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The Women’s Suffrage Movement: The Pathway to the Ballot Box

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 The NRO workforce includes talented women at every level who work hard each day to protect the security and freedoms of our nation. Incredibly the most fundamental of these freedoms, the right to vote, was achieved by American women only 99 years ago. Until the Nineteenth Amendment’s ratification on August 18, 1920, women were among the most powerless members in American society.  America’s legal system and social norms largely barred them from owning or inheriting wealth, testifying in court, serving on a jury, attending college, developing professional careers, and, most importantly in a democratic society, the right to vote.

One-hundred and forty-four years after Abigail Adams entreated her husband, future president John Adams, to “remember the ladies,” during the writing of the Declaration of Independence, American women still lacked many of the basic citizenship rights. While individual states eventually extended some rights to women, action by the federal government on women’s suffrage was absent until the early twentieth century. Led most notably by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the women’s suffrage movement in United States gave a voice to part of the United States population that previously had none. As Elizabeth Cady Stanton once remarked,” Our pathway is straight to the ballot box, with no variableness nor shadow of turning.” Their work and the work of so many others made possible the incredible contributions NRO’s women make to the mission each day.

In recognition of Women’s Equality Day, the following is a timeline of the women’s suffrage struggle in the United States. 

Women's Suffrage Movement Timeline (1840 - 1920)

1840- Future women’s suffrage leaders Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton decided to hold a women’s convention in the United States after being barred from the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London.

1848- Elizabeth Cady Stanton set the suffrage activism agenda in The Declaration of Sentiments during first Women’s Rights Convention, Seneca Falls, New York.

1849- California became first state to extend property rights to women.

1851- Former slave and suffrage leader Sojourner Truth delivered Ain't I a Woman speech at a women's rights convention in Akron, Ohio.

1857- U.S. Congress passed the Married Woman’s Property Bill granting women the right to sue in court, make contracts, inherit, and bequeath property.

1866- Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) to gain suffrage for all genders and races.

1868- The Fourteenth Amendment, giving former slaves legal due process, is ratified.

1869- Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the radical National Woman’s Suffrage Association (NWSA) to gain a Constitutional amendment for women’s suffrage.

1869-Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe formed the conservative American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) seeking women’s suffrage through amending state constitutions.

1870- The Fifteenth Amendment, giving black men the right to vote is ratified.

1871- Anti-Suffrage Party established to oppose women’s suffrage.

1872- Susan B. Anthony, attempted to vote in the Presidential election and was arrested and tried in Rochester, New York. In Battle Creek, Michigan, Sojourner Truth demanded a ballot and was turned away. 

1872- Oregon granted married women the right to operate a business, control their own money, and protect their property.

1874- Annie Wittenmyer established the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, an important women’s suffrage ally. Fearing women might vote to prohibit the sale of liquor, the liquor lobby opposed suffrage.

1878- A woman’s suffrage amendment proposed in U.S. Congress is rejected, but provides the words 41 years later for the successful Nineteenth Amendment.    

1887- The Senate held the first vote on woman suffrage and defeated the proposed legislation.

1890- The NWSA and AWSA merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to secure women’s suffrage at the state level.       

1890- American Federation of Labor declared its support for women’s suffrage.

1890- Wyoming joined the union with full suffrage for women. 

1890- Women’s suffrage lost its campaign in South Dakota. 

1893- Colorado granted women’s suffrage.

1896- Utah joined the Union with full suffrage for women.

1896- Idaho adopted women’s suffrage.

1903- The Women's Trade Union League of New York, an organization of middle and working class women, unionized for working women and suffrage is established.

1910- Washington State adopted woman’s suffrage.

1912- Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party became the first major national party to support women’s suffrage.

1912- Oregon, Kansas, and Arizona adopted women’s suffrage legislation.

1913- Alice Paul and Lucy Burns formed the Congressional Union, which became the National Women’s Party (NWP) in 1917.

1914- Nevada and Montana adopted women’s suffrage.

1916- Jeanette Rankin (R-MO) became first women elected to Congress.                   

1916- Woodrow Wilson announced the Democratic Party Platform supports women’s suffrage.

1917- NWP demonstrators held signs, saying Mr. President, What Will You Do for Woman Suffrage and How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty, in front of White House. Police arrested some NWP members, including NWP leader, Alice Paul, for blocking traffic. While in prison, Alice Paul was confined to mental ward after she began a hunger strike. The government released the women after other NWP members also began hunger strikes.

1917- New York adopted women’s suffrage.

1918- In an address to the Senate, President Woodrow Wilson proposed adopting women’s suffrage after World War I for the entire nation.

1918- Michigan, South Dakota, and Oklahoma adopted women’s suffrage.  

1919- U.S. House and Senate passed the Nineteenth Amendment beginning the ratification process.

1920- Three-quarters of the state legislatures ratified the Nineteenth Amendment – American women gained the right to vote.

The timeline was adopted from the Women’s Suffrage Timeline, ©2007, National Women’s History Museum, used with permission. Additional information obtained from Not for Ourselves Alone, by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns. Photos are from the Library of Congress.