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The 19th Amendment is a milestone, but not the endpoint, for women’s rights in America, says Stanford historian
As the centennial of the 19th Amendment approaches, the milestone in women’s suffrage must also acknowledge the intersection of gender and racial justice in America, says Stanford scholar Estelle Freedman.
The upcoming centennial of the 19th Amendment is a milestone in women’s suffrage, marking a culmination of decades-long efforts by women who called for full citizenship. This history, Stanford historian Estelle Freedman says, can be traced back to the abolition movement in 19th-century America.
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The 19th Amendment guaranteed that women throughout the United States would have the right to vote on equal terms with men. Stanford researchers Rabia Belt and Estelle Freedman trace the history of women’s suffrage back to the abolition movement in 19th-century America.
Here, Freedman discusses how the histories of the women’s suffrage movement and abolitionism are closely intertwined: It was through their opposition to slavery that middle-class American women first became politically active, said Freedman. The anti-slavery movement pushed women out of the home and church and into politics, eventually leading some to advocate for their own rights as women.
For example, Freedman shares the stories of Angelina and Sarah Grimké, some of the early white female abolitionists, who noted in 1837 that advocating for the rights of enslaved people inspired them to examine their own role in American political society. Also advocating for women’s rights – particularly the rights of Black women – was the formerly enslaved abolitionist Sojourner Truth.
Estelle Freedman is the Edgar E. Robinson Professor in U.S. History in the School of Humanities and Sciences. (Image credit: Sunny Scott)
Freedman also discusses how the women’s suffrage movement split over race after the Civil War, what it did and did not achieve, and what can be learned from this history.
Freedman is the Edgar E. Robinson Professor in U.S. History in the School of Humanities and Sciences . Her research interests focus on the history of women and social reform, including prison reform, as well as the history of sexuality and sexual violence.
You have written about how anti-slavery activism inspired women’s suffrage. Can you explain how these two movements are connected?
The history of suffrage cannot be separated from the history of race and class in America. The suffrage movement in part had its origins in the anti-slavery movement in the United States.
Anti-slavery activism drew both Black and white northern women into politics during the antebellum period, from the 1830s through the 1850s. While Black women sought freedom for their own race, some white women steeped in religious or moral training came to believe that slavery defied their ideals of womanhood and of justice. Think of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s appeal in Uncle Tom’s Cabin , which played to the sentiment northern middle-class women attached to the family by portraying enslaved families sold apart. Abolitionist literature alluded to the rape of enslaved women, which affronted ideals of female purity.
While they found different paths into the small but vocal anti-slavery movement, northern women who joined it moved beyond the limits of the home and church. They formed hundreds of female anti-slavery societies and in the process engaged in politics. Some women merely tried to influence their husbands, sons or brothers – who were voting citizens – but others increasingly took action themselves. For example, during the campaign to send petitions to Congress to abolish slavery, the women’s anti-slavery societies gathered the bulk of the signatures.
When female abolitionists tried to speak in public, however, the public condemned their unladylike behavior. Maria Stewart, a northern Black anti-slavery activist, justified her right to speak out politically, whatever her race or her sex. Angelina and Sarah Grimké, who left a slave-holding family in the South, also chafed under restrictions on their right to speak publicly against the evil of slavery. As Angelina Grimké explained, “The investigation of the rights of slaves has led me to a better understanding of my own.” Sarah Grimké’s Letters on the Equality of the Sexes (1837) articulated an early critique of misogyny, marriage and economic inequality, one considered far too controversial for the time. Both Stewart and the Grimké sisters, however, withdrew from public speaking.
The World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 provides another link between anti-slavery and suffrage. U.S. delegates Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott shared the humiliation of having to sit in the balcony as observers (where some male allies joined them). Eight years later, living near Seneca Falls, New York, the two women called together a convention on women’s rights, which the leading abolitionist Frederick Douglass chaired. The subsequent convention movement called for married women’s property rights, access to education and occupations, and woman suffrage.
The formerly enslaved abolitionist Sojourner Truth spoke out for the rights of Black women in particular, foreshadowing later concepts of the inseparable intersections of race and gender, said Stanford historian Estelle Freedman. (Image credit: Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection)
What role did Black women play in the abolition movement and how did their efforts help shift perceptions of women’s role in society?
I think a good example, and a link from the antebellum to the post-Civil War suffrage movement, is the formerly enslaved northern woman who chose the name Sojourner Truth when she became an itinerant preacher. Her speech at the Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio in 1851 – erroneously remembered as “Ain’t I a woman?” – responded to white male hecklers who claimed that women should stay on their protective pedestal rather than seek to vote. By invoking her own history, Truth exposed the appropriation of women’s reproductive and productive labor under slavery. In effect, she insisted that racism contradicts the protected woman’s sphere – you can’t have both idealized womanhood and racism.
Less well known is Truth’s 1867 speech in which she called for equal rights for both formerly enslaved men and all women. She argued that if the 15th Amendment expanded suffrage only to Black men, it would be “as bad as it was before” emancipation for Black women. In both instances, she articulated the inseparability of race and gender now known as intersectionality.
What led to the separation of these intertwined causes?
