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One Hundred Years toward Suffrage: An Overview

This timeline accompanies the Prints and Photographs Division reference aid, Votes for Women: The Struggle for Women's Suffrage: Selected Images from the Collections of the Library of Congress, highlighting images found in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

1776-1850 | 1851-1899 | 1900-1920
Abigail Adams writes to her husband, John, who is attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, asking that he and the other men--who were at work on the Declaration of Independence--"Remember the Ladies." John responds with humor. The Declaration's wording specifies that "all men are created equal."

1820 to 1880
Evidence from a variety of printed sources published during this period--advice manuals, poetry and literature, sermons, medical texts--reveals that Americans, in general, held highly stereotypical notions about women's and men's roles in society. Historians would later term this phenomenon "The Cult of Domesticity."

Emma Hart Willard founds the Troy Female Seminary in New York--the first endowed school for girls.

Oberlin College becomes the first coeducational college in the United States. In 1841, Oberlin awards the first academic degrees to three women. Early graduates include Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown.

Sarah Grimke begins her speaking career as an abolitionist and a women's rights advocate. She is eventually silenced by male abolitionists who consider her public speaking a liability.

The first National Female Anti-Slavery Society convention meets in New York City. Lucretia Mott, a Quaker activist, is instrumental in organizing the convention, having had the experience of being denied membership in earlier anti-slavery organizations because she was a woman. Eighty-one delegates from twelve states attend.

Mary Lyon founds Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, eventually the first four-year college exclusively for women in the United States. Mt. Holyoke was followed by Vassar in 1861, and Wellesley and Smith Colleges, both in 1875. In 1873, the School Sisters of Notre Dame found a school in Baltimore, Maryland, which would eventually become the nation's first college for Catholic women.

Mississippi passes the first Married Woman's Property Act.

1840 March
The World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London rejects the credentials of American delegate Lucretia Mott and other female American delegates. This experience prompts Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to take up the cause of women's rights.

Female textile workers in Massachusetts organize the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association (LFLRA) and demand a 10-hour workday. This was one of the first permanent labor associations for working women in the United States.

1848 July 19-20
The first women's rights convention in the United States is held in Seneca Falls, New York. The idea for the convention arises spontaneously out of a discussion among Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and three other women over tea. Many participants sign a "Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions" that outlines the main issues and goals for the emerging women's movement. Thereafter, women's rights meetings are held on a regular basis.

Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery. Over the next ten years she leads many slaves to freedom by the Underground Railroad.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer launches the dress reform movement with a costume bearing her name. The Bloomer costume was later abandoned by many suffragists who feared it detracted attention from more serious women's rights issues.

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Former slave Sojourner Truth delivers her "Ain't I a Woman?" speech before a spellbound audience at a women's rights convention in Akron, Ohio.

Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Tom's Cabin, which rapidly becomes a bestseller. Lucretia Mott writes Discourse on Woman, arguing that the apparent inferiority of women can be attributed to their inferior educational opportunities.

Paulina Wright Davis publishes one of the first women's rights periodicals, The Una.

The successful vulcanization of rubber provides women with reliable condoms for the first time. The birth rate in the United States continues its downward, century-long spiral. By the late 1900s, women will raise an average of only two to three children, in contrast to the five or six children they raised at the beginning of the century.

1861 to 65
The American Civil War disrupts suffrage activity as women, North and South, divert their energies to "war work." The War itself, however, serves as a "training ground," as women gain important organizational and occupational skills they will later use in postbellum organizational activity.

1865 to 1880
Southern white women create Confederate memorial societies to help preserve the memory of the "Lost Cause." This activity propels many white Southern women into the public sphere for the first time. During this same period, newly emancipated Southern black women form thousands of organizations aimed at "uplifting the race."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony form the American Equal Rights Association, an organization for white and black women and men dedicated to the goal of universal suffrage.

The Fourteenth Amendment is ratified, which extends to all citizens the protections of the Constitution against unjust state laws. This Amendment is the first to define "citizens" and "voters" as "male."

The women's rights movement splits into two factions as a result of disagreements over the Fourteenth and soon-to-be-passed Fifteenth Amendments. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony form the more radical, New York-based National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe organize the more conservative American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), which is centered in Boston. In this same year, the Wyoming territory is organized with a woman suffrage provision. In 1890, Wyoming was admitted to the Union with its suffrage provision intact.

The Fifteenth Amendment enfranchises black men. NWSA refuses to work for its ratification, arguing, instead, that it be "scrapped" in favor of a Sixteenth Amendment providing universal suffrage. Frederick Douglass breaks with Stanton and Anthony over NWSA's position.

The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) begins publishing the Woman's Journal, under the editorship of Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, and Mary A. Livermore (who gives up her own Chicago publication, The Agitator in order to participate in the venture).

1870 to 1875
Several women--including Virginia Louisa Minor, Victoria Woodhull, and Myra Bradwell--attempt to use the Fourteenth Amendment in the courts to secure the vote (Minor and Woodhull) or the right to practice law (Bradwell). They all are unsuccessful.

In Portland, Oregon, Abigail Scott Duniway begins publishing a weekly newspaper, New Northwest, dedicated to women's rights and suffrage.

Susan B. Anthony is arrested and brought to trial in Rochester, New York, for attempting to vote for Ulysses S. Grant in the presidential election. At the same time, Sojourner Truth appears at a polling booth in Grand Rapids, Michigan, demanding a ballot; she is turned away.

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is founded by Annie Wittenmyer. With Frances Willard at its head (1876), the WCTU becomes an important force in the fight for woman suffrage. Not surprisingly, one of the most vehement opponents to women's enfranchisement is the liquor lobby, which fears women might use the franchise to prohibit the sale of liquor.

1876 to 1879
Lawyer Belva Ann Lockwood is denied permission to practice before the Supreme Court. She spends three years pushing through legislation that enables women to practice before the Court and becomes the first woman to do so in 1879.

A Woman Suffrage Amendment is introduced in the United States Congress. The wording is unchanged in 1919, when the amendment finally passes both houses.

In the presidential contest of this year, Belva Ann Lockwood runs for president on the National Equal Rights Party ticket and a reform platform. She wins 4,149 votes in six states.

The NWSA and the AWSA are reunited as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) under the leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Alice Stone Blackwell , editor of the Woman's Journal, an organ of the American Woman Suffrage Association, is instrumental in merging the two groups. During this same year, Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr found Hull House, a settlement house project in Chicago's 19th Ward. Within one year, there are more than a hundred settlement houses--largely operated by women--throughout the United States. The settlement house movement and the Progressive campaign of which it is a part propels thousands of college-educated white women and a number of women of color into lifetime careers in social work. It also makes women an important voice to be reckoned with in American politics.

Physician and ordained minister Anna Howard Shaw becomes a national lecturer for NAWSA. She will rise to the office of president of NAWSA (1904-1915) and, although she does not prove to be the organization's most effective leader, she will fight valiantly for suffrage all her life, dying just one year short of seeing women get the vote.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett launches her nation-wide anti-lynching campaign after the murder of three black businessmen in Memphis, Tennessee.

Hannah Greenbaum Solomon founds the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) after a meeting of the Jewish Women's Congress at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. In that same year, Colorado becomes the first state to adopt a state amendment enfranchising women.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton publishes The Woman's Bible . After its publication, NAWSA moves to distance itself from this venerable suffrage pioneer because many conservative suffragists consider her to be too radical and, thus, potentially damaging to the suffrage campaign. From this time, Stanton--who resigned as NAWSA president in 1892--is no longer invited to sit on the stage at NAWSA conventions.

Mary Church Terrell , Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Margaret Murray Washington, Fanny Jackson Coppin, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Charlotte Forten Grimké, and former slave Harriet Tubman meet in Washington, D.C., to form the National Association of Colored Women (NACW).
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At the age of 29, Maud Wood Park finds herself the youngest delegate to the NAWSA convention of this year. Working with Inez Haynes Gillmore, she works to attract more young members, establishing what will eventually become the national College Equal Suffrage League. Symbolizing the passing of the suffrage torch to a new generation, Susan B. Anthony steps down as president of NAWSA. Recognizing Carrie Chapman Catt's potential as an organizer and a speaker, Anthony chooses Catt to succeed her.

Mary Dreier, Rheta Childe Dorr, Leonora O'Reilly, and others form the Women's Trade Union League of New York, an organization of middle- and working-class women dedicated to unionization for working women and to woman suffrage. This group later became a nucleus of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU).

The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS) s organized. Led by Mrs. Arthur Dodge, its members include wealthy, influential women and some Catholic clergymen--including Cardinal Gibbons who, in 1916, sends an address to NAOWS's convention in Washington, D.C. In addition to the distillers and brewers, who work largely behind the scenes, the "antis" also draw support from urban political machines, Southern congressmen, and corporate capitalists--like railroad magnates and meatpackers--who support the "antis" by contributing to their "war chests."

Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive (Bull Moose/Republican) Party becomes the first national political party to adopt a woman suffrage plank.

Alice Paul and Lucy Burns organize the Congressional Union, later known as the National Women's Party (1916). Borrowing the tactics of the radical, militant Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in England, members of the Woman's Party participate in hunger strikes, picket the White House, and engage in other forms of civil disobedience to publicize the suffrage cause.

1913 March 3
Members of the Congressional Union organize a suffrage parade, carefully scheduling it for the day before President Wilson's inauguration (it is said that when Wilson arrived in town, he found the streets empty of welcoming crowds and was told that everyone was on Pennsylvania Avenue watching the parade). Not all of the parade observers are suffrage supporters. Hostile members of the crowd swarm and insult the marching women. The publicity resulting from this incident instigates an investigation by District of Columbia Commissioners and provides further momentum for the suffrage campaign.

The National Federation of Women's Clubs--which by this time includes more than two million white women and women of color throughout the United States--formally endorses the suffrage campaign.

NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt unveils her "winning plan" for suffrage victory at a convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Catt's plan required the coordination of activities by a vast cadre of suffrage workers in both state and local associations.

Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first American woman elected to represent her state in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Women win the vote in New York State. A suffrage petition signed by more than a million women signals the determination of the women of the state (and the suffrage campaign workers who gathered the signatures) to gain the vote. Aiding the suffrage cause is a last-minute decision by Tammany Hall, the powerful Democratic "machine," not to oppose suffrage, given the danger alienating potential women voters might pose in future elections. The suffrage measure wins by a margin of 100,000 votes in New York City and breaks even in the rest of the state.

1918 to 1920
The Great War (World War I) intervenes to slow down the suffrage campaign as some--but not all--suffragists decide to shelve their suffrage activism in favor of "war work." In the long run, however, this decision proves to be a prudent one as it adds yet another reason to why women deserve the vote.

1919 May-June
The Nineteenth Amendment passes both House and Senate in a special session and goes to the states for ratification.

1920 August 26
Following ratification by the necessary thirty-six states, the Nineteenth Amendment is adopted.

1920 to 1921
Its victory accomplished, NAWSA ceases to exist, but its organization becomes the nucleus of the League of Women Voters. Maud Wood Park becomes the first president of the League.

The National Woman's Party first proposes the Equal Rights Amendment to eliminate discrimination on the basis of gender. It has never been ratified.

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William H. Chafe, The American Woman: Her Changing Social, Economic, and Political Roles, 1920-1970.

Nancy Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism.

Thomas Dublin, Women at Work: The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860.

Sara M. Evans, Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America.

Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States, rev. ed.

Debra Franklin, The Heritage We Claim: College of Notre Dame of Maryland, 1896-1996.

Elizabeth Frost-Knappman, The ABC-CLIO Companion to Women's Progress in America.

National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) Collection, Rare Books Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Anne Firor Scott and Andrew Scott, One Half the People: The Fight for Woman Suffrage; "From Parlor to Politics," permanent exhibit at the Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Dorothy Sterling, ed. We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century.

Zophy, Angela Howard and Frances M. Kavenik, eds. Handbook of American Women's History.

Compiled by E. Susan Barber with additions by Barbara Orbach Natanson, originally featured in "Votes for Women" Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920, American Memory, Aug-26-97
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  March 25, 2022
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