On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, making women’s suffrage legal in the United States.
To honor this historic moment in history, the Women in Law Section of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) recently hosted a webinar celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage and the achievement of legal rights.
The webinar traced the timeline from 1848 when the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls to 1920 when the amendment was ratified. Co-moderators Terri Mazur, Susan L. Harper and Margaret O. Sowah also discussed the case law leading to the passage of the 19th amendment.
They highlighted some of the trailblazing women that were instrumental in leading the fight for women’s suffrage.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
An iconic figure in the early women’s rights movement, she organized the first women’s rights convention in July 1848, which is where she read her “Declaration of Rights and Sentiments.” Over 300 people attended the convention.
In addition to women’s suffrage, she was an abolitionist and temperance leader who provocatively wrote and called for economic opportunity for women, progressive divorce laws, interracial marriage and reproductive rights. In 1854, Stanton addressed the New York State Legislature, lobbying to amend the Married Women’s Property Law, so women could conduct business, manage finances and be joint guardians of children. She finally succeeded in changing the law after six attempts.
Stanton led the campaign to alter the language of the 14th Amendment to allow women and African American suffrage, which was ultimately unsuccessful. After this campaign, she focused on a federal amendment granting women suffrage.
She did not live to see women win the right to vote in New York or federally but her trailblazing path made it happen.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”
The Declaration of Rights & Sentiments was signed by 68 women and 32 men.
Susan B. Anthony
Widely considered the most famous American suffragist in history, she was the face of the suffragist movement. She traveled across the country, giving lectures on women’s suffrage, the abolition of slavery and the right of women to own property and keep their earnings.
She met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851 and worked alongside her during the unsuccessful efforts to change the language of the 14th Amendment. After the campaign, the two women collaborated to create “The Revolution,” a weekly publication where they could fight for their cause and share ideas.
In 1872, Anthony and several other New York women were arrested for voting in an election in Rochester. They were ordered to pay a $100 fine, which Anthony never did. The transcripts of this fascinating case, The United States of America v. Susan B. Anthony can be read here.
“May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty. All the stock in trade I possess is a $10,000 debt, incurred by publishing my paper—The Revolution—four years ago, the sole object of which was to educate all women to do precisely as I have done, rebel against your man-made, unjust, unconstitutional forms of law, that tax, fine, imprison, and hang women, while they deny them the right of representation in the Government”
Carrie Lane Chapman Catt
She began the revitalization of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which merged the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association. The NAWSA under Catt’s leadership developed a plan that called for simultaneous lobbying for women’s suffrage at the state and federal levels and seeking enough support to compel the passage of a Constitutional amendment. Dubbed the “Winning Plan,” NAWSA was able to win the backing of the House of Representatives and Senate for the federal amendment’s ratification.
“The Woman’s Hour Has Struck.” Yet, if the call goes unheeded, if our women think it means the vote without a struggle, if they think other women can and will pay the price of their emancipation, the hour may pass and our political liberty may not be won. WOMEN ARISE, DEMAND THE VOTE!
Mary Burnett Talbert
A founding member of the Phyllis Wheatley Club of Colored Women and a graduate of Oberlin College, Talbert was a staunch advocate for women’s suffrage and civil rights. She led campaigns against intimidation and restrictive voter registration laws that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote.
She was also an early member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and led anti-lynching campaigns helping to set the stage for the civil rights gains of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
“It should not be necessary to struggle forever against popular prejudice, and with us as colored women, this struggle becomes two-fold, first because we are women and second because we are colored women. I firmly believe that enlightened men are now numerous enough everywhere to encourage this just privilege of the ballot for women, ignoring prejudice of all kinds.”
Harriot Stanton Blatch
The daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she joined the NAWSA after her mother’s death in 1902. She played a pivotal role in leading educational campaigns designed to earn male voter support. The Women’s Political Union had more than 20,000 women members and organized mass outdoor meetings, spreading the suffrage message on street corners and parks while holding an annual Suffrage Day parade in New York City.
“I see a vital idea . . . smothered by uninspired methods of work and vow to reinvigorate the suffrage movement.”