5 Black Suffragists Who Fought for the 19th Amendment—And Much More

5 Black Suffragists Who Fought for the 19th Amendment—And Much More

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

When Congress ratified the 19th Amendment on August 18,1920, giving American women the right to vote, it reflected the culmination of generations’ worth of work by resolute suffragists of all races and backgrounds. Historically, attention has focused on the efforts of white movement leaders like Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. But they worked alongside many lesser-known suffragists, such as Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee and Nina Otero-Warren, who made crucial contributions to the cause—while also battling racism and discrimination.

For their part, “Black suffragists came to the suffrage movement from a different perspective,” said Earnestine Jenkins, who teaches Black history and culture at the University of Memphis. Their movement, she says, grew out of the broader struggle for basic human and civil rights during the oppressive Jim Crow era.

But while many 19th-century women’s rights advocates got their political start in the anti-slavery movement, not all were keen on seeing Black men leapfrog women for voting rights with the 15th Amendment. Viewing the issues competitively, some leading white suffragists aggressively sidelined Black women—and their broader civil rights issues, like segregation and racial violence—from the movement. One strategy? Using their platforms to perpetuate stereotypes that women of color were uneducated or promiscuous.

Even after the 19th Amendment passed, promising that the right to vote would “not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” women of color continued to be barred from casting ballots in many states with tactics like poll taxes and literacy tests. Suffrage battles continued for decades—often against a backdrop of intimidation and violence. Yet mid-century activists, like Fannie Lou Hamer, fought on, knowing the vote was a crucial tool for changing oppressive laws and dismantling entrenched racism. Here are five Black suffragists whose resourcefulness and persistence became instrumental in passing the 19th Amendment.

READ MORE: Why the 19th Amendment Did Not Guarantee All Women the Right to Vote

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825–1911)

At a time in America when the majority of Black people were enslaved and women were rarely encouraged to have political opinions—much less share them in public—Frances Ellen Watkins Harper became a genuine celebrity as an orator. Second only to abolitionist Frederick Douglass in terms of prominent African American writers of her era, the poet, essayist and novelist frequently went on speaking tours to discuss slavery, civil rights and suffrage—and donated many of the proceeds from her books to the Underground Railroad.

Born in 1825 in Baltimore to free Black parents, Harper received a rigorous education at the Watkins Academy for Negro Youth, founded by her uncle Rev. William Watkins, an abolitionist and educator. As a teenager, she began sending her poems—which explored abolition, enslavement and her Christian faith—to local African American newspapers and published her first poetry collection “Autumn Leaves” around 1845. Decades later, her novel, Iola Leroy, one of the first to be published by a Black woman in the U.S., told the story of a mixed-race woman raised as white, then sold into slavery—addressing themes of race, gender and class.

Harper moved North in 1850 to teach, during which time she lived in a home that served as an Underground Railroad station. Hearing the stories of escaped slaves cemented her activism, along with the passage of an 1854 law that forced free Blacks who entered her home state of Maryland from the North into slavery. Unable to return home, she channeled her thoughts into activist writing and speaking.

When it came to the cause of women’s suffrage, Harper was convinced it would not be achieved unless Black and white women worked together. But while Harper initially worked with leaders like Stanton and Anthony, “she was also one of the first women to call them out in terms of their racism,” notes Jenkins. Harper’s most famous confrontation came when she spoke at the 1866 National Women's Rights Convention. “You white women speak here of rights,” Harper told the crowd, calling them out for their lack of female solidarity across racial divides. “I speak of wrongs.”

READ MORE: 7 Things You Might Not Know About Women's Suffrage

Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823–1893)

Mary Ann Shadd Cary, whose parents used her childhood home as a refuge for fugitive slaves, became the first black woman in North America to publish a newspaper, The Provincial Freeman, in which she fearlessly advocated for abolition. After helping recruit Black soldiers for the Civil War and founding a school for the children of freed slaves, she taught school by day while attending law school at night, becoming one of the first Black female law graduates in the United States in 1883. When the suffrage movement gained steam in the 1870s, after the 15th Amendment granted the vote to Black men, she became an outspoken activist for women’s rights, including the right to cast a ballot.

Cary’s legal and publishing background served her well in the fight for enfranchisement. In 1874, she was one of several suffragists who testified before the House Judiciary Committee about the importance of the right to vote. In her remarks, Cary stressed the unjustness of denying women—who were both taxpayers and American citizens—access to the ballot box. “The crowning glory of American citizenship is that it may be shared equally by people of every nationality, complexion and sex,” she told the committee.

READ MORE: Women's History Milestones: A Timeline

Mary Church Terrell (1863–1954)

Pushed out of the mainstream suffrage movement by white leaders, Black suffragists through the 1800s founded their own clubs in cities across the U.S. Along with church-based organizing, “the club movement was the foundation for so much activism by Black women in their communities,” says Jenkins. With the creation of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1896, suffragists Mary Church Terrell and co-founder Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin became instrumental in consolidating Black suffrage groups across the country. Their agenda went beyond women’s enfranchisement, addressing issues of job training, equal pay, educational opportunity and child care for African Americans.

Terrell, an educator, writer and organizer, also focused her work on fighting lynching, Jim Crow segregation and convict leasing, a system of forced penal labor. The daughter of formerly enslaved people who became successful business owners in Memphis, Tennessee, Terrell was one of the first Black women to obtain a college degree, earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Oberlin College. She also became the first Black woman appointed to the Washington, D.C.’s Board of Education, and led a successful campaign to desegregate the city’s hotels and restaurants.

In an 1898 address to the National American Women's Suffrage Association, she summarized her life’s work: “Seeking no favors because of our color, nor patronage because of our needs, we knock at the bar of justice, asking an equal chance.”

Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879–1961)

In more than 200 speeches she gave across the country, educator, feminist and suffragist Nannie Helen Burroughs stressed the importance of women’s self-reliance and economic freedom. A member of National Association of Colored Women, the National Association of Wage Earners and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, she saw voting as a crucial tool of empowerment, an extension of her lifetime commitment to educating African American women. One of her lasting achievements was to launch and run the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, D.C.

Burroughs also spoke of the need to address the lynchings of Black Americans throughout the country. “The most important question that Black activists were concerned with from 1916 to 1920—the years before the 19th Amendment—were lynching and white mob violence against Black people,” says Jenkins. Because of that, activists like Burroughs, Terrell and Wells saw the right to vote as a tool to create laws and protections for African Americans throughout the country.

READ MORE: This Huge Women's March Drowned Out a Presidential Inauguration in 1913

Ida B. Wells (1862–1931)

In addition to being one of the most prominent anti-lynching activists and respected journalists of the early 20th century—she owned two newspapers—Ida B. Wells was also a strident supporter of women’s voting rights. In 1913, Wells, one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, co-founded the Alpha Suffrage Club, Chicago’s first African American suffrage organization. The club was notable for its focus on educating Black women about civics and its advocacy for the election of Black political officials.

But Wells and her peers often faced racism from the larger suffrage movement. When she and other Black suffragists tried to join a national suffrage march in Washington, D.C., in 1913, movement leader Alice Paul instructed them to walk at the back end of the crowd. Wells refused. “Either I go with you or not at all,” she told organizers. “I am not taking this stand because I personally wish for recognition. I am doing it for the future benefit of my whole race.”

READ MORE: When Ida B. Wells Took on Lynching, Threats Forced Her to Leave Memphis

WATCH: Fight the Power: The Movements that Changed America, premieres Saturday, June 19 at 8/7c on The HISTORY® Channel.

Setting the Record Straight on the 19th Amendment

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution says that U.S. governments are not allowed to deny citizens the right to vote based on sex. It came to pass in large part because of the contributions of Black women. Ida B.Wells-Barnett, Mary Church Terrell, Sojourner Truth, Anna Julia Cooper, Angelina Weld Grimké, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, and countless other Black women leaders were resilient in the face of racist backlash — a testament to their passion and self-determination.

Despite the fact that Black women put their lives on the line to help all women gain the right to participate in democracy, the 19th Amendment only ended discrimination against women at the voting booth in theory. In practice, America’s racist and sexist electoral system withheld Black women’s right to vote in states across the country.

Meanwhile, many white, racist suffragists refused to fight back against racial discrimination in voting and turned their back on the Black suffragists who had helped them. Black women were on their own.

Black Women Had to Fight for the Right to Vote on Two Fronts

by Sarah Elizabeth Adler, AARP, February 28, 2020 | Comments: 0

Corbis Historical/Chicago History Museum/Getty

Mary Church Terrell (left) and Ida B. Wells.

En español | On a November afternoon last year in Baltimore, the otherwise ordinary-looking homes at 1532 and 1534 Druid Hill Ave. secured their place in suffrage history.

That day, a commemorative highway marker was unveiled to honor Augusta T. Chissell and Margaret Gregory Hawkins, next-door neighbors who hosted suffrage club meetings in their living rooms in 1915 and 1916 at a time when the national fight for women's suffrage was well underway.