Let’s start with the historical context of the Gilded Age of the late 19th century. In the aftermath of the Civil War, industrial capitalism spawned wealth, poverty and intellectual justifications for both, such as social Darwinism, scientific racism and nativism. It was not an era conducive to progressive change. The southern quest to re-establish white supremacy culminated in Jim Crow segregation, the disenfranchisement of Black men and the rule of terror by extralegal lynch mobs. The 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson made segregation legal.
Within this context, the small and unpopular suffrage movement faced formidable challenges, including a bitter split among former abolitionists over supporting the 15th Amendment without including women. In the next generation, historians have identified a shift in arguments for suffrage, from an earlier call for justice to a later politics of expediency. How can we get to this end, suffrage? In the context of a racist society, some but not all white suffragists adopted rhetoric asking, “Why are ignorant, illiterate immigrants and Black men voting when educated white women can’t vote?” They also tried to appease southern suffragists by excluding Black women’s groups from national meetings.
I think that many white suffragists did not appreciate the importance of the vote for Black women. Given the disenfranchisement of southern Black men – through mechanisms like literacy tests, grandfather clauses and poll taxes – they may have considered Black women unlikely voters and thus, expendable. Black women, however, understood that they needed the vote even more than most white women, in order to advance their goals of racial justice. While the suffrage movement may have had a wide racist streak, it was not entirely a white women’s movement. Black women joined mixed race groups and formed their own suffrage associations, and leaders like Mary Church Terrell refused to march at the back of the parade when she and other Black suffragists joined white allies in the mainstream.
Ten suffragists were arrested on August 28, 1917, as they picketed the White House. The protesters were there in an effort to pressure President Woodrow Wilson to support the proposed “Anthony amendment” to the Constitution that would guarantee women the right to vote. (Image credit: Stanford Libraries Special Collections)
As we commemorate the milestone of women’s right to vote, what do you want to see in the discussion of this celebration?
We can see it as a great victory, the culmination of decades and decades of effort by women who spoke, wrote and lobbied for the suffrage; who tried to vote, as Susan B. Anthony did in 1872. Whether they claimed that women’s maternal qualities would vote in a better world or, as younger self-identified feminists insisted, that women were no different than men, they eventually won over male legislators. We can see the 19th Amendment as a benchmark in the long movement for full citizenship for women, a major political hurdle passed. We can also see it as a limited victory, given the continued disenfranchisement of southern Black and Native American women at the time. But I think we can’t make it into the endpoint of a historical “wave.”
“Suffrage had the potential to enable political change by creating a group of new women voters.” —Estelle Freedman The Edgar E. Robinson Professor in U.S. History
Before and after 1920, women who supported suffrage also sought better working conditions and women’s access to the professions. They created an international peace movement. Black women campaigned against lynching and some white women, even in the South, supported them. I have written about anti-rape efforts in the suffrage era, long before an organized anti-violence movement emerged. Once enfranchised, women aspired to jury service, office holding and military service. In 1923 the National Woman’s Party introduced the Equal Rights Amendment and lobbied Congress for decades. In so many ways, suffrage alone did not achieve the larger agenda of the women’s movement.
That said, the vote did make a difference. Suffrage had the potential to enable political change by creating a group of new women voters. Understand, though, that it took a full generation between the ratification of the suffrage amendment and the first time when women began to vote in the same proportion as men. It would take another full generation before a women’s political agenda and a gender gap in voting emerged.
While it is important to create these historical benchmarks and to celebrate these anniversaries, we always have to think about what we have gained, at what costs, for whom, and what unfinished agenda remains. What strengths of the movement can we adopt? What flaws do we want to avoid?
What can be learned from this history?
I think that one of the things we’ve learned over the decades is the importance of alliance, of being wary of single-issue causes. We need to keep our vision broad. What do the rights we seek at any given moment mean for people who are different from us? How can we support the rights that others seek and find the overlapping links between them? In our own time, we witness women of color taking the lead in identifying the intersections of race and gender, whether in Black Lives Matter, reproductive justice or environmental movements. Gender runs through all of these, race runs through all of them, our humanity runs through all of them, and we can never separate entirely any one cause from another. Feminism has to expand to question all social hierarchies to truly achieve what it professes.
19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Women's Right to Vote (1920)
Citation: Joint Resolution of Congress proposing a constitutional amendment extending the right of suffrage to women, approved June 4, 1919.; Ratified Amendments, 1795-1992; General Records of the United States Government; Record Group 11; National Archives.
View All Pages in the National Archives Catalog
Passed by Congress June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote.
The 19th amendment legally guarantees American women the right to vote. Achieving this milestone required a lengthy and difficult struggle—victory took decades of agitation and protest. Beginning in the mid-19th century, several generations of woman suffrage supporters lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and practiced civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans considered a radical change of the Constitution. Few early supporters lived to see final victory in 1920.
Beginning in the 1800s, women organized, petitioned, and picketed to win the right to vote, but it took them decades to accomplish their purpose. Between 1878, when the amendment was first introduced in Congress, and August 18, 1920, when it was ratified, champions of voting rights for women worked tirelessly, but strategies for achieving their goal varied. Some pursued a strategy of passing suffrage acts in each state—nine western states adopted woman suffrage legislation by 1912. Others challenged male-only voting laws in the courts. Some suffragists used more confrontational tactics such as picketing, silent vigils, and hunger strikes. Often supporters met fierce resistance. Opponents heckled, jailed, and sometimes physically abused them.
