The 19th Amendment: Giving Women the Right to Vote
Authored by LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor, , Attorney at Law

19th Amendment: Giving Women the Right to Vote

The battle for female suffrage has been a long and arduous struggle throughout American history. When the United States Constitution was drafted in 1789, many questions regarding a woman’s right to vote were left unanswered. Although there were a number of pre-existing organizations dedicated to women’s rights for equality, the Seneca Falls Convention in New York held in 1848 is highly regarded as the start of the American women’s rights movement. The fight for suffrage continued following the Civil War during a period known as the Reconstruction Era. During this time, leaders such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton joined the fight for the inclusion of universal suffrage within the Reconstruction Amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th amendments), but their efforts fell on deaf ears. It wasn’t until 1920 that the Nineteenth amendment to the constitution was ratified, bestowing women around the country their official right to vote.

The settlement of western territories allowed the issue of women’s suffrage to be continually brought up at the state level of government. Through the dedication of group organizations, women gained the right to vote in a select few territories including Wyoming, Utah and Washington. This pushed additional state legislatures to consider including suffrage bills, but the efforts proved to be unsuccessful. In 1869, the National Woman Suffrage Association was established and was led by revolutionaries Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. These ladies suggested to the courts a proposal known as the New Departure strategy, which declared that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments should include clauses that gave women the right to vote. However, three consecutive rejections by the Supreme Court shifted efforts towards creating a completely new constitutional amendment.

Both Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were incredibly influential in the conception of the Nineteenth amendment. Stanton was responsible for writing a number of speeches for Anthony and for conventions that were held around the country. She is also most notably recognized for drafting the 1848 Seneca Falls declaration, which influenced the start of the suffrage movement. The first amendment introduced to the U.S. Senate was known as the “Anthony Amendment” and was proposed by Anthony with additional assistance from Stanton. Susan B. Anthony was exceptionally passionate about women’s suffrage and was criminally prosecuted for illegally voting in the 1872 election. Following this trial, a new voting proposal was put through by Senator Aaron Sargent of California. Sargent, who was a large advocate for women’s suffrage met Anthony in 1872 on a train ride, and the two worked together to devise a new proposal that declared that the right to vote would not be abridged by any state on account of a person’s sex. Sargent formally implemented this new constitutional amendment in January of 1878. Stanton and groups of other women testified to the Senate in favor of the amendment, but unfortunately, the proposal sat in the Senate for 15 years and was eventually rejected in 1887. The years following were fairly stagnant for women’s rights activists, and the suffrage movement saw few victories. It wasn’t until the year 1914 that the constitutional amendment was considered for a second time, but was quickly rejected despite the passage of suffrage in a number of state legislation’s.

The tides finally began to turn for the women’s rights movement in 1912. With the support of Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, Congress started to pay attention. Seven years later in May of 1919, the required two-thirds of Congress voted in favor of the women’s suffrage amendment and the proposal was then sent to the states for ratification. The final decision to ratify and pass the Nineteenth amendment arrived in July 1920. Although a large number of southern states opposed the amendment, the decision ultimately came down to the Tennessee house. The bill was only in need of one vote and after reading a note from his mother that encouraged him to be a good boy and vote for women’s suffrage, 24 year old Harry Burns cast the final vote for ratification, officially ending their struggle and awarding women their suffrage.

After more than 70 years of fighting, the women’s suffrage movement finally saw a victory. Alice Paul, a suffragette (a nickname for women during the suffrage movement) stitched the final star in a banner to celebrate reaching the end of the struggle for voting rights. The efforts of these brave activists laid the groundwork for future women to pursue a life of independence and understand the power of their citizenship. The women’s suffrage movement was a remarkable victory in American history and proves that, with enough perseverance, anything is possible.

For additional information on the Nineteenth amendment and the fight for women’s suffrage, feel free to check out the following resources: