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Exhibition Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote

New Tactics for a New Generation, 1890–1915

Before the end of the nineteenth century, suffragists achieved victories in four western states and partnered with new organizations, including the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), which expanded the reach of their message. Challenging the status quo, suffragists worked to persuade women across the nation that they deserved the same rights that men took for granted, while also appealing to male political leaders to support their cause. They used a variety of tactics, including traditional approaches like petitioning and lobbying, but also innovative techniques such as parades and public demonstrations, political art, and the use of planes, automobiles, motion pictures, and other emerging technologies to spread their message. These creative strategies and tools helped garner media attention, raise money, apply political pressure, and attract new recruits, including more working-class and college women. A flurry of activity led to more suffrage wins in the West, while leaders of the newly formed Congressional Union, later the National Woman’s Party (NWP), focused on Washington, D.C. The first national suffrage parade occurred on March 3, 1913, to coincide with President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. The parade put the president-elect and Congress on notice that suffragists would hold the Democratic Party responsible if it failed to pass a women’s suffrage amendment.

Western States Pave the Way
New Tactics and Renewed Confrontation
Parade Sparks Rifts in the Movement
The Marketing of the Movement

Western States Pave the Way

It is to the strong, courageous, and progressive men of the western States that the women of this whole country are looking for deliverance. . . It is these men who must start this movement and give it such momentum that it will roll irresistibly on to the very shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

—Ida Husted Harper, 1905

As the nineteenth century ended, women had achieved full suffrage in Wyoming (1869/1890), Colorado (1893), Idaho (1896), and Utah (1896) and “partial” voting rights elsewhere on bond issues and municipal and school board elections. Alternately aided and hindered by national suffrage organizers and local Woman’s Christian Temperance Union chapters, suffragists in seven more western states secured victory by 1914. Little progress, however, occurred at the federal level. Committee hearings were held every few years, but the amendment came up for vote only once, in 1887, when it was soundly defeated. Congress would not vote on it again until 1914. Major opponents included midwestern liquor interests, southern conservatives protecting their region’s disenfranchisement of black men, and eastern and southern business leaders who relied on child labor and unregulated working conditions.

“Mother Duniway” and the Suffrage Campaign in the Pacific Northwest

Multnomah County Clerk John B. Coffey registers Abigail Scott Duniway (1834–1915) as first woman voter in Portland, February 14, 1913. Photograph. NWP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (048.00.00)

New Tactics and Renewed Confrontation

More than 3,600,000 women have a vote in Presidential elections. It is unthinkable that a national government which represents women, and which appeals periodically for the suffrages of women, should ignore the issue of the right of all women to political freedom.

—Lucy Burns, 1913

When Harriot Stanton Blatch returned to the United States in 1902 after years in England, she bluntly noted that “the suffrage movement . . . bored its adherents and repelled its opponents.” She founded the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women (later the Women’s Political Union) to attract more working-class women to the campaign. She and others, including Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, introduced militant street tactics used abroad. Challenging existing notions of women’s place in public, they commanded the attention of elected officials and the press by staging open-air meetings, trolley and automobile tours, and parades. In December 1912, Paul and Burns began planning a national suffrage parade in Washington. They overcame initial resistance from National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) leaders but soon exacerbated underlying racial tensions within the movement.

Lucy Burns

Lucy Burns, half portrait, seated, ca. 1913. Photograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Parade Sparks Rifts in the Movement

The old battle cries no longer stir our souls. Give us new banners for our times, let us have new leaders, and what we need most is undoubtedly a new battle cry to stir the dormant souls of American men and women.

—Anna Howard Shaw, 1911

The March 3, 1913, parade foreshadowed the pattern of events that characterized the relationship between President Woodrow Wilson and suffragists over the next seven years—public demonstrations, presidential disregard, mob violence, police inaction, and increasing public sympathy. Beginning with the parade, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns energized the movement and soon thereafter broke from NAWSA, eventually forming the National Woman’s Party (NWP). In America, voting rights could be conferred by either the states or the federal government, meaning that activists need not focus all their attention on Washington. Anna Howard Shaw, Carrie Chapman Catt, and other NAWSA leaders worried that confrontational tactics would endanger state victories and antagonize Congress. They felt that targeting the party in power was self-defeating in the United States, where bipartisan coalitions were needed to achieve the required two-thirds majority vote in Congress and ratification by the states.

Family Ties Help Unite Diverging Groups

Elsa Ueland (1888–1980). Photograph, ca. 1915. NWP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (053.00.00)

The Marketing of the Movement

During the last decade of the suffrage campaign, greater mass production of commercial goods combined with new marketing techniques created an environment that both suffragists and manufacturers profitably exploited. Mainstream and militant suffragists alike saturated the marketplace with a proliferation of suffrage commodities, available especially in major urban centers but also through catalog sales. These included badges, pins, clothing, playing cards, dolls, tea sets, fans, food, and more. In addition, women opened suffrage restaurants, grocery stores, and retail shops; produced suffrage movies, plays, and songs; and unleashed an unprecedented stream of political print culture. These suffrage-themed products helped to legitimize the movement, advance its “political salesmanship,” raise money, and keep the cause ever-present in daily life.

Harnessing the Visual Power of Postcards

Sample postcard, ca. 1915: Rose O’Neill (1874–1944), “Votes for Our Mothers.” Breckinridge Family Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (081.00 00)