By 1916, almost all of the major suffrage organizations were united behind the goal of a constitutional amendment. When New York adopted woman suffrage in 1917 and President Wilson changed his position to support an amendment in 1918, the political balance began to shift.
On May 21, 1919, the House of Representatives passed the amendment, and 2 weeks later, the Senate followed. When Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, the amendment passed its final hurdle of obtaining the agreement of three-fourths of the states. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification on August 26, 1920, changing the face of the American electorate forever.
The campaign for woman suffrage was long, difficult, and sometimes dramatic; yet ratification did not ensure full enfranchisement. Decades of struggle to include African Americans and other minority women in the promise of voting rights remained. Many women remained unable to vote long into the 20th century because of discriminatory state voting laws.
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Sixty-sixth Congress of the United States of America; At the First Session,
Begun and held at the City of Washington on Monday, the nineteenth day of May, one thousand nine hundred and nineteen.
Proposing an amendment to the Constitution extending the right of suffrage to women.
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein) , That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislature of three-fourths of the several States.
"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
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19 Ways to Teach the 19th Amendment
Activities to help students learn a more complete history of the women’s suffrage movement, make connections to current events and find ways to “finish the fight.”
An illustration from “Finish the Fight!” a book for middle-grade readers written by Times journalists, shows the motto of the National Association of Colored Women, “lifting as we climb.” Related Article Credit... Finish the Fight! published by HMH/Versify, Art by Johnalynn Holland, 2020
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By Natalie Proulx
- Published Sept. 17, 2020 Updated March 5, 2021
Last month, the United States celebrated 100 years of the 19th Amendment, which established American women’s right to vote. Ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, and added to the Constitution eight days later, this amendment became the single largest act of enfranchisement in U.S. history.
But the right to vote wasn’t simply handed to women; it was the result of a generations-long fight led by Americans from all walks of life — and that fight didn’t end in 1920.
Jessica Bennett and Veronica Chambers explain in “ Suffrage Isn’t ‘Boring History.’ It’s a Story of Political Geniuses. ”:
As the story is often told, the path to women’s suffrage began in Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1848 and ended with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were the leaders of the movement. It granted all women in America the right to vote. And yet we are learning, slowly, that telling is wildly incomplete. It was not simply Stanton and Anthony who led the movement for voting rights in this country; women of color, working-class and immigrant women also paved the way. The movement did not emerge out of nowhere in 1848; it had roots in the movement to abolish slavery. Many early suffragists were active in that fight. And the 19th Amendment was not an end but a beginning: After its ratification, it would take four more years for many Native Americans even to be considered citizens with voting rights in this country, and for some Asian-Americans it would take even longer. Many Black women, while possessing suffrage on paper, could not freely exercise that right until 1965, when the Voting Rights Act barred racially discriminatory voting practices, such as literacy tests. Disenfranchisement at the polls, of course, continues today.
This year, in a book for middle-grade readers, a theatrical performance and a series of articles published in print and online, The New York Times revisited the stories of the women who fought for suffrage.
This teaching resource draws on those texts to help teachers and students learn a more complete history of the struggle for voting rights, make connections to the world today and find ways to “finish the fight” in their own communities. You might use these 19 ideas as a unit plan to dive deep into the women’s suffrage movement, or pick and choose activities that are most relevant to your subject area and learning goals.
The echoes of a century ago are everywhere today: The year 1920 was also an election year; and in the years leading up to it, the streets were filled with protesters (who honed the tools activists use today), while a pandemic ravaged the globe, nearly upending the women’s suffrage movement itself.
So whether you’re teaching about American history or current events, we hope you’ll find something in this resource that will help your students better understand what the fight for suffrage means for them today.
19 Ideas for Teaching Women's Suffrage:
1. start here: an overview of the women’s suffrage movement., 2. build a visual timeline of the movement across america., 3. explore the roles of women of color, queer women, working-class and immigrant women, and their male allies., 4. investigate the strategies suffragists used to fight for the vote., 5. analyze the arguments for and against suffrage., 6. follow the long road to ratification with a game., 7. map the legacy of the 19th amendment., 8. reflect on what it means to be able to vote., 9. research the fight for voting rights today., 10. make connections between two pandemics, 100 years apart., 11-19. going further: projects to demonstrate and extend learning..
If the women’s suffrage movement is new to your students, you might begin by introducing some of the key figures, dates, events and rights that suffragists were fighting for. This activity can be a place to start.
Activity: On their own or as a class, have students complete our “Lesson of the Day: ‘The Complex History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement.’ ”
It includes a warm-up that invites students to make a K/W/L chart, filling in one column with information they already know about the fight for the 19th Amendment and another with questions they have. Then they read and respond to an article about three museum exhibits that aim to broaden the narrative of women’s suffrage.
If this is as far as you want to go, you can wrap up the activity by inviting students to create one of the multimedia projects we suggest in the Going Further section.
Or, this lesson can be the introduction to a longer unit on women’s suffrage: You can follow the rest of this teaching guide step-by-step for a comprehensive exploration of the 19th Amendment, or pick and choose the activities that are most relevant to your curriculum. Better yet, use students’ responses to the reflection questions below to guide your unit or let them choose the lessons they are most interested in.
