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Exhibition Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote

A Movement at Odds with Itself

The history of our country the past hundred years, has been a series of assumptions and usurpations of power over woman, in direct opposition to the principles of just government. . . .

—National Woman Suffrage Association, Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States, July 4, 1876

In the late 1860s and 1870s, white and black suffrage leaders swept across the country giving lectures and inspiring the creation of new suffrage organizations. Key leaders emerged in every region, and in 1878, a federal women’s suffrage amendment was first introduced in Congress. Suffragists gained publicity by attempting to vote and disrupting the nation’s centennial celebration, but such tactics lost appeal by the late 1880s as the movement grew more conservative. Previously women had advocated for universal suffrage based on the individual rights of all people, regardless of sex and race. In the 1870s and 1880s, suffragists began to claim that women were different from men, and their distinctly higher morals would uplift the nation if given the vote. This emphasis on character and qualifications widened racial and class divides between suffragists.