"What we're trying to share with people of all ages, young and old, is that we're still standing on these shoulders,” says Executive Director Diana M. Bailey of the Maryland Women's Heritage Center, which sponsored the tribute — the latest in a series of markers honoring the state's suffrage history.

As the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment nears, scholars and historians say recognizing the contributions of black suffragists like Chissell and Hawkins remains more important than ever.

'Tenacious is not a strong enough word'

Honoring black suffragists means first acknowledging how they were sidelined from the mainstream suffrage movement, whose leaders feared alienating white women and losing support in the South, says Ida Jones, a university archivist at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

Sometimes, the discrimination was overt, as when organizers of the 1913 women's suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., ordered black participants to march at the end. At other times, it was more subtle: The National American Woman Suffrage Association, formed in 1890, declined to include black women or suffrage groups in its ranks.

That exclusion spurred the formation of separate organizations such as the National Association of Colored Women, founded in 1896 in the nation's capital. Prominent black suffragists such as Mary Church Terrell, who was born to former slaves in 1864, led the group and also went on to help found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909 in New York City.

Leaders like Terrell “didn't ask for a place in the suffrage movement. They took their place in the movement in a variety of ways,” says Jinx Broussard, a professor at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and author of Giving a Voice to the Voiceless: Four Pioneering Black Women Journalists. “Tenacious is not a strong enough word for them.”

Facing what Broussard calls the “double bind of racism and sexism,” black suffragists participated in the movement through whatever means were available to them, particularly journalism and the black press.

Key dates for black suffragists

* May 29, 1851: Abolitionist and former slave Sojourner Truth speaks to a Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, giving a speech later known as “Ain't I a Woman."

* May 10, 1866: Abolitionist and poet Frances Ellen Watkins Harper speaks at the 11th National Women's Rights Convention in New York City.

* May 1866: The American Equal Rights Association is formed when the National Women's Rights Convention and American Anti-Slavery Society merge. The group dissolves about four years later amid continuing disagreements about prioritizing race or gender in the fight for voting rights.

* July 1896: National Association of Colored Women is founded. The group endorses women's suffrage in 1912.

* Aug. 18, 1920: Tennessee becomes the 36th state to ratify the Constitution's 19th Amendment, which guarantees a woman's right to vote.

* Aug. 6, 1965: President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed the discriminatory voting practices that many Southern states adopted after the Civil War to restrict black men and women from voting.

Ida B. Wells, a pioneering journalist and anti-lynching advocate, helped found Chicago's Alpha Suffrage Club in 1913, which helped register thousands of black women to vote through on-the-ground canvasing efforts.

"They used poetry,” Broussard says. “They used speeches, events, lectures — every avenue that was available to place themselves in the movement and to secure the right to vote for their people.”

Suffrage movement's antislavery roots

Historians also note an important difference between the motivation of white suffragists, who were working primarily with gender equality in mind, and black suffragists, who saw voting rights as a key part of racial equity and a means of uplifting their communities.

In fact, the roots of the suffrage movement can be traced to the abolition movement, whose champions called for gender equality alongside an end to slavery as early as the mid-19th century, when abolitionist Sojourner Truth delivered her historic “Ain't I a Woman” speech at the 1851 Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio. In 1866, the poet and abolitionist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper would deliver a rousing speech of her own at the National Women's Rights Convention in New York City.

"We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity,” she said. “And society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul.”

Black women still fight to vote after 1920

Despite the successes of the suffrage movement, obstacles remained even after 1920, says Jones, who was named after activist Ida B. Wells.

"When we look back at the 19th Amendment, even though it passed on paper, African American women were not allowed to exercise that freely,” she says.

In much of the country, hurdles like poll taxes and literacy tests kept black voters disenfranchised until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices.

To this day, obstacles to voting persist, Jones says. And a new generation of politicians, such as Georgia's Stacey Abrams, have taken up the fight against voter suppression.

"African American women continued to fight for and advocate for the voiceless, the poor in the urban and rural areas, the uneducated, and the immigrant community,” Jones says. “All of this is bound up into one big issue: true democracy.”

A Non-Whitewashed History of the 19th Amendment and Women’s Right to Vote

On August 18, 1920, Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment — granting women the right to vote under federal law. The year 2020 marks 100 years since this milestone in feminist history.

We most often glorify key suffragist figures and events that supposedly ushered in a new era of women’s rights to the United States: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and the Seneca Falls Convention. We laud these women for giving all women a voice in their government and taking an important first step in the fight for women’s rights.

This story , however, presents an incomplete narrative. The 19th Amendment did not grant the right to vote for millions of Black, Native American, and Asian American women.

To celebrate the centennial as a liberation for all women would be a disservice to the women of color who were often shunned and discounted by the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement. The campaign to grant all women voting rights is a much more prolonged and arduous crusade.

The heroism of the Black, Asian American, Latina, and Native American activists must not be buried.

Prior to 1920, White suffragists traditionally excluded women of color from their ranks. Racism and classicism were ingrained in the movement, which viewed American women as solely White and middle-class.

White suffragists won over Southern politicians by employing racist rhetoric, arguing that the only way to counterbalance the influx of the “uneducated” Black man’s vote would be to permit the White woman’s vote. Black women and other women of color were not invited to attend the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 despite their significant contributions to the abolitionist and women’s rights movements. Stanton and Anthony even overlooked African American suffragists’ involvements when penning the 6,000-page publication entitled History of Woman Suffrage.

Following 1920 and the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the mainstream White women’s organizations turned a blind eye to the continued activism of women of color, often ignoring pleas for the need to persist in the suffragist fight. In their eyes, victory had already been attained.

The reality was that even after the passage of the 19th Amendment, voter intimidation tactics and legal methods of disenfranchisement such as literacy tests and poll taxes deterred a significant number of African Americans in the South from casting their ballots. During a particularly egregious voter suppression incident, a group of African American women were beaten in 1926 by election officials for simply attempting to register to vote in Birmingham, Alabama.

Despite the constant threat of arrest, notable Black activists such as Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, and Fannie Lou Hamer advanced their efforts to secure voting rights for Black women.

It wasn’t until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that many of these voter suppression tactics were outlawed, guaranteeing the right to vote for many ethnic minorities and expanding accessibility for minority voters with limited English proficiency.

Dismantling our current system of disenfranchisement begins with reexamining the misleading milestones and revered figures that are touted in our nation’s history.

For Native Americans, though the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act conferred full citizenship, they were also subject to the same discriminatory voting policies that were imposed on Black communities. Native Americans were prevented from voting if they lived on reservations or were registered tribe members, failed “competency” tests, or could not afford voting fees. Activists like Zitkala-Sa of the Lakota Nation and Susette La Flesche Tibbles of the Omaha tribe in Nebraska were lifelong proponents for Indigenous rights, protesting these civil injustices and advocating for Native American citizenship.

The passage of the McCarran-Walter Act in 1952 finally lifted Asian American citizenship and immigration restrictions, thereby granting Asian Americans the right to vote. Asian Americans were one of the last racial groups in the United States to be given a path to naturalization, following centuries of racist federal policies such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924. Though they themselves were excluded from voting legislation, Asian American suffragists like Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, PhD, worked tirelessly during the early 20th century to advocate on behalf of the women’s vote. It is unknown whether Lee ever became a citizen or was able to vote before her death in 1966.

The mostly forgotten stories of the brave women of color who fought for suffrage are just now being discovered and brought to the fore by scholars and academics. The heroism of the Black, Asian American, Latina, and Native American activists who recognized that the right to vote did not just mean White women’s right to vote must not be buried as we look back on our nation’s past.

To celebrate the centennial as a liberation for all women would be a disservice to the women of color who were often shunned and discounted by the White leaders of the women’s suffrage movement.

During the 2016 election, I remember nervously clutching my ballot as I stood in line to cast my vote for the first female presidential candidate nominated by a major party. I had just been naturalized three years prior, after immigrating to the United States from South Korea when I was five. Come November, I will head to the polls again, this time not just as a voter, but also as a county poll worker.

And I will find it necessary to remind myself of the significance of the moment, of the power of the vote that I wield, and the activists who devoted their lives to the voting rights cause so I and so many other women and people of color can cast our ballots on Election Day.

The year 2020 doesn’t mark the 100th anniversary of when someone like me, an Asian American woman, was allowed the right to vote in this country — it is much later in our nation’s timeline that we were granted federal enfranchisement. It will be a sobering thought that countless numbers of minorities are restricted from voting to this day and that the same voter suppression playbooks enforced throughout American history are very much still in effect.

But dismantling our current system of rampant disenfranchisement begins with reexamining the misleading milestones and revered figures that are touted in our nation’s history. Therefore, on this centennial, though it is important to recognize the passage of the 19th Amendment, it is even more imperative that we develop the resolve to push on — we must acknowledge and partake in the ongoing fight against disenfranchisement, just as the suffragists who were women of color persevered in their unfinished fight decades ago.