Throughout the unit, students can add what they’ve learned about the women’s suffrage movement to the last column on their K/W/L charts and use this to create their final projects.
What ideas in this lesson surprised you or challenged your knowledge and beliefs about the women’s suffrage movement?
What questions do you have about this period in history? What more would you like to know?
“The story of the suffrage movement usually starts like this: In July 1848, a group of people got together in Seneca Falls, N.Y., and set forth a series of demands for women’s rights, including the right to vote. But the history of women and voting in the United States extends well before, and beyond, Seneca Falls,” writes Jennifer Harlan in “ Suffrage at 100: A Visual History .”
In this activity, students will explore the history of the movement in the United States through text, photographs, postcards, buttons, maps and other artifacts.
Activity: Have your students read “Suffragists Fought for the Vote in Every Corner of the Country,” the first section after the introduction of “ Suffrage at 100: A Visual History .” As they read, they should make note of the important dates, locations, events and people involved in the fight for women’s right to vote.
Then, invite them to create a visual timeline of the movement across the United States. Depending on your classroom context, they can do this in a few different ways:
They can create a timeline on paper, or color and illustrate a map printout of the United States.
If they have internet access, they can use the free online tools, TimelineJS or StoryMapJS , which allow users to highlight a series of events or locations, using media and text to tell a story.
Or the class can create a human timeline . Assign small groups of students one event to read about and summarize on a poster or digital discussion board. Then have each group, in chronological order, present its event to the class.
Whichever method they choose, students should use colors, symbols, images and text to tell the story of women’s suffrage across the United States. At a minimum, their pieces should include when women won the right to vote in different states; the notable activists and organizations involved; and important events in the movement, such as significant victories, losses and demonstrations.
What do you notice about the women’s suffrage movement in the United States?
What surprised you or challenged your previous ideas about the timeline of the fight for the right to vote?
What story does your timeline or map tell about women’s suffrage? Write a catchy headline that captures the main idea.
If your students know anything about women’s suffrage, they’ve probably heard of the suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two middle-class white women from the Northeast. But, in fact, people from every race, class and walk of life were involved in the fight for the right to vote.
In this activity, students will learn about the women — and men — who have often been left out of the larger narrative of the suffrage movement.
Activity: Assign groups of students to read the section “There Was Never Just One Kind of Suffragist” in “ Suffrage at 100: A Visual History ” through the lens of one of the groups listed below. Depending on how much time you have, students might also read the suggested related text to dig deeper into the roles and struggles of their particular group.
Black women ( Related texts: “ Tackling a Century-Old Mystery: Did My Grandmother Vote? ” or the section on Mary Church Terrell in “ Meet the Brave but Overlooked Women of Color Who Fought for the Vote .”*)
Asian-American women ( Related text: The section on Mabel Ping-Hua Lee in “ Meet the Brave but Overlooked Women of Color Who Fought for the Vote .”*)
Latinas ( Related text: “ Overlooked No More: Jovita Idár, Who Promoted Rights of Mexican-Americans and Women ”)
Native women ( Related text: “ In 1920, Native Women Sought the Vote. Here’s What’s Next .”)
Queer women ( Related text: “ How Queer Women Powered the Suffrage Movement ”)
Working-class and immigrant women ( Related text: “ Overlooked No More: Leonora O’Reilly, Suffragist Who Fought for Working Women ”)
Male allies ( Related text: “ 7 Suffragist Men and the Importance of Allies ” from Turning Point Suffragist Memorial*)
*These articles are written at a lower Lexile level than the other Times texts.
Alternatively, or in addition to the texts they read, students can watch the 55-minute performance “ Finish the Fight ,” an original play commissioned by The New York Times that brings to theatrical life the biographies of lesser-known activists who helped to win voting rights for women. Groups of students might focus on one of the suffragists it profiles: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, Zitkala-Sa or Jovita Idár. Please be sure to preview the play to make sure it is appropriate for your students.
On paper using a template or with a free digital design program like Canva , students can create a one-pager that represents the group or person they learned about. It might include: a summary of their role in the women’s suffrage movement; their motivations to fight for the vote; the strategies and tactics they used; the unique challenges they faced (such as racism, nativism or elitism); a notable quote or two; and images or illustrations.
Do a gallery walk of the one-pagers — either in person or online by posting their pieces to a virtual bulletin board like Padlet — and invite students to comment on each piece.
Which people or groups interested you most? Why?
Why do you think these stories have been left out of the narrative of the women’s suffrage movement for so long?
Taken together, what story do these profiles tell about women’s suffrage? How does this story challenge the traditional narrative about the movement?
Suffragists weren’t given the right to vote; they won it. In “Suffragists Were Revolutionary Political Strategists,” the next section of “ Suffrage at 100: A Visual History ,” Ms. Harlan writes:
Inspired in part by the British suffrage movement — led by Emmeline Pankhurst and the Women’s Social and Political Union, whose motto was “Deeds not words” — new leaders including Alice Paul and Lucy Burns and groups such as the N.W.P. [National Woman’s Party] emerged that took a more radical tack. While they never adopted their British counterparts’ most violent tactics, which included bombings and arson, they did take to heart the sentiment that, if the vote was finally to be won, they would have to take their fight to the streets, and to the very doorstep of power itself. Many tools of protest that activists use today were honed by the suffragists, from mass marches and picketing outside the White House to wearing badges and pins to express support for a cause. “What these women were so good at was making sure suffrage was a topic on everyone’s mind,” [the historian Susan Ware] said. “It was everywhere. And you had to take a stand.”
