Ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution granted American women the right to vote. Needless to say, it was a major victory for a movement that struggled to gain success for so long.
With the launch of the women’s national suffrage movement in 1848, suffrage leaders led the charge for equality. This Women’s History Month and beyond, be sure to honor the following women for their astonishing contributions to improving the quality of American lives across the country.
Susan B. Anthony
If you’re familiar with only one women’s suffrage pioneer in history, it’s probably Susan B. Anthony, and with good reason. Born into a Quaker family in 1820, her family raised her to speak her mind and value independence. Like many Quakers, the Anthony family believed that women and men should live, work, study, and fight for justice as equals.
Although she would die before seeing her vision realized, Susan B. Anthony felt it was critical that women be granted the right to vote in order to ensure that women’s issues were addressed by the government. She began her fight in 1853 by campaigning for the expansion of the property rights of married women. She joined the Anti-Slavery Society to help form the National American Woman Suffrage Association and continued to fight for the vote until her death in 1906.
The women’s suffrage movement had many branches, and Alice Paul led one of the most militant ones. Like Susan Anthony, her family subscribed to the Quaker faith. She was also very well-educated, with both an undergraduate degree in biology and a Ph.D. in sociology to her credit.
Determined to do whatever it took to win the vote, she joined the highly confrontational Women’s Social and Political Union in graduate school and learned how to use civil disobedience to draw attention to the cause. She put those tactics into play in 1910 when she became the chair of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
Paul’s radical approach to the movement came to fruition when President Wilson declared his support for the new amendment in January 1918. When Tennessee eventually became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, the new law went into effect.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Stanton was one of the most notable women’s rights activists of the entire 19th century. Like many other activists, she grew up in an environment that supported reform movements of all kinds. She eventually married an abolitionist named Henry Brewster Stanton. In 1840, they travelled to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, but they were turned away since the event did not accept female delegates.
That experience inspired Stanton to join the fight for women’s suffrage in the summer of 1848. She also believed strongly in a vision of equality that transcended politics in many ways. In addition to suffrage, she fought for causes such as the reform of marital law, educational opportunities for women, and the adoption of new clothing styles that allowed women to be more active.
Although Stone was a passionate pioneering women’s rights activist and abolitionist, she earned a reputation when she refused to take her husband’s last name when she married Henry Blackwell in 1855. In 1847, she became a traveling speaker for the American Anti-Slavery Society, advocating not only for the rights of slaves but “humanity everywhere.” She continued her activism until retiring in 1857 to care for her newborn daughter.
Stone also distinguished herself as one of the founding members of the American Woman Suffrage Association. Along with Henry Blackwell, she began the publication of the weekly feminist newspaper known as the Woman’s Journal from 1871-1931.