suffrage protest 1917If you’ve ever doubted than a black man would be elected president of the U.S. before a white woman assumed that office, just look at the history of voting in America.

On this day (26 August) in 1920, women in America were finally given the right to vote; black men had been voting for 50 years. And down under in New Zealand, women had been voting since 1893, although they were not eligible for the House of Representatives until 1919. Yes, teeny tiny New Zealand was the first modern country to give women the right to vote.

A Brief History of Suffrage In America
In 1776, Abigal Adams wrote her husband, John, pleading with him and the other men at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to “remember the ladies.”

In the new code of laws, remember the ladies and do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.

They didn’t. The Declaration of Independence declares that “all men are created equal.”

In July 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY, and launched the woman suffrage movement. (Read a fictionalized account: Seneca Falls Inheritance, by Miriam Grace Monfredo.)

Almost 20 years later (1866), Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the American Equal Rights Association. Their goal? Universal suffrage for white and black women and black men. Stanton and Anthony were so adamant about universal suffrage that they refused to support the 15th Amendment, which enfranchised black men in 1870.

In 1878, Sen. Aaron Augustus Sargent (R-CA) introduced the Susan B. Anthony Amendment to the constitution:

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.

Sargent repeatedly introduced the amendment, even though Congress repeatedly rejected it; amendments 16-18 were passed before the suffrage amendment. And Anthony died on 13 March 1906.

Yet the movement that she helped found did not die. In January 1917, suffragists began picketing the White House daily, trying to pressure President Woodrow Wilson into supporting the Anthony Amendment. Between June and November, 218 protesters from 26 states were arrested and charged with “obstructing sidewalk traffic.”

Eventually, after the World War I, their pressure bore fruit. The Anthony Amendment passed the House of Representatives on 21 May 1919, 304 to 89, after President Wilson announced his support. The amendment granted the right to vote to all U.S. women 21 years of age and older. The Senate subsequently approved it, 56 to 25.

Then the state legislative votes began. (See How To Amend The Constitution.)

  • 10 June 1919 (3) : Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin
  • 16 June to 28 July 1919 (9) : Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas
  • 2 August to 15 December 1919 (10) : California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah
  • 6 January to 22 March 1920 (13) : Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming
  • 24 August 1920 (1) : Tennessee
  • Did Not Ratify (13) : Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia

Note: of the 13 original signatories of the Declaration of Independence, only five — Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey — ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

Another Twist
Which party supported suffrage? The G.O.P. One reason that the Anthony Amendment languished for so many decades was the Democrats controlled Congress, and Democrats did not support the amendment.

We know that political parties evolve over time, but perhaps no other issue illustrates this evolution like women’s rights. In 1923, suffragists succeeded in introducing the “Lucretia Mott Amendment,” which would eventually become the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Congress passed the ERA in 1972; it was controlled by Democrats, although a Republican, Richard Nixon, sat in the White House.

Opponents included Republican Phyllis Schlafly, leader of the Eagle Forum/STOP ERA. In 1980, with Ronald Reagan as its presidential nominee, the Republican Party removed support for the ERA from its platform.

Since 1982, the ERA has been re-introduced each Congressional session. In the current session, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) introduced it as HJR 61. In the prior session of Congress, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced it as SJR 10.

Source for photo: Library of Congress

KATHY GILL, Technology Policy Analyst
Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2009 The Moderate Voice
  • ispani

    Barney Ford, an escaped slave, was the driving force to include voting rights into Colorado’s constitution for minorities in 1877. Barney Ford was half white.

  • In 1877, male minorities had the right to vote via the 15th amendment.

    In 1865, Ford helped thwart Colorado’s bid for statehood because the Constitution did not allow black men the right to vote. (Source: PDF from Colorado History) Colorado became a state in 1876.

    A member of the Republican party, Ford was the first African American to be nominated to the Territorial Legislature. (Source: National Park Service)

    • ispani

      Ford lost his bid for election to congress. He was also known as “The Black Barron of Colorado. he was a self made man who started his career in Chicago where he married his wife, Julia Lyoni, sister in law of Henry Wagoner, who was an operator of the Underground Railroad. Ford traveld to many places seeking his fortune, Central America, San Francisco and he traveld by wagon train to Utah terriorty to dig for gold. He finally settled in denver and made several fortunes

  • Ryan

    Just remember this when the robots start demanding the vote. ^_^

    Also, you missed Rhode Island’s ratification on Jan 6th. Without that it’s still one state short when Tennessee gets added.

  • HemmD

    This is a great example of just how hard it is to change US society. “Women are the weaker sex,” and “Blacks and whites shouldn’t intermingle,” were once statements viewed as common wisdom within our society, and it took years to overcome this ignorance. Even though that ignorance was finally overcome legally, those sentiments can still be seen in practice.

    The current issue of gay and lesbian rights shares this burden of “common wisdom,” and yet another amendment will be needed to rectify a societal bias.

  • Hi Kathy — Thanks for the quick history reminder! Yay women’s suffrage!

    I do have some problems with this statement:

    “If you’ve ever doubted than a black man would be elected president of the U.S. before a white woman assumed that office, just look at the history of voting in America. On this day (26 August) in 1920, women in America were finally given the right to vote; black men had been voting for 50 years.”