In this teaching idea, students are invited to examine primary and secondary sources just as a historian does to make inferences and draw conclusions about the types of tactics and tools suffragists used to win the vote.
Activity: Invite students to explore the text sets below, which include images and text from The Times’s Suffrage at 100 series. Each illustrates a specific tactic employed by the suffragists (but don’t tell students what they are yet — part of the fun is seeing if they can guess each strategy based on clues in the texts):
Strategy #1: Protest
Strategy #2: Media
Strategy #3: Publicity Stunts
Strategy #4: Cartoons
Strategy #5: Photography
You might set this up as a jigsaw or stations activity, so students can interact with multiple text sets. (We Are Teachers has tips for planning and using virtual stations online , while this teacher blog has ideas for setting them up for the socially distant classroom .)
As students study each text set, they can use this graphic organizer to take notes about what they notice and any inferences they can make about the ways suffragists fought for their right to vote. Based on what they’ve seen, they can draw a conclusion about the type of strategy each text set illustrates.
Once students have completed the activity, have them discuss their inferences and share their guesses for each strategy. Then you can reveal the correct answers. Or if you have time, invite students to read more about the tools and tactics in these related Times articles:
“Suffragists Were Revolutionary Political Strategists” in “ Suffrage at 100: A Visual History ”
“ Fighting for the Vote With Cartoons ”
“ For Black Suffragists, the Lens Was a Mighty Sword ”
What symbols, slogans, themes and imagery did suffragists use to garner support for their cause? How effective were these devices?
What do you think is meant by the statement: “Suffragists weren’t given the right to vote; they won it”? What evidence in the primary sources you’ve seen supports this claim?
Ms. Harlan writes that “many tools of protest that activists use today were honed by the suffragists.” Which of these strategies and tools do you see activists using in political movements across the country and around the world today?
“To understand the suffragists, and why their battle took so long, you also have to understand the anti-suffragists,” Jennifer Schuessler writes in “ The Women Who Fought Against the Vote .”
Indeed, as the women’s suffrage movement gained momentum across the United States, so did resistance to it from business interests, religious organizations, political parties and even The New York Times editorial page .
While both the arguments for and against suffrage evolved throughout the movement, in this activity, students will primarily focus on those debates that took place during the two decades leading up to the 19th Amendment. They’ll analyze secondary and primary sources, including articles, speeches, postcards, political cartoons, posters and advertisements, to find out why some people supported women’s right to vote — and others fought against it.
Activity: If you are short on time, have students read and view the images and cartoons in the following secondary sources, and then make a list of some of the arguments for and against suffrage:
Pro-suffrage : “Suffragists Fought for More Than Just the Vote” in “ Suffrage at 100: A Visual History ” (The New York Times, 2020)
Anti-suffrage : “ The Women Who Fought Against the Vote ” (The New York Times, 2020)
If you have more time, you might invite students to explore several of the primary sources below via a jigsaw, stations or Pick a Number activity. They can use this graphic organizer to deconstruct and analyze the arguments presented in each source.
“Two Women Discuss the Suffrage” by Sara Yorke Stevenson and Agnes Repplier (Letters to the editor, The New York Times Magazine, Dec. 13, 1908)
“ Margaret Hinchey Tells of Wilson ” (Article, The New York Times, Feb. 5, 1914)
“ A Few Leading Questions ” (Pamphlet, The Rochester (N.Y.) Political Equality Club, Jan. 1, 1903)
“ Speech on Woman Suffrage ” by Jane Addams (Speech, June 17, 1911)
“ The Meaning of Woman Suffrage ” by Mabel Ping-Hua Lee (Article, The Chinese Student’s Monthly, May 12, 1914)
“ Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times ” by Alice Duer Miller (Poetry collection, 1915)
“ Toast on Suffragists ” (Monday Club Luncheon in Missouri, 1913)
“ Votes for Women ” by Katherine Milhous (Postcard, 1915)
“ Women Vote Under These Flags ” (Poster, National American Woman Suffrage Association, early-20th century)
“ Woman Suffrage and the 15th Amendment ” by Mary Church Terrell (The Crisis, August 1915, p. 191)
“ Suffrage and Women’s Ideals ” (Editorial, The New York Times, May 13, 1913)
“ ‘Our Suffrage Movement Is Flirtation on a Big Scale’ ” by Edward Marshall (Article, The New York Times Magazine, May 25, 1913)
“ The Woman Suffrage Crisis ” (Editorial, The New York Times, Feb. 7, 1915)
Anti-suffrage advertisement by the Iowa Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (Advertisement, The Iowa Homestead, May 25, 1916)
“ Household Hints ”(Pamphlet, The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, early-20th century)
“ Election Day! ” by E.W. Gustin (Cartoon, 1909)
“ Looking Backward ” by Laura Foster (Cartoon, 1912)
Why did suffragists want the right to vote? What roles did race, social position and economic status play in their arguments?
