The history of the women’s rights movement in the United States is a long and complex tale spanning centuries, and countless women and men have worked tirelessly in order to advance the cause. We’ve gathered together a few photos that help to tell the story of how women gained the right to vote, starting from the beginning of the movement.
The women’s rights movement in the U.S. began with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Here they presented a document modeled after the Declaration of Independence called the Declaration of Sentiments, which argued for equal treatment of men and women. This photograph depicts a document containing the names of those who signed the Declaration that was added to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s personal scrapbook by her daughter, Harriot Eaton Stanton Blatch. The handwritten portion reads: “This card was issued for the celebration held at Seneca Falls in 1908 and is added to this book by Harriot Stanton Blatch.”
The historic collaboration of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony began in 1851 at an anti-slavery meeting in Seneca Falls. Together they brought the Married Women’s Property Law of 1860 into reality, formed the Women’s Loyal National League and the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), and published the women’s rights newspaper The Revolution.
The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) was formed by abolitionists Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe and Josephine Ruffin in November 1869 in opposition to the NWSA. Although they differed in methods and views, the two groups joined forces in 1890 , creating the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). NAWSA played a major role in securing the 19th amendment in 1920, holding many rallies and parades over the years to bring attention to the cause. This particular photo was taken in 1892.
In this photo, a Cincinnati woman poses to illustrate the concept of policewomen in 1909.
On March 3, 1913, (the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration) Alice Paul, with the assistance of NAWSA, organized a march in Washington D.C. In this photo, actress Hedwig Reicher performs in front of the Treasury Building as part of the march.
The crowd blocked the march, ridiculing, jeering, and physically harming the suffragists. It’s estimated that around 200 suffragists required medical care.
NAWSA deemed Alice Paul’s methods as being too drastic, and they parted ways after the 1913 march. Paul created a new organization which became known as the National Woman’s Party (NWP) in 1916. The NWP’s more radical tactics, such as picketing, played a major role in getting the 19th amendment passed.
Photo taken in Washington D.C, June 1917. During WWI, the NWP continued to picket the White House, often using Wilson’s own speeches that were in support of democracy in order to show the hypocricy of not allowing women to vote. Perceptions towards the suffrage movement shifted for the worse, and the public began labeling the suffragists as unpatriotic. They faced much harassment and violence during this time.
In 1917, many suffragists, including Alice Paul, were arrested and taken to the Occoquan Workhouse. Her tactics became even more radical while imprisoned, and she incited a hunger strike. Prison officials were instructed to force feed those on strike. In addition, the prison employed a number of psychological tactics, such as solitary confinement and leaving on bright lights during the night, in hopes of having Paul declared mentally insane.
The attempts to have Paul diagnosed as mentally insane didn’t work–instead, it worked in the favor of the suffrage movement. The public began to support her, and she and others were released from the workhouse. This photo of Paul was taken in 1918.
In this photo, Alice Paul unfurls a victory banner on August 18, 1920, celebrating Tennessee’s ratification of the woman suffrage amendment.
Due to pressure from the NWP and NAWSA, Woodrow Wilson reluctantly changed his mind. On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment was officially added to the Constitution of the United States of America, finally granting women the right to vote.
Of all the women that signed the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments, Charlotte Woodard Perkins was the only one that lived to see women gain the right to vote. Sadly, Charlotte never actually got to vote–she was ill on election day and became confined to her home soon after.
These few photos from a fight that lasted decades can’t possibly tell the full story of women’s struggle towards equality, but they certainly can give an insightful glimpse into the lives and efforts of the people that dedicated their lives to gaining the right to vote. Thank you to these brave women!