The Woman's Suffrage Movement in the 1800's
Suffrage is the right or exercise of the right to vote in public affairs. The freedom of an individual to express a desire for a change in government by choosing between competing people or ideas without fear of reprisal is basic to self-government. Any exclusion from the right to suffrage, or as it is also called, the franchise, excludes that person from a basic means for participation in the political decision-making process1.
In the United States at the time the Constitution was written, it is estimated that only six percent of the adult male population was entitled to vote2. Under the influence of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy, religious and property qualifications were eliminated. Racial barriers to voting existed legally until the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified after the civil war. Although the struggle to achieve equal rights for women to vote did not include a declared national war, it was nevertheless, a fierce battle fought primarily by determined female “soldiers”. Even though the women’s suffrage movement started long before the civil war, it was the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment that set a precedence for human equality. This precedence was the antecedent that women needed to become more aggressive and increasingly vociferous, which ultimately led to their right to vote.
Like other suffrage movements, it was the strong leaders that ensured that the battle for women’s rights would in their favor. Some of these leaders are familiar names in American history. Susan B. Anthony is probably the most well known pioneer of women’s rights. Susan B. Anthony was educated in New York, and became a teacher. She soon became unsatisfied with this career and became an advocate for civil rights. Her initial efforts in this area, however, as an agent for the Daughters of Temperance and for the American Anti-Slavery Society, were disappointing, for she encountered discrimination as a woman3. Her strong friendship with feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton proved both crucial for herself and for the feminist crusade. Influenced by Stanton’s vigorous defense of women’s rights, Anthony helped found the American Equal Rights Association in 1866. For the remainder of her life she was dedicated to this cause. She helped establish the National Suffrage Association in 1869 and in 1872 she was arrested for attempting to vote, claiming that the provisions of the fourteenth and fifteenth Amendments applied to all citizens, male and female4. Elizabeth Cady Stanton became the muscle behind this powerful duo. Stanton, a wife and mother, and Anthony brought attention to the issue of women’s rights to the national level. Stanton was a advocate of more liberal divorce laws, less restrictive clothing for women, coeducation, and the right of married women to control their property. Stanton was the first president of both the National Woman’s suffrage Association...