What were some of the reasons people were opposed to women’s suffrage? What roles did race, social position and economic status play in their arguments?
How does understanding each position help us better understand the suffrage movement as a whole?
The 19th Amendment was finally passed on June 4, 1919. But there was still more to do. In “ Join the Final Drive to Suffrage ,” Ms. Harlan writes:
The passage of the 19th Amendment was a huge victory for the suffrage movement, the culmination of activism spanning nearly a century as women fought for a voice in the political system. But their work was unfinished. After Congress, the amendment moved to the 48 state legislatures, three-quarters of which had to ratify it for it to become law. The race to 36 was on.
In this activity, students will play the “Votes for Women” board game to better understand the ratification process and why, as Ms. Harlan says, “the suffrage movement’s victory was never promised.”
Activity: To start, you might want to review how an amendment gets added to the Constitution and discuss what it means to “ ratify ” it.
Then, have students read the short article “ Join the Final Drive to Suffrage ” to learn more about the 19th Amendment’s road to ratification.
Next, divide them into small groups to play the “Votes for Women” game. Each group will need one die, a token for each player and the game board . (You can try this game virtually by sharing the game board on your screen, using an online dice roller and marking each player’s position on the board with your video platform’s annotation tools.)
For an added visual and interactive element, you can have students color in a map that shows each state’s passage of the bill as they move along the game board. Whoever gets to 36 states first, wins!
What surprised you about what it took to ratify the 19th Amendment?
Ms. Harlan writes, “It seems an indisputable idea now, a century later. But the suffrage movement’s victory was never promised.” What does she mean by this? What evidence from the article or from the game supports this idea?
What are some important takeaways you learned about the ratification process or the women’s suffrage movement from this activity?
“The fight for suffrage was not just about the right to vote,” Ms. Harlan writes in “ Suffrage at 100: A Visual History .” “It was about equality for women in all areas of life,” she explains.
Women’s quest for political power has stretched well beyond the passage of the 19th Amendment. Throughout the 20th century, the voting rights of many women of color were still not secure; activists continued to fight for them. And in the past 100 years, women have carried on the campaign for equality in all areas of life, including pay equity, educational resources and bodily autonomy.
In this activity, students explore the freedoms, movements and accomplishments throughout history that were born of the women’s suffrage movement and discuss what they mean for their own lives.
Activity: Have students read “Suffragists Transformed America’s Democracy,” the last section of “ Suffrage at 100: A Visual History .”
As they do, they can create a concept map , either on paper or using an online application like MindMeister , that illustrates the relationship between the women’s suffrage movement and issues that have affected women in the United States throughout history and still affect them today. It can include important federal legislation like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Title IX, as well as personal issues like schools and housing.
If you want students to go further, they can add their own ideas based on their prior knowledge, connections to their lives, interviews with friends and family, or research. Here are a few texts from the Suffrage at 100 collection they might start with:
“ 100 Years Later, These Activists Continue Their Ancestors’ Work ”
“ My ___ Was a Suffragist ”
“ Feminist Factions United and Filled the Streets for this Historic March ”
“ The Suffragists Fought to Redefine Femininity. The Debate Isn’t Over. ”
As they read, students might consider the following questions: What milestones has the right to vote allowed women to achieve? What other movements have connections to the suffrage movement? How did the campaigns for racial and economic justice intersect with the quest for gender equality? What rights, issues and attitudes are women continuing to fight for and against today? How can you show the ways these things relate to one another in your map?
How would you define the legacy of the women’s suffrage movement? In other words, what has it meant that women have been able to vote for the past 100 years?
To what extent has the 19th Amendment guaranteed full equality for women? What is still left to be done?
What lessons can we learn from the suffrage movement that we can apply to the fight for equal rights today?
This year, 2020, is an election year. Which of the issues you explored, if any, are on the ballot this fall? Which ones would you like to see the candidates discussing? Why?
Why does voting matter? In “ 11 Female Voices, From Age 13 to 110, on Why the Vote Matters ,” women from across backgrounds, experiences, generations and locations share what a century of suffrage means to them. Here are just a few of their voices:
To me, voting means fighting. Nothing was given to us: to women, to people of color, to people with disabilities. As a Black, disabled woman, I sit at all three of those intersections. — Kiara Marshall, Model and advocate for disability rights I really wasn’t that politically active five or so years ago. It was only when I saw how threatened and how fragile all of the gains that women in my mother’s generation had made that I jumped to action. I really woke up. I don’t think I realized how precious and how vulnerable those rights that I enjoy are. — Padma Lakshmi, Cookbook author and host and executive producer of “Top Chef” and “Taste the Nation” It’s a beautiful concept, each vote having exactly the same amount of power — woman, man, transgender, Black, white, brown, gay, straight. One vote each, all with exactly the same weight. Of course it doesn’t really work like that, which is why we have to fight to end voter suppression and get every citizen equal access to the ballot. I think sometimes people lose sight of the blood that’s been shed over the right to vote — quite a lot of it. It’s the most basic building block of our democracy. — Julia Louis-Dreyfus, actor (“Veep,” “Seinfeld”) and a host of the 2020 Democratic National Convention
What does voting and political participation mean to your students, their families and their communities? In this activity, they can discuss and reflect on the significance of suffrage today.