Who the 19th Amendment and the Suffrage Movement Left Behind

We speak with four women voting experts about the legacy of this milestone legislation.

History regards the passage of the 19th Amendment&mdashratified 100 years ago to this day&mdashas a beacon of gender equality in the United States of America. However, the reality (as it usually is) is much more nuanced.

Although the amendment declares that "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," many were still excluded from the promises of democracy. The American suffrage movement heralded the right to enfranchisement for white and certain classes of women, consequently leaving out those who were Black, Native, Asian, and Latina for decades thereafter.

Now, on the centennial anniversary of the landmark amendment, BAZAAR.com is speaking with four women voting rights experts: Deborah Archer, the co-faculty director of the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law and director of the Civil Rights Clinic at NYU School of Law Leigh Chapman, the voting rights program director at The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights Sonja Diaz, the founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative and Porsha White, the vice president for Voting Rights & State Organizing at Let America Vote. Together, we explore just who the suffrage movement left out, and who is still feeling the effects of ongoing voter suppression tactics today.

How did the ratification of the 19th Amendment continue to leave behind Black women, Native American women, and women of color?

Deborah Archer: The 19th Amendment left Black women, Native-American women, and other women of color behind, because it did not meaningfully extend the vote to those women. Although the 15th and 19th Amendments together should have given Black women the franchise, it would take 70 years before that vote had meaning.

The women&rsquos rights movement has left women of color behind far too often. One of the reasons women articulated during their fight for the right to vote was that political participation would help them change the way their families lived, allowing their children to grow and flourish. Some in the suffrage movement called this "protecting the home." Many suffrage leaders also talked about the fight for racial equality and argued that women would use the right to vote to end practices like lynchings and racialized violence.

However, as soon as it became politically necessary&mdashin order to get the support of white Southern women&mdashmany leaders within the suffrage movement appealed to racism to unify white women around the 19th Amendment. This is reflective of larger dynamics we continue to see far too often: white women choosing white supremacy over gender solidarity.

Women of color, and the issues of critical importance to their lives and those of their families, are often brushed aside as irrelevant to the women's rights movement. When issues are deemed to challenge "women's rights," we see a broad coalition stand up to fight for that right or against encroachment on a right. That was true during the suffrage movement, which brought together an incredible coalition of women. This is also true today when we talk about the fight for equal pay. But when society deems an issue to be primarily one of racial justice issues, not all women stand up, even though they are also women's rights issues, because they are not seen as universally applicable to all women. In American politics, when we talk about women's rights, people often mean white women&rsquos rights. Black and other women of color are simply not included.

The suffrage movement talked about fighting for the family. Yet, some of the biggest issues facing families of color are racial segregation in education and policing. Not all women are joining in on that fight. In fact, white women are often leading the fight against efforts to integrate public schools, and, as we saw several times this year alone, are weaponizing the police against people of color.

Another example is employment discrimination. Women of color often face discrimination because of their hairstyles, and advocates around the country are advancing laws to bar discrimination against Black women's natural hairstyles. But this is a fight Black women are largely fighting alone.

Black women prosecutors are increasingly targeted around the country. They are facing racialized and sexist hostility to strip them of power and undermine efforts to achieve criminal justice reform. Generally, women&rsquos rights advocates have not come to their defense. These are all examples of fights that Black women are facing without the active support of the so-called women&rsquos rights movement.

In American politics, when we talk about women&rsquos rights, people often mean white women&rsquos rights. Black and other women of color are simply not included.

Leigh Chapman: Although women were given the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, because of systemic racism, white supremacy, voter suppression, and intimidation, Black women and women of color weren&rsquot able to fully participate in the political process until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Additionally, shortly after the 19th Amendment was passed, many states passed laws prohibiting Mexican, Chinese, and Native American women from voting.

Sonja Diaz: We cannot talk about the 19th Amendment and the fight for voting rights without talking about how the suffragette movement we all learn about in school was also grounded in white supremacy. We also need to talk about the fact that its most recognizable leaders&mdashwomen like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott&mdashwere perfectly satisfied to leave Indigenous and Black women to fend for themselves when it came to the ballot box.

Black women and other women of color did not universally gain the right until 1965, and it cannot be emphasized enough the impact that Black women had on making that happen. While we often focus on the men of the civil rights movement, Black women like Ella Baker and Diane Nash were there organizing and setting the agenda right beside them for civil rights, large and small, including voting.

Further, Black women took action in their everyday lives, like Lillian Bonner Sutson, whose efforts to vote gave Thurgood Marshall the experience to pursue other voting rights cases that helped to strike down voter discrimination. Interestingly, we continue to see similar patterns today, in which women&rsquos rights are seen through a lens that is rarely intersectional and rarely includes working-class women, women of color, and trans women.

Porsha White: Civics classes tout the 19th Amendment as the end of the struggle for every American woman&rsquos right to vote, but celebrating its ratification as completing the movement for equal voting rights is a gross mistelling of history. While white, middle-class women paraded streets on August 18, 1920, as the main beneficiaries of women's suffrage, Black women remained disenfranchised in the Jim Crow South, as well as many Native American, Asian, and Latinx women.

It wasn&rsquot until half a century later that women of color were guaranteed equal access to the ballot. Voter suppression didn&rsquot stop there. In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted critical protections of the Voting Rights Act. While we celebrate ratification of the 19th Amendment as a step towards equality, the battle for all Americans&rsquo right to vote remains incomplete.

How did Black women and women of color contribute to the suffrage movement in the early 20th century, before the 19th Amendment&rsquos ratification?

Chapman: To understand the history of Black women and the suffrage movement, we have to go back to the 19th century. The women&rsquos suffrage movement and the movement to abolish slavery were closely aligned. Sojourner Truth, a former slave, abolitionist, and women&rsquos rights activist, believed that suffrage for women should happen at the same time as suffrage for formerly enslaved men. Black men received the right to vote first with the enactment of the 15th amendment and faced immediate mass disenfranchisement by voter suppression tactics in states, like literacy tests, poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and voter intimidation.

Although Black women played a key role in the suffrage movement, they were not treated equally to white women. During the 1913 suffrage parade, Black women were required to march at the back of the parade behind white women. Black women are often erased from the stories around the suffrage movement. In school, students are often told the stories of Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and are shown pictures of white women activists wearing white dresses and holding up "Votes for Women" signs, but Black women suffragists like Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells are often excluded from the history books.

Diaz: Although the face of the suffrage movement we&rsquore taught is largely white and privileged, working women, Black and Indigenous women, and immigrant women paved the way for voting rights for women. In fact, the suffrage movement was born out of the fight for abolition, and many of the early leaders in the movement were abolitionists like Sojourner Truth, who felt along with physical freedom that they deserved the right to choose those who would govern them. Further, Indigenous women who had power in their sovereign nations offered a model to other women fighting for voting rights showing what was possible.

Yet, the invaluable contributions of women of color in expanding agency for their communities is largely erased from mainstream historical accounts of this period. An important account of the ways that Latinas in the Southwest pushed for equal rights is the story of Jovita Idár, who Jennifer Medina profiled in the New York Times&rsquo overlooked obituaries series. The degradation facing communities of color during this time period emboldened activists like Jovita to take an intersectional approach to their advocacy that was not limited to the ballot box, but extended to quality schools, linguistically appropriate health and human services, and border issues. Women of the Southwest, including Indigenous and Latinx leaders, played an outsized role in ensuring that women west of the Mississippi were able to vote before the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

How have women proven themselves to be a powerful voting bloc since?

Archer: Across the country, and at every level of government, the political participation of women has determined the outcome of elections. Indeed, for the last several decades, women have participated in federal elections in larger numbers than men. Today, women are voting in record numbers, running for office in record numbers, and working to ensure that the issues that are important to them are front and center of the political and legislative agenda at all levels of government.

Women of color are increasingly taking a leading role in shaping the political landscape. We are not only a growing percentage of the electorate and showing up to the polls in massive numbers, but women of color are also playing a critically important role in engaging other voters and mobilizing voter turnout and broader political participation. Black women are also the most reliable constituency in the Democratic Party.

But, again, as women have continued to flex their political muscles, efforts to dilute and suppress their strength and their vote have skyrocketed.

Diaz: Women, particularly Black women, have the highest rates of voting, and their efforts can often be seen as the determining factor in an election. We saw this in Alabama with Doug Jones&rsquos U.S. Senate win. And even though Stacey Abrams didn&rsquot win her race for governor of Georgia, we saw the impact of women on her campaign, even with extreme voter suppression tactics in play.

