Woman Suffrage Associations Begin Forming

After the emancipation of African American slaves was achieved, American women’s rights activists focused their attention on the goal of woman suffrage. Their first organizations, the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association, adopted different strategies but shared the same goal and eventually combined.

Summary of Event

The struggle for woman suffrage, marked from start to finish by internal controversy, was first publicly articulated in the United States in a resolution drafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the organizers of the first Woman’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls in 1848, and passed at that convention. The early struggle for women’s rights paralleled the struggle for the rights of African Americans, and many of the same people were initially involved in both movements, forming the Equal Rights Association. Equal Rights Association At the outbreak of the Civil War (1861-1865), some rights advocates believed that it was more important to work for abolition of slavery than for women’s rights. Women were told, “This is the Negroes’ hour.” Woman suffrage;associations
Anthony, Susan B.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady
American Woman Suffrage Association;founding of
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[kw]Woman Suffrage Associations Begin Forming (May, 1869)
[kw]Suffrage Associations Begin Forming, Woman (May, 1869)
[kw]Associations Begin Forming, Woman Suffrage (May, 1869)
[kw]Forming, Woman Suffrage Associations Begin (May, 1869)
[kw]Begin Forming, Woman Suffrage Associations (May, 1869)
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Anthony, Susan B.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady
American Woman Suffrage Association;founding of
National Woman Suffrage Association;founding of
[g]United States;May, 1869: Woman Suffrage Associations Begin Forming[4320]
[c]Women’s issues;May, 1869: Woman Suffrage Associations Begin Forming[4320]
[c]Organizations and institutions;May, 1869: Woman Suffrage Associations Begin Forming[4320]
Catt, Carrie Chapman
Paul, Alice
Shaw, Anna Howard
Stone, Lucy

This split in emphasis resulted in the Thirteenth Amendment (1865) to the U.S. Constitution, which ended slavery once and for all. It also led to ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment (1868), which guaranteed equal protection to all American citizens and guaranteed the vote to all men, regardless of race, and the Fifteenth Amendment (1870), which guaranteed that the franchise Voting rights;and Fifteenth Amendment[Fifteenth Amendment] could “not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” while saying nothing about sex. Constitution, U.S.;and woman suffrage[Woman suffrage] Efforts by Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to show that the Fourteenth Amendment Fourteenth Amendment;suffragist protests against included “women” in its word “persons” resulted in a Supreme Court decision in 1874 ruling that such was not the case.

Lucy Stone.

(Library of Congress)

At the close of a meeting of the Equal Rights Association Equal Rights Association in New York City, in May, 1869, women from nineteen states, led by Stanton and Anthony, formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) to work for the emancipation of women through a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Stanton was the group’s president, and Anthony was on the executive committee. Because of a division of opinion on tactics, Lucy Stone Stone, Lucy , another of the original Seneca Falls organizers, Julia Ward Howe, and others called for another convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in November, 1869. There they formed the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), with the prominent Protestant cleric Henry Ward Beecher Beecher, Henry Ward
[p]Beecher, Henry Ward;and woman suffrage[Woman suffrage] as president and Stone as chairman of the executive committee.

The NWSA argued that the federal government was responsible for protecting women from states that denied them suffrage, just as the federal government protected the voting rights of black men with the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, a federal amendment was needed. In addition, the NWSA continued to discuss issues that the movement had begun considering before the Civil War: equal pay, prostitution, sexual and physical victimization of women and children, and the role of the church in maintaining the oppression of women. Cut off from most former abolitionists, the NWSA consciously reached out to new groups of women. Although attempts to build alliances with working-class women foundered on the deep differences of class, a great deal of interest developed among middle-class professionals. The vote was seen as a tool women could use to gain other rights. The strategies were confrontation and civil disobedience.

By contrast, the more conservative reformers in the AWSA, who later included the Women’s Christian Temperance Union Women’s Christian Temperance Union[Womens Christian Temperance Union] , centered their work on obtaining suffrage for women through amendments to individual state constitutions and limited their work to the single issue of woman suffrage. The vote was an end in itself. The AWSA appealed mostly to wealthy, educated whites. It believed the vote could be won only by avoiding issues that were irrelevant and calculated to alienate the support of influential sections of the community. It did not organize working women, criticize the churches, or concern itself with the question of divorce. Divorce

In 1890, the two organizations united to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Stanton was its president, Anthony the vice president, and Stone Stone, Lucy the executive committee chair. When Stanton resigned due to her advancing age, Anthony was elected her successor, and when she resigned at eighty years of age in 1900, Carrie Chapman Catt Catt, Carrie Chapman became president. Catt was succeeded after four years by the Reverend Dr. Anna Howard Shaw Shaw, Anna Howard and went on to head the International Woman Suffrage Alliance but later returned to the helm of NAWSA. The merger put an end to the confrontational tactics of the NWSA. State emphasis won out. The movement’s arguments broadened: No longer was suffrage promoted as an equal right, but as a means to clean up corruption and give women the vote to protect their own special interests as mothers concerned for the education of their children, as working women subjected to exploitation without protection, or as the abused wives of drunkards.