Activity: Have students read at least two of the responses of their choosing from the piece above. Then, invite them to share their own thoughts and discuss with others what it means to be able to vote or participate in democracy.
Here are a few ways you might do this in your classroom, whether in-person or online:
Engage students in a discussion protocol, like a Think-Pair-Share , Fishbowl or Big Paper conversation, to talk about why they think the vote matters. Then, they can each write their own short essay or record a video via Flipgrid about what suffrage means to them.
The Learning Network celebrated the International Day of Democracy on Sept. 15 with a special Student Opinion question: “ Is Your Generation Doing Its Part to Strengthen Our Democracy? ” Based on an essay written by Representative John Lewis shortly before he died this past summer, it asks students what democracy means to them and how they can play a role in it. Invite your students to respond and read what other teenagers have to say in the comments.
Have your class join our Civil Conversation Challenge , in which we invite teenagers to have productive conversations about the most pressing issues of the upcoming 2020 election, one of which is voting .
Encourage students to interview a woman in their family or community about what the vote means to her. As a class, brainstorm a list of questions they can ask, like: When was the first time you voted? In what ways do you participate in politics? What issues are most important to you and why? Then, have students share what they learned with their classmates via an edited audio recording or short written article.
Why did voting matter to the suffragists? Why does voting matter to women now? What has changed and what has stayed the same?
What impact has the legacy of the women’s suffrage movement had on the country today?
There “are lots of things you can do even if you can’t vote,” Mari Copeny, an eighth-grade student and water-rights activist, says . “You can write letters. You can go to protests. You can post online to educate others. Anybody can make a difference.” Indeed, many suffragists took their children to protests and their daughters carried on their fight . How civically engaged are you? What role do you think young people can — or should — play in a democracy?
In 2020, there are still people across the United States and its territories and commonwealths who do not have full voting rights. Residents of American Samoa, for example, are considered “nationals” not “citizens” so they do not have the right to vote in American elections. People who are incarcerated or have felony convictions are not allowed to vote in many states, even after they have served their prison sentence. Some people with mental disabilities , like autism, who are under a conservatorship cannot vote either.
Then, there are Americans today who, while having the right to vote on paper, face significant structural barriers to casting their ballots. People of color and poor people in particular face voter suppression in the form of ID laws , voter roll purges and sparse polling places . And young people, especially college students, also face roadblocks, like restrictions on early-voting access and voter registration .
In this teaching idea, students can research one such group to learn more about their struggles for enfranchisement and the movements fighting for their rights.
Activity: Students might start by doing their own research to find out who can and cannot vote in U.S. elections, or what kinds of groups tend to face voter suppression. Then, they can choose one group to research further, focusing on the barriers they face to voting, the organizations working to expand or secure their rights, and what individuals can do to help.
Here are just a handful of groups they might research, along with links to organizations that provide advocacy for them:
People in prison
People with disabilities
People with limited English proficiency
16- and 17-year-olds
Students might use their findings to formulate an argument for why this group of people should have the right to vote or what changes should be made to make voting more accessible for them. They can present their case in the form of an essay, editorial or slide show presentation.
Another option? Teach our 2014 lesson plan “ Fair Elections in Jeopardy? Connecting the Dots Among Voting Rates, Rights and Restrictions ” or invite students to play “ The Voter Suppression Trail ” game to learn more about voter suppression today.
What connections can you see between your group’s fight for voting rights and the women’s suffrage movement?
What roles do race, class and ability, particularly, play in access to voting rights?
Consider the relationship between voting and power in a democracy. How did suffrage give women more power in the United States? Why did some people not want women to have that power? How might being able to vote empower the people you researched? Why might the government not want this group to have political power? What connections can you make?
To what extent should voting rights be expanded to those who don’t have them? What can be done to make voting more accessible to those who do?
The years leading up to the 1920 election looked eerily similar to 2020: political campaigns, protests and, yes, even a pandemic. In this activity, students draw connections between the era during the 1918-19 flu and the coronavirus period they are living in today.
Activity: Have students read the article “ How the Spanish Flu Almost Upended Women’s Suffrage .” As they do, they should annotate the text and images, marking any places they see connections between the climate of 1917-1920 and what they are experiencing in 2020.
Their connections don’t have to be limited to the pandemic, though. They might also comment on the election, voting rights, political protests, gender roles, race, way of life or anything else they think is relevant.
To take this activity further, you might invite students to collect artifacts, like news articles, social media posts and photos, from 2020 that speak to the connections they made in the article.
What are some of the major similarities and differences you noticed between the era of the Spanish flu and the one you are living in?
What impact did the 1918-19 pandemic have on the women’s suffrage movement? On the elections of 1918 and 1920? What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had on the protests for racial justice today? How do you think it will affect the 2020 election? Do you notice any patterns?
What lessons can we learn from this period in history? How can we apply them to our lives today?
After students have done one or more of the activities above to explore the history of the women’s suffrage movement, invite them to show what they know or extend their learning with any of these culminating projects.
Allow students to get creative with a final project for this unit. They can come up with their own ideas or try one of these suggestions.