And for the first time since Reconstruction, this country is experiencing a record number of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian Pacific Islander candidates in a single election year. Taking gender into account, this historical moment in electoral politics is unmatched. In 2020, 583 women are running for the U.S. House of Representatives, a 22.5 percent increase from the record-setting number of women who ran in 2018 as a referendum on Donald Trump&rsquos presidency. The number of women of color running for Congress, the House and Senate, is higher than any other election year in U.S. history. These representational gains that are occurring across both parties this cycle that is reflective of the power of women, their ability to organize and shift conversations.

That said, there remains a partisan gap and persistent underrepresentation of women in the total pool of candidates. The potential of today&rsquos girls of color to tackle society's toughest challenges and reverse this country&rsquos exclusionary gender representation gap is prescient given their eagerness to assume leadership roles and the country&rsquos demographic shift towards a more diverse youthful electorate.

In what ways are women still fighting for the right to vote today, especially in light of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act in 2013?

Archer: More than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act, BIPOC women continue to face significant barriers to exercising the right to vote. One important challenge are voter suppression laws&mdashincluding overly burdensome voter ID laws, discriminatory voter purges, and reductions in voting locations&mdashthat are increasingly used to discourage and undermine women of color&rsquos ability to vote and their broader influence on election outcomes. The laws target and disproportionately impact women, and women of color in particular.

We have a president and other politicians who have shown that they are deeply committed to voter suppression. The Supreme Court&rsquos decision in Shelby County v. Holder, gutting the Voting Rights Act of its most powerful provision, paved the way for them. We have seen a wave of laws that make it especially hard for poor people and people of color to vote. But we tend to forget that women are also being disproportionately impacted by these efforts.

Chapman: This year also marks the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Although we have made progress, we have a long way to go until there is full participation at the ballot box. Since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, states have passed laws and implemented policies making it harder for people to vote.

In 2020, not only do marginalized communities face barriers to the ballot, but they also face a new obstacle: COVID-19. We have already seen the COVID-19 pandemic&rsquos effect on our elections through the chaos in recent primaries with hours-long lines and massive polling place closures in states like Georgia and Wisconsin, where voters had to put their health and safety at risk in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Women are fighting for voting rights in Congress, state legislatures, and on the municipal level. Women are leading national and grassroots advocacy organizations and are on the front lines of organizing and advocacy efforts at the federal, state, and local levels.

Diaz: Today&rsquos intersecting crises of a global health pandemic, worsening inequality, and the proliferation of anti-Blackness underscore the frailty of our democratic institutions to combat contemporary challenges. Today, all three branches of our federal government have actively undermined Americans&rsquo access to the ballot box, and Americans will cast a presidential ballot for the second time in 55 years without the protection of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This hurts women more than men, especially women of color who face the added barrier of overcoming racially motivated barriers to elect their candidates of choice and casting a ballot.

Women are more likely than men to associate with the Democratic Party, and this trend is only growing. This is even more true for women of color, who are the linchpin of the Democratic Party. Yet, these women voters are most susceptible to voter suppression, because so many live in Republican-controlled states that seek to limit their political power by enacting onerous voter identification and registration requirements, and failing to support universal vote by mail, a safe and legitimate method of voting during the coronavirus pandemic. These tactics, undertaken by our courts, legislative bodies, and executive branches, are a direct response to demographic trends that threaten the political status quo in places like Texas, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and the Carolinas.

White: Among women, women of color are most directly impacted by Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that determined key sections of the Voting Rights Act are unconstitutional. These sections had put in place key provisions against jurisdictions with histories of discriminatory voting procedures to ensure that minority voters' access to the ballot was protected under law.

Corrupt politicians and election officials can now employ whatever tactics they want to disenfranchise Americans. Whether it&rsquos closing polling locations, implementing strict voter ID laws, or intimidating voters at polling sites, these policies are designed to discourage voters from voting&mdashespecially voters of color.

Let America Vote is committed to electing leaders at all levels of government to fight back against this assault on our democracy. The House has already passed critical legislation, like the For the People Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, to make it easier and safer to vote while also restoring the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. These are the tangible steps our leaders should be taking to make our democracy more inclusive for women and all voters.

What does the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment mean to you?

Archer: It is an opportunity to remember how hard people have fought to make sure that I and millions of Americans have the right to vote. Gaining the right to vote helped to advance women&rsquos reproductive freedom and economic equality. This anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come in these areas, and to remember how far we still have to go.

Chapman: The centennial is an important milestone, but it reminds me that there is still more work to be done for women of color to have equal representation. One hundred years later, we are currently marking the selection of the first Black and South Asian woman vice presidential candidate. We also have a record number of women represented in Congress. Despite these strides, a Black woman still has yet to be elected governor, Black women are still paid just 62 cents for every dollar paid to white men, and Black women still face disparities regarding health care.

The fight for dignity and gender parity is a battle for every American.

Diaz: It means a historic victory, but also a promise unfilled, especially for women of color. A century after women secured the right to vote, the representation of women in elected office falls far below their share of the population, share of workers with college degrees, and share of COVID-19&rsquos frontline and essential workers. The fight for dignity and gender parity is a battle for every American. As we face unprecedented challenges, the path towards recovery and a democracy that achieves the principles of our Declaration of Independence can only be realized with full political representation of women of color.

White: The anniversary is a stark reminder of how far we have come as a country in recognizing the rights of oppressed people, and how far we still have to go. One hundred years later, Black and indigenous women have the right to vote, but systemic racism is still prevalent in access to the ballot. Just this week, we're seeing President Trump and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy sabotage the post office, and, unsurprisingly, the areas that will be the hardest hit have large minority populations. Voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and voter purges have suppressed countless Black women's voices at the ballot box. As we celebrate this momentous occasion, I am reinvigorated in my effort to make sure all women's voices are heard in every election.


Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle: The Women's Rights Movement in the United States (Cambridge, Mass., 1959) Aileen S. Kraditor, The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890–1920 (New York, 1965) Gerda Lerner, The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels against Slavery (Boston, 1967) Alan P. Grimes, The Puritan Ethic and Woman Suffrage (New York, 1967) Barbara J. Berg, The Remembered Gate: The Origins of American Feminism—The Woman and the City, 1800–1860 (New York, 1978) Ellen Carol DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women's Movement in America, 1848–1869 (Ithaca, 1978).

Rosalyn Terborg-Penn's dissertation had wide impact for years before the book appeared. Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, “Afro-Americans in the Struggle for Woman Suffrage” (Ph.D. diss., Howard University, 1977) Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920 (Bloomington, 1998).

Susan D. Becker, The Origins of the Equal Rights Amendment: American Feminism between the Wars (Westport, 1981) Nancy F. Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism (New Haven, 1987) Dorothy Sue Cobble, The Other Women's Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America (Princeton, 2004) Cynthia Harrison, On Account of Sex: The Politics of Women's Issues, 1945–1968 (Berkeley, 1988) Leila J. Rupp and Verta Taylor, Survival in the Doldrums: The American Women's Rights Movement, 1945 to the 1960s (New York, 1987).

Leila J. Rupp, Worlds of Women: The Making of an International Women's Movement (Princeton, 1997), 48 Bonnie S. Anderson, Joyous Greetings: The First International Women's Movement, 1830–1860 (New York, 2000) Allison L. Sneider, Suffragists in an Imperial Age: U.S. Expansion and the Woman Question, 1870–1929 (New York, 2008) Katherine M. Marino, Feminism for the Americas: The Making of an International Human Rights Movement (Chapel Hill, 2019).

DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage.

Nancy F. Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: “Woman's Sphere” in New England, 1780–1835 (New Haven, 1977) Mari Jo Buhle, Women American Socialism, 1870–1920 (Urbana, 1981) Linda Gordon, Woman's Body, Woman's Right: Birth Control in America (New York, 1976). Ellen DuBois, “The Radicalism of the Woman Suffrage Movement: Notes toward the Reconstruction of Nineteenth-Century Feminism,” Feminist Studies, 3 (Autumn 1975), 63–71.

Ellen Carol DuBois, “Outgrowing the Compact of the Fathers: Equal Rights, Woman Suffrage, and the United States Constitution, 1820–1878,” Journal of American History, 74 (Dec. 1987), 836–62 Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (New York, 1984) Terborg-Penn, “Afro-Americans in the Struggle for Woman Suffrage” Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Right to Vote.

Buhle, Women and American Socialism Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789–1860 (New York, 1986) Diane Balser, Sisterhood and Solidarity: Feminism and Labor in Modern Times (Boston, 1987) Carole Turbin, Gender, Class, and Community in Troy, New York, 1864–1886 (Urbana, 1992) Susan Levine, Labor's True Women: Carpet Weavers, Industrialization, and Labor Reform in the Gilded Age (Philadelphia, 1984).

Flexner, Century of Struggle DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage Terborg-Penn, “Afro-Americans in the Struggle for Woman Suffrage” Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton et al., eds., History of Woman Suffrage (6 vols., Rochester, 1881–1922). Lisa Tetrault, The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women's Suffrage Movement, 1848–1898 (Chapel Hill, 2014).