The movement gradually waned. Between 1870 and 1910, 480 state campaigns resulted in only seventeen referenda in eleven states, only two of which succeeded. In 1913, Alice Paul Paul, Alice formed a congressional committee within the organization. However, a new schism formed when NAWSA offered Congress a compromise amendment. In 1914, Paul formed the independent Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage , which launched the radical National Woman’s Party National Woman’s Party[National Womans Party] (NWP) in 1916. The NWP mobilized women through the state organizations to come to Washington, D.C., for suffrage marches, to picket the White House, and to organize against the Democratic Party and its sitting president, Woodrow Wilson, simply because it was the party in power and had not passed the amendment. The 1918 elections gave the Republicans a majority in Congress, and President Wilson gave his first address supporting woman suffrage. The NWP kept the pressure on him until he translated his words into action. Finally, the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the vote, as written and submitted by Anthony in 1875, was approved by Congress in 1919 and was ratified in 1920.


Even during the period when suffrage activity was centered in the NAWSA, women in the movement were divided as to methods and philosophy. There was disagreement as to whether emphasis on national or state ratification was best; whether traditional or confrontational methods should be employed; and whether woman suffrage should be the sole issue for which women worked, or if the movement should be put aside for issues such as emancipation and the World War I effort, or combined with all of women’s needs. Some historians believe that the presence of dual organizations working for woman suffrage split and weakened the movement; others argue that the duality was positive because it provided a broader base and offered women a choice of conservative or radical feminism.

Because it took woman suffrage supporters fifty years to achieve the goal of a federal amendment, either interpretation may be correct. However, the state-by-state campaign emphasized by the more conservative leaders resulted in political power available to and used by the radical National Woman’s Party National Woman’s Party[National Womans Party] in the final successful push for ratification. After the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, the NWP was reorganized to work for equal rights. Alice Paul Paul, Alice had the first Equal Rights Amendment Equal Rights Amendment introduced into Congress in 1923. The League of Women Voters League of Women Voters was organized at the jubilee convention of the NAWSA in 1919. Catt Catt, Carrie Chapman joined this organization, and the schism continued: She thought there was no more need for an organization specifically concerned with women’s rights. Both organizations continued to exist in the 1990’s, but the League of Women Voters is much better known.

Further Reading

  • Baker, Jean H, ed. Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2002. Well-researched general history of the woman suffrage movement.
  • Clinton, Catherine. The Other Civil War: American Women in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Hill & Wang, 1984. Although comparatively brief, a comprehensive and excellent treatment of the women’s rights movement during the nineteenth century.
  • DuBois, Ellen Carol. Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America, 1848-1869. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1978. Discusses the early years of the women’s movement, showing the events that led to the formation of the woman suffrage movement.
  • Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States. New York: Atheneum, 1970. Detailed history of the women’s rights struggle, with some attention to the woman suffrage organizations.
  • Gurko, Miriam. The Ladies of Seneca Falls: The Birth of the Woman’s Rights Movement. New York: Schocken Books, 1974. Emphasizes the early years and the personalities of the individual leading women in the women’s rights movement.
  • McFadden, Margaret, ed. Women’s Issues. 3 vols. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 1997. Comprehensive reference work with numerous articles on woman suffrage, women’s rights organizations, individual leaders, and many related issues.
  • Wagner, Sally. A Time of Protest: Suffragists Challenge the Republic, 1870-1887. 2d ed. Carmichael, Calif.: Sky Carrier Press, 1988. Study of the woman suffrage movement between the time that the NWSA and AWSA formed and their amalgamation. Includes direct quotations from resolutions, facsimiles of broadsides, proclamations, and other interesting material.
  • Zink-Sawyer, Beverly Ann. From Preachers to Suffragists: Woman’s Rights and Religious Conviction in the Lives of Three Nineteenth-Century American Clergywomen. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. Examines the lives of Shaw and two other clergywomen—Olympia Brown and Antoinette Louise Brown Blackwell—whose involvement in the women’s rights movement was an extension of their call to the ministry.

Seneca Falls Convention

Akron Woman’s Rights Convention

Suffragists Protest the Fourteenth Amendment

Fourteenth Amendment Is Ratified

Wyoming Gives Women the Vote

Anthony Is Tried for Voting

Minor v. Happersett

Declaration of the Rights of Women

Women’s Rights Associations Unite

New Zealand Women Win Voting Rights

National Council of Women of Canada Is Founded

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Anthony, Susan B.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady
American Woman Suffrage Association;founding of
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