11. Create a visual representation of women’s suffrage. This can take any form. Students could create a timeline or map to show the complete history of the fight for the right to vote, all the way up until today. They could tell the story of women’s suffrage through a comic strip, short video, TikTok series or theatrical performance. Or they could make a statement about the 19th Amendment or voting rights today through an editorial cartoon or Op-Art .
Another option? Students can design a monument to the suffragists, like the artists who recently built a sculpture dedicated to Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to be installed in New York City’s Central Park. Students can create a tribute to the suffragists of their choice, accompanied by a short artist’s statement that explains the people, artifacts and symbols they chose to represent, as well as where they would have their monument installed and why.
Whatever they choose to make should highlight and show the relationships between the key figures, events and themes that they learned about.
12. Make a found poem or blackout poem . Invite students to use the words and images in one or more of the articles they explored to create a poem that speaks to the major activists, events, themes or ideas of the history of the women’s suffrage movement.
13. Produce a podcast. Students can record a podcast up to five minutes about anything related to women’s suffrage. Maybe it’s a brief history of the movement or a particular suffragist. Or an interview with a family member about the meaning of political participation. Or an investigative report into voting rights or women’s rights in their community. They can submit whatever they create to our annual podcast contest starting April 8, 2021.
There are many threads students can choose to further investigate the history of suffrage in the United States and around the world. As an extension project, have them come up with a question of their own to explore or research one of these topics.
14. Dig deeper into the history of voting rights in the United States. Though the expansion of the electorate that followed the 19th Amendment was the largest in the history of the United States, it wasn’t the first or the last: The 15th Amendment enfranchised African-American men, for example, and the 26th Amendment 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds.
And beyond the Constitution, laws and Supreme Court decisions have both expanded and restricted suffrage. For example, the Snyder Act in 1924 made all Native Americans citizens, and the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943 made it possible for Chinese immigrants to be naturalized. Through these laws, these groups gained greater access to the rights and privileges of citizenship, including voting.
But even after they had, on paper, secured the right to vote, many people of color — especially Black, Native and Latinx people — were functionally disenfranchised by poll taxes, literacy tests, white primaries and other forms of voter suppression. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 barred racial discrimination in voting. Even so, many people of color continue to struggle for access to the ballot. In 2013, the Supreme Court effectively struck down the heart of that law in Shelby County v. Holder, and voter suppression persists in many communities.
Invite students to choose a topic related to voting rights and research its history. How did this amendment, law or decision come to pass? Who worked for or against it? What motivated them? What connections can students make between this history and the women’s suffrage movement?
15. Learn about women’s suffrage around the world. Students might research the women’s suffrage movement in another country and compare it to the American movement. What similarities and differences do they notice? What inspiration did American suffragists take from those in the United Kingdom, Finland and Denmark? What patterns do they see in the reasons women fought for suffrage, whether in the United States, Brazil, Japan or Saudi Arabia? What barriers to voting do women in those countries still face?
16. Get to know an “overlooked” suffragist. In honor of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, The Times’s “Overlooked” project is publishing a series of obituaries about remarkable suffragists whose deaths went unreported in The Times. Have your students choose one of these women to read about and then create something to depict her life, like a mixed media collage or an imaginary Instagram feed:
Jovita Idár Ida B. Wells-Barnett Laura de Force Gordon Esther Morris Leonora O’Reilly Mabel Ping-Hua Lee Mary Church Terrell
17. Research your local suffrage history. Invite students to play historian and investigate the movements that took place in their own cities or states. They could plan a walking tour on Google Earth that highlights the locations, buildings and monuments important to the suffrage fight in their community. Their tour might include interesting facts, stories, photographs or anything else they discover in their research.
The fight for women’s rights and voting rights in the United States is far from over. Here are a few ways your students might get involved if they’re so inspired:
18. Educate others about voting rights and women’s rights. How can your students share what they’ve learned with their school, the wider community or the world?
They can display a piece of art they created to represent the women’s suffrage movement on their school website or in the hallway. They could create an infographic to debunk common myths about suffrage and post it on their social media pages. They could write an opinion essay on a topic related to suffrage and submit to their school newspaper or our annual editorial contest . Or anything else they can dream up: a public service announcement, a virtual school play or a fund-raiser for a local organization.
The goal should be to share what they’ve learned about the history of women’s suffrage and to promote women’s rights and voting rights today.
19. Get involved with the 2020 election or a local women’s organization. Even if students aren’t old enough to participate, there are ways they can help others exercise their right to vote. Youth Service America offers dozens of ways young people can get involved, as well as special recommendations for taking action safely during the pandemic. Find even more ideas in our teaching resource “ Election 2020: 11 Ways to Engage Students From Now Until November. ”
They can also look into joining local, national or global organizations that support women’s rights and civic participation, such as the League of Women Voters . If they can’t find a group they want to get involved with, they can start a school club of their own.
Natalie Proulx joined The Learning Network as a staff editor in 2017 after working as an English language arts teacher and curriculum writer.
Each lesson in the Suffrage School connects in rich and unpredictable ways to the Library’s Long 19th Amendment Project, which tackles the tangled history of gender and American citizenship. This page includes links to materials from the Library's collections that are available online as well as links to some external resources.
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