Giddings, When and Where I Enter, unpaginated front matter.

Deborah Gray White, Ar'n't I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South (New York, 1985) Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920 (Cambridge, Mass., 1993).

Martha S. Jones, All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830–1900 (Chapel Hill, 2007).

DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage Ellen Carol DuBois, Woman Suffrage and Women's Rights (New York, 1998) Stanton et al., eds., History of Woman Suffrage.

Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol (New York, 1996). Nell Irvin Painter, “Representing Truth: Sojourner Truth's Knowing and Becoming Know,” Journal of American History, 81 (Sept. 1994), 461–92.

Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote.

Lori D. Ginzberg, Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, and Class in the Nineteenth-Century United States (New Haven, 1990) Elizabeth R. Varon, We Mean to Be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia (Chapel Hill, 1998) Melanie Gustafson, Kristie Miller, and Elisabeth Israels Perry, eds., We Have Come to Stay: American Women and Political Parties, 1880–1960 (Albuquerque, 1999) Tera W. Hunter, To Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Cambridge, Mass., 1997) Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896–1920 (Chapel Hill, 1996).

Elsa Barkley Brown, “Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African American Political Life in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom,” Public Culture, 7 (Fall 1994), 107–46 Barkley Brown, “To Catch the Vision of Freedom: Reconstructing Southern Black Women's Political History, 1865–1880,” in African-American Women and the Vote, 1837–1965, ed. Ann D. Gordon (Amherst, Mass., 1997), 66–99. Eric Foner, “Rights and the Constitution in Black Life during the Civil War and Reconstruction,” Journal of American History, 74 (Dec. 1987), 863–83. Heather Cox Richardson, The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post–Civil War North, 1865–1901 (Cambridge, Mass., 2001) Victoria Hattam, “Economic Visions and Political Strategies: American Labor and the State, 1865–1896,” in Studies in American Political Development, 4 (Spring 1990), 82–129 Victoria C. Hattam, Labor Visions and State Power: The Origins of Business Unionism in the United States (Princeton, 1993).

Paula Baker, “The Domestication of Politics: Women and American Political Society, 1780–1920,” American Historical Review, 89 (June 1984), 620–47 Jean H. Baker, Affairs of Party: The Political Culture of Northern Democrats in the Mid-nineteenth Century (Ithaca, 1983) Sarah Hunter Graham, Woman Suffrage and the New Democracy (New Haven, 1996) Robyn Muncy, Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890–1935 (New York, 1991). Joan W. Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” American Historical Review, 91 (Dec. 1986), 1053–75 Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, “African-American Women's History and the Metalanguage of Race,” Signs, 17 (Winter 1992), 251–74. Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,” in Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun (Cambridge, Mass., 1992), 109–43 Joseph R. Gusfield, The Culture of Public Problems: Drinking-Driving and the Symbolic Order (Chicago, 1981) James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, 1990) John Gaventa, Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley (Urbana, 1980). Warren I. Sussman, Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1984) Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster (London, 1971) Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Culture: Selected Essays (London, 1993) Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, eds. and trans., Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (New York, 1972).

Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (Chapel Hill, 2003) Katherine Mellen Charron, Freedom's Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark (Chapel Hill, 2009) Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent Lisa G. Materson, For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877–1932 (Chapel Hill, 2009).

Jane Rhodes, Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century (Bloomington, 1998) Melba Joyce Boyd, Discarded Legacy: Politics and Poetics in the Life of Frances E. W. Harper, 1825–1911 (Detroit, 1994). H. M. Parkhurst, Proceedings of the Eleventh National Woman's Rights Convention, Held at the Church of the Puritans, New York, May 10, 1866 (New York, 1866), 46.

Jean Fagan Yellin, Harriet Jacobs: A Life (Cambridge, Mass., 2004) Catherine Clinton, Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom (New York, 2004) Kate Clifford Larson, Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero (New York, 2004) Marilyn Richardson, ed., Maria Stewart, America's First Black Woman Political Writer: Essays and Speeches (Bloomington, 1987).

Mia Bay, To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells (New York, 2009) Paula J. Giddings, Ida: A Sword among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign against Lynching (New York, 2008).

Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement Barbara Ransby, Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson (New Haven, 2013) Ula Yvette Taylor, The Veiled Garvey: The Life and Times of Amy Jacques Garvey (Chapel Hill, 2002) Ula Yvette Taylor, The Promise of Patriarchy: Women and the Nation of Islam (Chapel Hill, 2017) Sherie M. Randolph, Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical (Chapel Hill, 2015).

Barbara Winslow, Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change (New York, 2013) Chana Kai Lee, For Freedom's Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer (Urbana, 1999) Michelle Obama, Becoming (New York, 2018).

Sylvia Hoffert, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont: Unlikely Champion of Women's Rights (Bloomington, 2011) Trisha Franzen, Anna Howard Shaw: The Work of Woman Suffrage (Urbana, 2014) Bay, To Tell the Truth Freely Patricia A. Schechter, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and American Reform, 1880–1930 (Chapel Hill, 2001) Crystal N. Feimster, Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching (Cambridge, Mass., 2011) Wanda A. Hendricks, Fannie Barrier Williams: Crossing the Borders of Region and Race (Urbana, 2013) Joyce A. Hanson, Mary McLeod Bethune: Black Women's Political Activism (Columbia, Mo., 2013) Norma Smith, Jeannette Rankin: America's Conscience (Helena, 2002) Linda J. Lumsden, Inez: The Life and Times of Inez Milholland (Bloomington, 2004).

Bonnie S. Anderson, The Rabbi's Atheist Daughter: Ernestine Rose, International Feminist Pioneer (New York, 2017) Grace Farrell, Lillie Devereux Blake: Retracing Life Erased (Amherst, Mass., 2002) Jill Norgren, Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would Be President (New York, 2007) Jennifer M. Ross-Nazzal, Winning the West for Women: The Life of Suffragist Emma Smith DeVoe (Seattle, 2011) Mary Walton, A Woman's Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot (New York, 2010) Christine Lunardini, Alice Paul: Equality for Women (Philadelphia, 2013) J. D. Zahniser and Amelia R. Fry, Alice Paul: Claiming Power (New York, 2014) Sally G. McMillan, Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life (New York, 2015) Kathleen Nutter, The Necessity of Organization: Mary Kenney O'Sullivan and Trade Unionism for Women, 1892–1912 (New York, 2000).

Lori D. Ginzberg, Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life (New York, 2009) Vivian Gornick, The Solitude of Self: Thinking about Elizabeth Cady Stanton (New York, 2005) Ann D. Gordon, ed., Selected Letters of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (6 vols., New Brunswick, 1997–2013) Thomas Dublin and Kathryn Kish Sklar, Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600–2000, http://womhist.alexanderstreet.com/.

Lori D. Ginzberg, Untidy Origins: A Story of Woman's Rights in Antebellum New York (Chapel Hill, 2005) Nancy F. Cott, “Across the Great Divide: Women in Politics before and after 1920,” in Women, Politics, and Change, ed. Louise A. Tilly and Patricia Gurin (New York, 1990), 153–76 Anderson, Joyous Greetings Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow Ellen Carol DuBois, Harriot Stanton Blatch and the Winning of Woman Suffrage (New Haven, 1997) Tetrault, Myth of Seneca Falls Sneider, Suffragists in an Imperial Age Kimberly A. Hamlin, From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women's Rights in Gilded Age America (Chicago, 2014).

Jones, All Bound Up Together Estelle B. Freedman, Redefining Rape: Sexual Violence in the Era of Suffrage and Segregation (Cambridge, Mass., 2013) Feimster, Southern Horrors Brittney C. Cooper, Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women (Urbana, 2017) Materson, For the Freedom of Her Race.

Vicki L. Ruiz, “Class Acts: Latina Feminist Traditions, 1900–1930,” American Historical Review, 121 (Feb. 2016), 1–16 Maylei Blackwell, ¡Chicana Power! Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement (Austin, 2011) Gabriela González, Redeeming La Raza: Transborder Modernity, Race, Respectability, and Rights (New York, 2018) Emma Pérez, The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History (Bloomington, 1999) Rupp, Worlds of Women Ellen DuBois, “Woman Suffrage and the Left: An International Socialist-Feminist Perspective,” New Left Review (no. 186, March–April, 1991), 20–45 Julia L. Mickenberg, American Girls in Red Russia: Chasing the Soviet Dream (Chicago, 2017) Julia L. Mickenberg, “Suffragettes and Soviets: American Feminists and the Specter of Revolutionary Russia,” Journal of American History, 100 (March 2014), 1021–51 Anderson, Rabbi's Atheist Daughter Annelise Orleck, Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900–1965 (Chapel Hill, 1995) Melissa R. Klapper, Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women's Activism, 1890–1940 (New York, 2013).

