Women's Suffrage in the 19th Century Term Paper

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Women's Suffrage In The 19th Century

Although the right of women in the U.S. To vote for their preferred political candidates was finally guaranteed through an amendment to the constitution in 1920, the struggle to secure this right had begun much earlier than that. In this text, I concern myself with the plight of women's suffrage in the 19th century. In so doing, I will amongst other things highlight the conditions that triggered this specific drive for women's voting rights. Although this text will largely focus on women's suffrage in the U.S., suffrage movements in other countries will also be acknowledged.

Women's Suffrage in the 19th Century

In this text, women's suffrage will in basic terms be used to refer to the right of women to participate in the election of political leaders of their choice. The various rights women enjoy today have surely come a long way. Two or three centuries ago, women did not enjoy these same rights. In seeking to explain the plight of women's suffrage in the 19th century, it would be prudent to first highlight the conditions that laid groundwork for the women's suffrage movement most particularly in the United States.

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To being with, during the 19th century, women had severely limited career and work options. Largely, the role of women at the time was largely limited to housework and other less glamorous undertakings like factory work and teaching. For instance, as Rhodes, Battin, and Silvers point out, during the 19th century, "women had to jump very high hurdles to gain admission to medical schools…" (2012, 283). According to Frost-Knappman and Cullen-DuPont, educators at the time seemed convinced that women could not perform well in scientific and mathematical studies (2009, 3). A case in point is that of Elizabeth Blackwell. Before she was finally accepted as a medical student, Elisabeth - the very first woman holder of a U.S. medical degree, had to apply to a total of 29 medical schools (Hakim 2002, 128). At the time, bodies like the American Medical Association also had qualms in regard to the admission of women within their ranks.

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Secondly, property ownership was not an express right for women. Indeed, it is during the 19th century that laws allowing women to own property started to be passed in individual states. For instance, the laws at the time according to Hakim required women to give up their legal identity as well as their right to own property once they became married (2002, 129). Effectively, the interests of the husband in a marriage were disproportionately represented in relation to those of the wife. As Frost-Knappman and Cullen-DuPont note, marriage was at the time seen by lawyers as some kind of "civil death" for the woman (2009, 2). This is more so the case given the many rights women gave up on being married.

Next, and perhaps most importantly given the subject matter of this essay, women did not have the right to vote during the 19th century and before. Indeed, as I have already pointed out in the introductory section, it was not until the 20th century that women finally won the right to vote through an amendment to the United States constitution. The only exception in this case was New Jersey (Frost-Knappman and Cullen-DuPont 2009, 3). In other states, the right to vote only became possible thanks to the push for suffrage at both the state and national levels. In the following sections of this text, I will be looking at the events leading to the amendment of the U.S. constitution so as to enfranchise women. In so doing, I will largely limit myself to the 19th century.

In addition to the circumstances above, the birth of the suffrage initiative could also be attributed to the changing status/conditions for women in the society at the time. For instance, it is important to note that it is during this time that women started to show greater involvement in politics by taking part in a variety of reform initiatives. Further, with many of them receiving more education, women started to challenge their designated roles in the society. It would therefore be reasonable to point out that women's suffrage was born out of a larger movement for women's rights.

The Beginning

Although there are some women who had as early as the 1600s demanded the right to vote, an organized movement for a similar cause only came to be in the 19th century. Throughout their push to be granted the crucial right to vote, the 19th century suffragists faced opposition, hostility, and sometimes violence. The resolve by those who were instrumental in the establishment of this critical right to keep marching forward regardless of the challenges they faced at the time is the clearest indicator of their unwavering hope to ensure that they fully enjoyed all the features of citizenship -- voting being one of them. One of the reasons that were commonly used to deny women the right to vote was the argument that there was a need for a voter to be independent. For this reason, all those who were seen as being largely beholden to the views of others were barred from voting. Women were seen as being beholden to the views of their husbands and for this reason, they were barred from voting. There were also those who were convinced that advancing the right to vote to married women would be wrong especially given that women in this category did not have an independent income (Frost-Knappman and Cullen-DuPont 2009, 3). It was also feared that the active participation of women in politics and other demanding civic roles would effectively disrupt their other responsibilities including but not limited to child rearing and home keeping. Further, there were also some interested parties who believed that the active participation of women in matters politics would lead to the formulation (directly or indirectly) of unfriendly policies. This was a particular concern for those in the brewing business.

Laying the Foundation

In what could be considered the very first move towards the formation of an organized front to agitate for the voting rights of women, a number of women including Elisabeth C. Stanton and Lucretia Mott hosted a meeting in Seneca Falls in New York. Held in 1848, this convention according to Kazin, Edwards, and Rothman is considered "the date for the first clearly articulated demand for woman suffrage" (2011, 604). During the convention, the participants cast their vote in support of a raft of resolutions on women's rights (Buckley 2011, 21). Written by Stanton, these resolutions as Buckley further points out were christened Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions (2011, 21). According to the author, the declaration was unanimously approved by the participants of the convention (Buckley 2011, 21).

In an attempt to enhance the visibility of women especially in their drive to fight for their rights, the National Women's Rights Convention was organized by Lucy Stone with the help of several other individuals who also believed in her cause (Danver 2011, 475). It is important to note that for the very first time, all those who had been advancing the cause for women's rights at an individual level were brought together under the banner of this particular convention. This first convention according to Danver was held in 1850, two years after the Seneca Falls meeting (2011, 475). It should also be noted that like many other people, one prominent figure of the suffrage movement, Susan B. Anthony, joined the convention after listening to Stone's speech on the convention's closing day. Yearly conventions were held thereafter.


The suffragists had to temporarily shelve their cause during the civil war. Many were of the view that after the civil war, the enfranchisement of both slaves and women would follow. This was not to be. After the war, black men were given the right to vote through an amendment to the constitution and it is in the wake of this and several other new developments that the suffragists started experiencing strategic differences. This would lead to the splitting of the suffragist movement into two factions with each faction having its own ideological orientation. Anthony and Stanton according to Sabato and Ernst founded what came to be known as the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) while Stone established the other faction of the movement by the name the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) (2009, 449). The rivalry between these two groups according to Dilke would last for two decades (Dilke 2009, 530).

As I have already pointed out above, both formations in this case had ideological differences. For instance, while NWSA as Dilke points out sought to force an amendment to the constitution for universal suffrage, AWSA was largely concerned with what Dilke refers to as "a state-by-state campaign toward universal suffrage…" (2009, 530) To put it simply, NWSA largely concerned itself with federal law changes while AWSA chose to focus on state level reforms. AWSA was also more conservative than NWSA whose approach according to… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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