The woman suffrage movement was first seriously proposed in the United States at Seneca Falls, NY, July 19, 1848, in a general declaration of the rights of women prepared by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and several others. The early leaders of the movement in the United States—Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Abby Kelley Foster, Angelina Grimké, Sarah Grimké, and others—were usually also advocates of temperance and of the abolition of slavery. When, however, after the close of the Civil War, the 15th amendment (1870) gave the franchise to newly emancipated African American men, but not to the women who had helped win it for them, the suffragists for the most part confined their efforts to the struggle for the vote.

The National Woman Suffrage Association, led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was formed in 1869 to agitate for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Another organization, the American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Lucy Stone, was organized the same year to work through the state legislatures. In the 1870s, disheartened by the response to the proposed Federal amendment, suffragists also tried other approaches to winning the vote. These included using the courts to challenge their exclusion from voting on the grounds that, as citizens, they could not be deprived of their rights as protected by the Constitution. In 1872, Susan B. Anthony attempted to vote, hoping to be arrested and to have the opportunity to test this strategy in the courts. She was arrested and indicted for "knowingly, wrongfully and unlawfully vot[ing] for a representative to the Congress of the United States." Found guilty and fined, she insisted she would never pay a dollar of it. Virginia Minor, a suffrage leader in St. Louis, succeeded in getting the issue before the United States Supreme Court, but in 1875 the Court ruled unanimously that citizenship did not automatically confer the right to vote and that the issue of female enfranchisement should be decided within the states.

These differing approaches—i.e., whether to seek a Federal amendment or to work for state amendments—kept the woman suffrage movement divided until 1890, when the two societies were united as the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Later leaders included Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt. Several of the states and territories (with Wyoming first, in 1869) granted suffrage to the women within their borders. By 1913, 12 states and territories had granted voting rights to women, so the National Woman’s party, under the leadership of Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and others, resolved to use the voting power of the enfranchised women to force a suffrage resolution through Congress and secure ratification from the state legislatures. In 1920 the 19th amendment to the Constitution granted nationwide suffrage to women.

Teaching Suggestion:

Provide students with a copy of the photograph, and lead a class discussion about it using questions from the photograph analysis worksheet (it can be printed from the Our Documents Teachers Sourcebook). Explain to students that this photograph illustrates one kind of activity that participants in the woman suffrage movement engaged in during the early years of the 20th century. Remind students that although the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920, the suffrage movement began nearly a century earlier, and even today women have yet to earn salaries equal to their male counterparts. Divide students into groups of two or three, and assign each group a decade between 1840 and 2000. Ask students to investigate what kinds of activities participants in the woman suffrage movement or equal rights movement engaged in during their assigned decade, and encourage them to draw a picture of it, labeling their drawing on the back. Invite students to post their drawings around the classroom and ask them to guess when each of the illustrated activities took place. Finally, lead a class discussion about the methods and activities used in the woman suffrage movement over the decades and their relationship to the 1st amendment to the Constitution.