100 Years of the Women's Vote

The Suffrage Movement

The Women's Suffrage Movement advocated for women to win the right to vote, along with broad-based economic and political equality for social reforms. The fight was not easy. The Declaration of Independence (1776) declared "all men to be equal," but this equality only extended to white male landowners of European ancestry. This excluded poor men who did not own land, as well as women and children. Black and Indigenous people were unjustly denied citizenship altogether. In 1787, the U.S. Constitutional Convention placed voting rights in the hands of individual states. For a short period of time, the state of New Jersey allowed “all free inhabitants” including women, the right to vote, but revoked the right in 1807. It was not until 1838 that Kentucky passed the first suffrage law, which allowed women who were "heads of households" to vote in local tax and school board elections. 

In 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, among others, organized the first women’s right’s convention. The Seneca Falls Convention, held July 19 – 20 in Seneca Falls, NY, drew a crowd of close to three hundred attendees to publicly discuss the social, civil, and religious conditions and rights of women. The first day’s attendance was limited to women, with men invited to attend on the second day. Mott and Stanton had traveled to London in 1840 to participate in the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention, only to be barred from speaking based on their gender. The two, while both still committed to the abolition movement, began to also organize and advocate for women’s rights upon their return to the United States.

At the Seneca Falls Convention Stanton gave her now-famous speech “The Declaration of Sentiments.” Modeled after the “Declaration of Independence,” the document urged the abandonment of unjust laws that discriminated against women, although it should be noted that there was no mention of those women who were enslaved nor Indigenous women, whose rights were continually violated. After discussing and debating the sentiments, Stanton put forth eleven resolutions. The ninth, which was the most controversial, stated, “That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.” After much debate, the sentiments and resolutions were signed by 68 women and 32 men, “officially” setting off the suffrage movement.   

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