Katherine M. Marino, “Transnational Pan-American Feminism: The Friendship of Bertha Lutz and Mary Wilhelmine Williams, 1926–1944,” Journal of Women's History, 26 (Summer 2014), 63–87 Marino, Feminism for the Americas.

J. Kevin Corder and Christina Wolbrecht, Counting Women's Ballots: Female Voters from Suffrage through the New Deal (New York, 2016).

Hoffert, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont Johanna Neuman, Gilded Suffragists: The New York Socialites Who Fought for Women's Right to Vote (New York, 2017) Joan Marie Johnson, Funding Feminism: Monied Women, Philanthropy, and the Women's Movement, 1870–1967 (Chapel Hill, 2017) Brooke Kroeger, The Suffragents: How Women Used Men to Get the Vote (Albany, N.Y., 2017) Susan Goodier, No Votes for Women: The New York State Anti-suffrage Movement (Urbana, 2017) Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello, Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State (Ithaca, 2017).

Sucheng Chan, ed., Entry Denied: Exclusion and the Chinese Community in America, 1882–1943 (Philadelphia, 1991) Martha Gardner, The Qualities of Citizens: Women, Immigration, and Citizenship, 1870–1965 (Princeton, 2005) Judy Yung, Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco (Berkeley, 1995).

Sneider, Suffragists in an Imperial Age Susan B. Anthony quoted in Kristin Hoganson, “‘As Badly off as the Filipinos’: U.S. Women's Suffragists and the Imperial Issue at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” Journal of Women's History, 13 (Summer 2001), 17.

Cathleen D. Cahill, Raising Our Banners: Women of Color Challenge the Mainstream Suffrage Movement (Chapel Hill, forthcoming, 2020) Dublin and Sklar, Women and Social Movements in the United States.

Judy Tzu-Chun Wu and Gwendolyn Mink, The First Woman of Color in Congress: Patsy Takemoto Mink's Politics of Peace, Justice, and Feminism (New York, forthcoming).

Jeanette Wolfley, “Jim Crow, Indian Style: The Disenfranchisement of Native Americans,” American Indian Law Review, 16 (no. 1, 1991), 167–202 Jennifer L. Robinson, “The Right to Vote: A History of Voting Rights and American Indians,” in Minority Voting in the United States, ed. Kyle Kreider and Thomas Baldino (Santa Barbara, 2015) Daniel McCool, Susan M. Olson, and Jennifer L. Robinson, Native Vote: American Indians, the Voting Rights Act, and the Right to Vote (Cambridge, Eng., 2007).

Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, New Women of the New South: The Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in the Southern States (New York, 1993), 128 Liette Gidlow, “The Sequel: The Fifteenth Amendment, the Nineteenth Amendment, and Southern Black Women's Struggle to Vote,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 17 (July 2018), 433–49. Kimberly Hamlin, Free Thinker: Sex, Suffrage, and the Extraordinary Life of Helen Hamilton Gardener (New York, forthcoming, 2020) Elaine Weiss, The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote (New York, 2018). “Disfranchisement in Congress,” Crisis, 4 (Feb. 1921), 165.

T. G. Garrett to “The N.A.A.C.P.,” Oct. 30, 1920, Records of the Naacp (Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). Paul Ortiz, Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920 (Berkeley, 2005).

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, “Clubwomen and Electoral Politics in the 1920s,” in African American Women and the Vote, 1837–1965, ed. Ann D. Gordon and Bettye Collier-Thomas (Amherst, Mass., 1997), 150 Mrs. Lawrence Lewis to the Editor, Nation, March 26, 1921.

Charron, Freedom's Teacher Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement Steven F. Lawson, Black Ballots: Voting Rights in the South, 1944–1969 (New York, 1976).

On the connections between U.S. empire, race, and suffrage, see, for instance, Sneider, Suffragists in an Imperial Age Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, “Enfranchasing Women of Color: Woman Suffragists as Agents of Imperialism,” in Nation, Empire, Colony: Historicizing Gender and Race, ed. Ruth Roach Pierson and Nupur Chaudhuri (Bloomington, 1998), 41–56 Louise Edwards and Mina Roces, eds., Women's Suffrage in Asia: Gender, Nationalism, and Democracy (London, 2004) Patricia Grimshaw, “Settler Anxieties, Indigenous Peoples, and Women's Suffrage in the Colonies of Australia, New Zealand, and Hawai'i, 1888 to 1902,” in Women's Suffrage in Asia, ed. Edwards and Roces, 220–39 Rumi Yamusake, “Re-franchising Women of Hawai'i, 1912–1920: The Politics of Gender, Sovereignty, Race, and Rank at the Crossroads of the Pacific,” in Gendering the Trans-Pacific World, ed. Catherine Ceniza Choy and Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (Leiden, 2017), 114–39 Kristin L. Hoganson, Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars (New Haven, 1998) Gladys Jiménez-Muñoz, “Deconstructing Colonialist Discourse: Links between the Women's Suffrage Movement in the United States and Puerto Rico,” Phoebe, 5 (Spring 1993), 9–34 and Laura Prieto, “A Delicate Subject: Clemencia López, Civilized Womanhood, and the Politics of Anti-imperialism,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 12 (April 2013), 199–233.

On the Alpha Suffrage Club work and voter registration, see Alfreda M. Duster, ed., Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells (Chicago, 1970), 346 Giddings, Ida, 523–46 Susan Ware, Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote (Cambridge, Mass., 2019), 99–110 Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 139–40 and Materson, For the Freedom of Her Race.

Vann R. Newkirk II, “Voter Suppression Is Warping American Democracy,” Atlantic, July 17, 2018.

Judith Shklar, American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion (Cambridge, Mass., 1991).

Michel-Roph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston, 1995).

Adam Winkler, “A Revolution Too Soon: Woman Suffragists and the ‘Living Constitution,’” New York University Law Review, 76 (Nov. 2001), 1456–1526.

Ann D. Gordon, ed., African American Women and the Vote, 1837–1965 (Amherst, Mass., 1997).

Carol Anderson, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy (New York, 2018) Cooper, Beyond Respectability Treva Lindsey, Colored No More: Reinventing Black Womanhood in Washington, D.C. (Urbana, 2017).

Keisha N. Blain, Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (Philadelphia, 2018) Keisha N. Blain and Tiffany M. Gill, eds., To Turn the Whole World Over: Black Women and Internationalism (Urbana, 2019) Grace V. Leslie, “‘United, We Build a Free World’: The Internationalism of Mary McLeod Bethune and the National Council of Negro Women,” ibid., 192–218 Marino, Feminism for the Americas.

Baker, “Domestication of Politics” Dawn Langan Teele, Forging the Franchise: The Political Origins of the Women's Vote (Princeton, 2018) Blain, Set the World on Fire.

Feimster, Southern Horrors.

Catherine E. Rymph, Republican Women: Feminism and Conservatism from Suffrage through the Rise of the New Right (Chapel Hill, 2006) Michelle M. Nickerson, Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right (Princeton, 2012) Elizabeth Gillespie McRae, Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy (New York, 2018) Marjorie J. Spruill, Divided We Stand: The Battle over Women's Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics (New York, 2017).

Benjamin Ginsberg and Martin Shefter, Politics by Other Means: The Declining Importance of Elections in America (New York, 1990).

Liette Gidlow, “More than Double: African American Women and the Rise of a ‘Women's Vote,’ Journal of Women's History, 32 (Spring 2020).

Haunani-Kay Trask, From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii (Honolulu, 1999) Jodi A. Byrd, The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism (Minneapolis, 2011) Dean Itsuji Saranillio, Unsustainable Empire: Alternative Histories of Hawai'i Statehood (Durham, N.C., 2018).

Pam Paxton and Melanie M. Hughes, Women, Politics, and Power: A Global Perspective (2007 Los Angeles, 2017).

Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Stanford, 1988) Christine Keating, Decolonizing Democracy: Transforming the Social Contract in India (University Park, 2011). See also Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract (Ithaca, 1999). Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Ann Russo, and Lourdes Torres, eds., Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism (Bloomington, 1991) Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (Durham, N.C., 2003).

Shirley Chisholm, “Providing for a National Women's Conference,” Congressional Record—House, Dec. 10, 1975, H12201-2, folder 7, box 562, Patsy T. Mink Papers (Manuscript Division). These remarks are also available at Congressional Record, 94 Cong., 1 sess., Dec. 10, 1975, p. 39719.

On the International Woman's Suffrage Alliance and “equal citizenship,” see Rupp, Worlds of Women.

Martha S. Jones, “Overthrowing the ‘Monopoly of the Pulpit’: Race and the Rights of Church Women in the Nineteenth-Century United States,” in No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism (New Brunswick, 2010), 121–43 Ginzberg, Untidy Origins Dawn Winters, “The Ladies Are Coming!”: A New History of Antebellum Temperance, Women's Rights, and Political Activism” (Ph.D. diss., Carnegie Mellon University, 2018) Anderson, One Person, No Vote.

