EVANSTON — On June 4, 1919, the United States Congress passed the 19th Amendment, which reads as follows: “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.”
Why did it take 143 years from the founding of this country for women to secure the right to vote?
The Declaration of Independence (1776) limited voting to property owners. The adoption of the Constitution in 1787 did not establish a national standard for voting rights. When George Washington was elected president in 1789, only 6 percent of the population were property owners and eligible to vote.
It wasn’t until 1848 that women began to demand their rights, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first Women’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, July 19-20, 1848. Almost 300 women and men attended this convention to discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of woman. In attendance was Frederick Douglass, a noted black abolitionist and famed orator.
“Woman, like the slave,” Douglass argued, “had the right to liberty. Suffrage,” he asserted, “is the power to choose rulers and make laws, and the right by which all others are secured.”
Suffrage is the right to vote in political elections; suffragettes are those women who supported women’s right to vote.
What happened between 1848 and 1919 — 81 years — that it took so long for women to secure the right to vote?
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) was a Quaker, and had worked in the anti-slavery movement from the time she was 17. In 1851, she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton and joined the efforts for women’s rights, including the right to vote. In 1856, North Carolina became the last state to remove property ownership as a requirement to vote and expanded the right to vote to all white men.
The fight for women’s rights faded as the focus was on the abolition of slavery, and during the Civil War, no women’s rights conventions were held. When the war ended, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone and Sojourner Truth took up the fight for women’s rights again. They traveled the country lecturing and organizing for the next 40 years but none of them lived to see the 19th Amendment become law. Between 1870 and 1910, the suffrage movement conducted 480 campaigns in 33 states to have the issue placed on the ballot.
By the late 19th century, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, some Australian colonies and some western U.S. states — including Wyoming — had granted women the right to vote in state and local elections.
In 1869, the women’s rights movement split into two groups. Lucy Stone led one group, the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), which backed the 15th Amendment giving black males the right to vote. The other group, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, opposed the 15th Amendment because it did not include the right for women to vote.
The AWSA worked toward getting states to enfranchise women and the NWSA directed its efforts toward a national constitutional amendment. Victories in western states, with women winning the vote in Wyoming in 1869 and in Utah in 1870, paved the way for wider suffrage gains.
In 1890, the two groups joined together again and formed the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Elizabeth Cady Stanton was elected as the first president of the organization. Alice Paul (1885-1977), a Quaker who had been involved with the women’s movement in England, joined the fight in the U.S. She was an ardent and passionate supporter of women’s rights and was jailed for leading protests, went on hunger strikes, and was brutally force fed. Her efforts and the dedication of all the women who devoted their lives to securing women’s rights were finally rewarded.
On June 4, 1919, 41 years after its introduction, both houses of Congress passed the 19th Amendment and, finally, on Aug. 18, 1920, ratification by the states was completed when 36 out of 48 voted to ratify the 19th Amendment.
During 2019, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment will take place in Evanston. Local volunteers from different nonprofit organizations have worked together and planned events. Each month throughout the year, a special event will be sponsored by one of the organizations involved. Most events will be free, and the public is encouraged to attend.
Sagebrush Theatre Productions, Inc., will kick off the celebration with the first event to take place on Friday, Jan. 25, at 7 p.m. at the Strand Theatre. This free event will include two short one-act plays, Sojourner Truth’s speech, and a poem by Maya Angelou. Check out the posters around town for a list of all events. Watch for information in the Herald, as well.
Theresa O’Dell contributed to this article.