Voting Rights for Women

The Awakening

When I cast my vote in the upcoming presidential election, I’ll also remember that my great-grandmother would not have been able to vote in the 1916 election. This, the second of two posts exploring the struggles of two groups to gain full voting rights, will take a look at the long road toward the full enfranchisement of women.

The original Constitution of the United States was nearly mute on voting rights, ceding them to the states to determine. On December 10, 1869, John Campbell, governor of the Wyoming Territory, approved the first law in U.S. history explicitly granting women the right to vote. Nearly 50 years would pass before that right was extended to all women.

Frederick Douglass Manuscript – Address before the Woman Suffrage Association

There were parallels and crossovers between the struggles of women and of African Americans to gain suffrage. The prominent abolitionist Frederick Douglass, also a staunch supporter of women’s suffrage, noted in a speech to the Woman Suffrage Association that, “…I have long been identified with the movement for the enfranchisement of woman.”

Women seized on some of the legislation granting suffrage to African Americans in pursuit of their own rights. In 1871, two women filed cases arguing that they were enfranchised by the Fourteenth Amendment, considered one of three “Reconstruction Amendments.” This amendment forbids states from denying any person “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The lawyers for the cases argued that the Amendment nullified law specifying that “male residents” could vote.

Finally, on June 4, 1919, the ratification of the 19th Amendment extended voting rights to all women.

You may have students:

  • Study the symbolism in “The Awakening.” What clues are there about why the artist chose that title?  Look at some of the visual symbols, such as the woman. Why is she carrying a torch?  What might she represent? What are the figures in some of the states? What might they represent? Why aren’t there any of those figures in most of the western states? What is the overall message of the drawing about women’s suffrage?
  • Compare the impact of “The Awakening” to the map “Votes for Women a Success.” Which is more emotionally powerful? What is the difference in the kinds of information conveyed in each?
  • Look closely at the hand-written changes made to the manuscript of Frederick Douglass’ speech and reflect on the effect of the changes. What, for example, is the difference between “a man” and “any man” in the second paragraph? Why might he have mentioned that he thought it “hardly in good taste for any man to appear here in any other capacity than that of a listener”?

The Women’s Suffrage primary source set offers more teaching ideas and primary sources on the women’s suffrage movement, legislation and anti-suffrage arguments.

In the comments, tell us which primary sources were powerful in helping your students understand the struggles of women to attain voting rights.

One Comment

  1. alexander
    November 21, 2017 at 12:22 am

    make it more clear what is primary

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