Numerous works have illuminated different national iterations of popular-front feminism in Latin America, including Yolanda Marco Serra, “Ser ciudadana en Panamá en la década de 1930” (Being a citizen in Panama in the 1930s), in Un siglo de luchas femeninas en América Latina (A century of female struggles in Latin America), ed. Asunción Lavrin and Eugenia Rodríguez Sáenz (San José, 2002), 71–86 Esperanza Tuñón Pablos, Mujeres que se organizan: El frente único pro derechos de la mujer, 1935–1938 (Women who organize: The single front for women's rights, 1935–1938) (Mexico City, 1992) Enriqueta Tuñón, ¡Por fin … ya podemos elegir y ser electas! El sufragio femenino en México, 1935–1953 (At last … we can now choose and be elected! Female suffrage in Mexico, 1935–1953) (Mexico City, 2002) Jocelyn Olcott, Revolutionary Women in Postrevolutionary Mexico (Durham, N.C., 2005) Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt, Gendered Compromises: Political Cultures and the State in Chile, 1920–1950 (Chapel Hill, 2000) Corinne A. Antezana-Pernet, “Mobilizing Women in the Popular Front Era: Feminism, Class, and Politics in the Movimiento Pro-Emancipación de la Mujer Chilena (MEMCh), 1935–1950” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Irvine, 1996) Sandra McGee Deutsch, “Argentine Women against Fascism: The Junta de la Victoria, 1941–1947,” Politics, Religion, and Ideology 13 (no. 2, 2012), 221–36 Sandra McGee Deutsch, “The New School Lecture—‘An Army of Women’: Communist-Linked Solidarity Movements, Maternalism, and Political Consciousness in 1930s and 1940s Argentina,” Americas, 75 (Jan. 2018), 95–125 and Adriana María Valobra, “Formación de cuadros y frentes populares: Relaciones de clase y género en el Partido Comunista de Argentina, 1935–1951” (Formation of cadres and popular fronts: Class and gender in the Communist party of Argentina, 1935–1951), Revista Izquierdas (no. 23, April 2015), 127–56. On suffrage activism in Latin America, see Asunción Lavrin, Women, Feminism, and Social Change in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, 1890–1940 (Lincoln, 1995) Francesca Miller, Latin American Women and the Search for Social Justice (Hanover, 1991) Christine Ehrick, The Shield of the Weak: Feminism and the State in Uruguay, 1903–1933 (Albuquerque, 2005) K. Lynn Stoner, From the House to the Streets: The Cuban Woman's Movement for Legal Reform, 1898–1940 (Durham, N.C., 1991) Rina Villars, Para la casa más que para el mundo: Sufragismo y feminismo en la historia de Honduras (For the house more than the world: Suffragism and feminism in the history of Honduras) (Tegucigalpa, 2001) June E. Hahner, Emancipating the Female Sex: The Struggle for Women's Rights in Brazil, 1850–1940 (Durham, N.C., 1990) Susan K. Besse, Restructuring Patriarchy: The Modernization of Gender Inequality in Brazil, 1914–1940 (Chapel Hill, 1996) Victoria González-Rivera, Before the Revolution: Women's Rights and Right-Wing Politics in Nicaragua, 1821–1979 (University Park, 2011) Elizabeth S. Manley, The Paradox of Paternalism: Women and the Politics of Authoritarianism in the Dominican Republic (Gainesville, 2017) Charity Coker Gonzalez, “Agitating for Their Rights: The Colombian Women's Movement, 1930–1957,” Pacific Historical Review, 69 (Nov. 2000), 689–706 Patricia Faith Harms, “Imagining a Place for Themselves: The Social and Political Roles of Guatemalan Women, 1871–1954” (Ph.D. diss., Arizona State University, 2007) Takkara Keosha Brunson, “Constructing Afro-Cuban Womanhood: Race, Gender, and Citizenship in Republican-Era Cuba, 1902–1958” (Ph.D. diss., University of Texas at Austin, 2011) and Grace Louise Sanders, “La Voix des Femmes: Haitian Women's Rights, National Politics, and Black Activism in Port-au-Prince and Montreal, 1934–1986” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 2013).

María Espinosa, Influencia del feminismo en la legislación contemporanea (Influence of feminism in contemporary legislation) (Madrid, 1920).

Woman Suffrage in the Southern States

Figure 1: Members of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia posing near the Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond. Courtesy of Virginia Museum of History & Culture, http://www.VirginiaHistory.com By Sarah H. Case

Although the woman suffrage movement emerged later and had fewer victories in the South than in the West and Northeast, southern women could claim responsibility for the decisive vote leading to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, declaring that voting rights could not be restricted “on account of sex.” In the summer of 1920, the amendment had passed Congress and been ratified by thirty-five of the necessary thirty-six states, and all eyes turned to Tennessee . In August, the state senate easily ratified the amendment, but the vote in the house resulted in a tense tie. Surprising his colleagues, a young representative from a district with strong anti-suffrage support named Harry T. Burn suddenly changed his vote in favor of ratification. With Burn’s vote, the woman suffrage amendment became part of the Constitution. When asked why he had changed his mind, Burn pointed to a letter from his mother in which she exhorted him to “v ote for Suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt . . . be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt [ Carrie Chapman Catt , leader of the National American Suffrage Association] with her ‘Rats.’!” [1]

This charming story of a loyal son, however, obscures the hard work of suffrage supporters that led to Burn’s decisive vote as well as the continuing fierce opposition to the expansion of the franchise. The ratification campaign in the summer of 1920 summer was grueling, intense, and bitter and reflected ongoing tensions surrounding equal citizenship, gender, and race. [2] As elsewhere in the nation, but perhaps even more profoundly in the South, the question of woman suffrage was intimately entwined with racial politics shaped by the Civil War, Reconstruction, and its aftermath. The expansion of Black civil rights after the Civil War, guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution, and attempts to curtail those rights set the context for debates over voting rights in the southern states for decades. These tensions helped shape the complex, difficult, and divisive fight for woman suffrage in the southern states.

Southern women, like their northern and western sisters, joined women’s clubs and voluntary associations during the “age of association” of the 1830s. Two, Sarah and Angelina Grimké , daughters of a South Carolina slaveholder, were among the first American women to speak publicly on behalf of both abolition and women’s rights they did so, however, after leaving the South and moving to Philadelphia. In the 1840s and 1850s, elite white women in Virginia and elsewhere participated in political campaigns, often aligning themselves with the Whig Party, which tended to support benevolent reform measures that attracted women’s support more robustly than did the Democratic Party of the era and even celebrated women’s civic contributions. [3] But although individual women favored voting rights, very little organized support of opening the franchise to women existed in the southern states in the antebellum period.

During Reconstruction, some southern women did seek to create suffrage organizations, founding branches of the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) or the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). The end of the Civil War and passage of three constitutional amendments, the Thirteenth (ending slavery), Fourteenth (promising equal birthright citizenship), and Fifteenth (prohibiting racially based disenfranchisement), engendered a national conversation about civil rights, equality, and voting rights, one that many women sought to extend to include consideration of woman suffrage. Some southern Reconstruction-era woman suffrage organizations included Black and white women. [4] But Reconstruction’s end and the ascendency of overtly racist state governments bent on undoing its reforms discouraged these coalitions. By the turn of the century, southern states had created elaborate segregation and disenfranchisement measures, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses, and the Supreme Court had upheld them as constitutional. In the post-Reconstruction era in which state governments institutionalized white supremacy, to link woman suffrage with Black civil and voting rights discredited both movements. The nascent southern woman suffrage movement lost influence and visibility, even as individual women remained committed to the cause.

