote to men but not to women.