    First, I think it’s pretty clear the first black man vs first white woman as pres question could have easily gone either way this past year. It’s important not to go toward an “oppression olimpics” stance — while black suffrage and women’s suffrage share some obvious connections, the idea that black men were voting 50 years before women has some…problems. Black men were among those that ratified the constitution, and they were given voting rights in the north even before the 14th and 15th amendments were passed. However, in the south, it took a century after these amendments before the Jim Crow laws were outlawed. From a history of black voting on free republic (!):

    “Unrelenting efforts by Democrats to suppress black voting were successful. Eventually, in Selma, Alabama, the voting rolls were 99 percent white and 1 percent black even though there were more black residents than whites in that city; and in Birmingham – a city with 18,000 blacks – only 30 of them were eligible to vote. Black voters in Alabama and Florida were reduced by nearly 90 percent, and in Texas from 100,000 to only 5,000. By the 1940s, only 5 percent of blacks in the south were registered to vote.”

    While it took a few decades for women voters to surpass, percentage wise, men voters in the US, just voter eligability did not reach parity for black voters until the mid sixties.

  • DLS

    “it’s pretty clear the first black man vs first white woman as pres question could have easily gone either way this past year”

    Moreover, it was going to be one or the other; that was palpable.

    While the Oppressed Victims Forever, Incorporated contingent will never understand (or admit) the true meaning of it, the mainstream always did: this was perfectly normal and unsurprising, and one or the other to lead the nation was nothing other than a mere matter of time. And 2008 obviously was it.

  • Hmmm, DLS. So, in your view one successful black male candidate and one nearly-successful woman candidate — in the history of the country — are merely an obvious biproduct of our post-racial and post-feminist awesomeness as a society?

    • HemmD

      No roroI think Kathy’s history lesson coupled with the Presidency of a man who would have had to sit in the back of the bus I rode as a child shows just how trivial the snide and snarky remarks in today’s political area actually are..American history has many examples of progressive change taking place within a generation. That same history also shows how some are left in the past prejudices. Which side of history do you support?

      • Hey HemmD — Sorry if my comment to DLS looked it was addressed to you. I’m definitely in agreement with what you said, in both of your comments.

  • Thanks to all for the comments and apologies for posting it late in the day.

    Hi, Ryan – thanks! I swear I typed Rhode Island before I hit “save”! I’ve gone back and added it.

    To, Roro80 – I didn’t say it was easy or that all black men had been able to vote — just that black men had been voting in the Union for 50 years. A true statement. Yes, I know about Jim Crow laws and the poll tax; I am from Georgia by birth and upbringing.

    To DLS: I am a ‘woman of a certain age.’

    When I was in my teens, 20s and early 30s, I couldn’t understand the women’s movement. Not One Little Bit. In my late 30s/early 40s, I met two women who began my education about the power structure in our society and the role of women. I had said, long before there was a Barack Obama, that a black man would be elected president before a women (white or black) — it’s a function of our culture’s power structure.

    I now live in Washington State, which is an anomaly in this country in terms of women holding statewide elective office and percentage of women in the legislature. The U.S. lags other nations — western and otherwise — who have elected women to their highest office in the land. See this milestones article.

    We do not know if HRC would have won the election had she succeeded in obtaining the Democratic nomination. I have my doubts, although I would have campaigned for her.

    To HemmD: Yes, we have seen some amazing cultural changes in our lifetime. Thank goodness!!!

    • Kathy — I don’t know if you’re deliberately missing my point or what. Given the history, this statement doesn’t make sense:
      “If you’ve ever doubted than a black man would be elected president of the U.S. before a white woman assumed that office, just look at the history of voting in America.”
      It’s a sentiment I’ve heard a lot, particularly in the context of, say, 2nd wave feminist ideas. It’s something that sits poorly with me in the context of setting up a post on the history of the 19th amendment, which is why I pointed it out.

  • Okpulot Taha

    Kegill comments, “Yes, we have seen some amazing cultural changes in our lifetime.”

    You have no idea. While this is a time to celebrate women being given a right to vote, centuries late, here is a cultural perspective you will not often read, probably have never read before.

    I am a red skinned girl, a traditional Choctaw Indian. Day I was born on our rural Oklahoma farm I was denied a right to vote and denied American citizenship. Delivered by my chahta ohoyo alla eshi apistikeli, “Choctaw midwife”, I was born persona non grata, no rights, none at all.

    No, I am not a hundred years old. At a federal level, my peoples were granted limited rights back in the early Twenties. However, at a state level, we were denied all civil rights, quite literally. Last state to grant voting rights and citizenship to American Indians was Maine. This was in 1967 year.

    1967 is not too many years back, least for many of us.

    While I celebrate women being granted a right to vote, along with a right to own land and other rights we take for granted today, this celebration of a truly historical event reminds me of my peoples being the last to be considered true Americans.

    Rather ironic and quite an honor for my peoples, for me to be living reminders there are those of us who, not many years back, were considered to be of no value to America. Born persona non grata only to struggle for years to have our peoples simply recognized as being Americans.

    A result is, a personal opinion, my peoples, we American Indians value our citizenship and our right to vote more than any other peoples of America.

    To close, did you know on a per capita basis many more American Indians fought in all of our major wars than any other ethnic group? More American Indians fought and died for America than any other peoples of our nation, and we were not American citizens.

    Indeed, “we have seen some amazing cultural changes in our lifetime” and perhaps my cultural perspective will serve to remind readers to value your citizenship, value your right to vote and value America more than your very lives.

    I take great pride in saying, “I am an American” although born persona non grata. All of you should take as much pride as my peoples.

    Okpulot Taha
    Choctaw Nation
    Puma Politics