Organizational activity increased after the AWSA and NWSA merged in 1890 as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). NAWSA set a policy of founding local clubs across the nation, including in the South, and dedicated itself to recruiting southern women into its ranks. This strategy worked to an extent women created NAWSA clubs across the region, but they tended to be overly dependent on the leadership of an individual, often a woman who had lived part of her life in the Northeast, and declined or collapsed after she left the organization. The lack of cultivation of grassroots support in the 1890s led to a decline in the southern suffrage movement in the following decade. [5]

After 1910, energized partially by the expansion of the national movement under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt and the successes of referenda in western states, the southern movement gained new strength. There were reasons specific to the region for the increase of support as well. Southern suffragists tended to be members of the new urban middle class. Their fathers and husbands, and sometimes they themselves, took part in the industrializing economy, in positions that linked them to a national market or to urban centers, such as in small business, education, the law, and local banking. This distinguished them from the traditional southern elite tied to the plantation economy and industries that served them—textile manufacturing, railroads, and mining. Southern suffrage supporters often had an advanced education, sometimes a college education, and a few had attended northeastern women’s colleges. Many worked for part of their lives in the new urban economy, often as teachers or in family businesses. As elsewhere, many of these women became involved in Progressive-Era reform, as settlement workers, clubwomen, and missionaries, responding to the new problems created by urbanization and industrialization and exercising skills they gained through education and employment. For example, Atlanta, the archetypical New South city, grew from 9,554 people in 1860 to over 65,000 in 1890 to over 150,000 in 1910 and became a center for Black and white women’s employment and social activism. It was not until after 1910 that the region produced a critical mass of “new women of the New South” as the economy industrialized and urbanized. Many of these women became interested in expanding education, abolishing child labor and the convict lease system, improving city services, and, through their support for reform, attracted to the suffrage cause. [6]

Figure 2: Kate Gordon of New Orleans, supporter of “state’s rights suffrage” and opponent of a federal amendment. Gordon viewed suffrage for white women as a way to strengthen white supremacy. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. During the pivotal decade of the 1910s, southern women lent their support to woman suffrage organizations that varied widely in their political objectives and strategies. Most joined local groups associated with NAWSA such as the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia (Figure 1) a few affiliated themselves with Alice Paul’s National Woman’s Party (NWP), an organization single-mindedly focused on a national amendment. Smaller in number but influential was the uniquely southern states’ rights suffrage movement. Headed by Kate Gordon of Louisiana (Figure 2), the southern states’ rights suffragists opposed a federal amendment while pressuring state legislatures to enfranchise women—or, to be more accurate, white women. Gordon, who created the Era (or Equal Rights for All) Club in New Orleans in 1896, explicitly viewed state-level woman suffrage measures as a way to maintain white supremacy and a majority white electorate. Her visibility as head of the Era Club gained her the support of NAWSA and in 1903 the position of corresponding secretary of the organization. NAWSA leadership hoped that Gordon could help expand the movement in the southern states. But over time, her unyielding support of the states’ rights approach alienated her from the national movement. [7]

In 1913, responding to the growing support for a national amendment, Gordon formed the Southern States Woman Suffrage Conference (SSWSC). The motto of its journal, “Make the Southern States White,” underlined its view of the goal of enfranchising white women. Although at first envisioned and funded as a branch of NAWSA, Gordon’s organization was increasingly at odds with the national group, and even an outright adversary. Most southern suffragists disagreed with Gordon’s rejection of a national amendment and the national organization and found her attempt to defeat both counterproductive. In Louisiana, the division between SSWSC supporters and NAWSA members was acrimonious and destructive. Gordon refused to work with a NAWSA-affiliated group in 1918 to support a proposed state suffrage amendment that she favored though passed by the legislature, it failed ratification by the electorate. This defeat stemmed from a variety of sources, including opposition from a powerful New Orleans political machine steadfastly opposed to reform movements of all kinds. But Gordon’s hostility toward other suffrage supporters weakened the movement in Louisiana. She continued to oppose a national amendment, actively campaigning against the Nineteenth Amendment, because it would enfranchise Black women. Many white southerners, like Gordon, feared that a national woman suffrage amendment would bring increased federal scrutiny of elections and enforcement of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Racial ideology was central to political struggles in the New South. [8]

Gordon’s outspoken support of woman suffrage as a way to ensure white supremacy was not typical of those who joined groups affiliated with NAWSA or the NWP. More typical were arguments that Black women would be disenfranchised by the same measures that disenfranchised Black men. As a pamphlet from the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia asserted, “As these [state-level voting] laws restrict the negro man’s vote, it stands to reason that they will also restrict the negro woman’s vote.” NAWSA and NWP affiliates sought to politely avoid the race question, denouncing neither Black disenfranchisement nor the overtly racist language of Gordon and her allies. White woman suffragists’ lack of support for Black women’s (and men’s) voting rights points to their regrettable acceptance of Jim Crow in the southern states and in much of the nation. [9]

Figure 3: Mary Church Terrell, born in Memphis and active in Washington, DC, viewed woman suffrage as an essential component of achieving civil rights for African Americans. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Some Black women advocated for suffrage while remaining in the South. [11] Mary Church Terrell , born in Memphis, Tennessee, graduated from Oberlin College and spent most of her career in Washington, DC (Figure 3). A writer and educator, she headed an active suffrage movement in that city and associated herself with the Republican Party. [12] In urban areas, such as Atlanta , Black female Progressives viewed suffrage for all as essential for securing civil rights. [13] Black women in Nashville supported suffrage from a variety of secular and church organizations. After Tennessee women won the right to vote in municipal elections in 1919, Black and white clubwomen of that city created a coalition designed to increase the political influence of both. Making a class- and gender-based alliance, Nashville women worked to enact educational and social service reform, as well as Black representation in municipal services. This alliance was remarkable and unusual typically white suffrage supporters avoided association with Black women and attempted to downplay the accusations of anti-suffrage activists that woman suffrage would increase Black women’s political influence.

Indeed, anti-suffragists played on racial anxieties in their attempt to resist woman suffrage in the South. Georgia, the first state to vote against ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, had a particularly visible “anti” movement. [14] In 1914, they formed the Georgia Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (GAOWS), the first southern branch of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, founded in New York City in response to the growing power of the movement in the Northeast. [15] As was true for anti-suffragists elsewhere, female opponents to suffrage in the South feared that the vote would “desex” women, destroy the home, and lessen, rather than strengthen, women’s power and influence. [16] As leading Georgia anti Mildred Lewis Rutherford declared in 1912, “if there is a power that is placed in any hands, it is the power that is placed in the hands of the southern woman in her home. . . . That power is great enough to direct legislative bodies—and that, too, without demanding the ballot.” [17] Additionally, southern antis feared that a federal woman suffrage amendment would violate the racial order, since it would bring increased, and unwelcome, scrutiny to southern elections. Anti-suffrage propaganda often pointed to the “horrors” of Reconstruction, especially Black voting power, as a cautionary tale against extending the franchise. [18] Antis also worried that that the intimidation techniques used against Black men would not work against women. As a Virginia newspaper declared, “We have managed the men, but could we manage the women? It is a different proposition. We believe that most of the women would qualify and we further believe that they would persuade many of the men to qualify and pay their poll taxes for them if need be.” [19] Southern antis pointed to Black women’s educational and employment gains by the 1890s, asserting that Black women outpaced Black men in literacy and in determination to pay their poll tax even if it they would “go hungry.” [20] Antis believed that whites needed total control over voting (not just a majority of votes) by state-level restrictions to maintain political dominance.

Antis proved influential and formidable. In 1920 only Texas and Arkansas had full voting rights for (white) women. Tennessee allowed voting in presidential elections and citywide elections. A few states, including Kentucky , Mississippi, and Louisiana, allowed women to vote in some school elections, and women voted in some cities in Florida on municipal matters. Of the southern states that ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, all—Kentucky, Texas, Arkansas, and Tennessee—had some degree of state-level female enfranchisement. After the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, many southern women—especially Black women, but also some white women—found themselves disenfranchised by poll taxes and other measures. [21] Despite the success of the federal amendment, antidemocratic forces in state and local politics continued to limit the ability of southern women to exercise the right to vote.

At the turn of the twentieth century, as southern legislators sought to limit the franchise for African American men, many white southerners were loathe to support any expansion of voting rights. Whereas antis tended to openly advocate support for racial inequality, white suffrage supporters approached the issue in different ways, with some viewing white women’s enfranchisement as a way to ensure white supremacy, others downplaying the issue, and a small number forming coalitions with Black women. Southern African American women viewed woman suffrage as part the struggle for civil rights and racial equality. In the early twentieth-century South, the debate over woman suffrage was inextricably linked with contemporary views on race, Black disenfranchisement, and white supremacy.

Women's suffrage myths and the lesser known women suffragists

Our editors independently selected these items because we think you will enjoy them and might like them at these prices. If you purchase something through our links, we may earn a commission. Pricing and availability are accurate as of publish time. Learn more about Shop TODAY.

This year marks 100 years since the passage of the 19th amendment, which sought to guarantee all American women the right to vote. Many Americans believe they know the full story of American suffrage for women, especially during primetime retellings during March: Women’s History Month. Some historians, however, argue there’s an untold history of women’s suffrage and the women suffragists who fought for the right to vote — and that it is actually much more complicated and much more interesting. If you’re like many Americans working remotely or self-isolating as the coronavirus illness COVID-19 continues to rage, now might be a good time to learn something new about the women in the suffrage movement and the actual struggle for women’s suffrage, which started long before 1920 — and which has yet to end.

In this article

Lisa Tetrault, a historian and professor at Carnegie Mellon University, noted many people misunderstand how that 19th amendment affected women’s rights. On one hand, she told NBC News, women had been voting in some parts of the country long before 1920. And on the other, many women couldn’t vote long after 1920 — many still can’t to this very day, notes Tetrault. She writes about the ongoing suffrage movement in her upcoming book, “A Celebrated But Misunderstood Amendment.”

So what exactly happened in 1920 — and what didn’t? We have answers from Tetrault and fellow historians and researchers. If you’re interested in learning more, we’ve got their recommendations for the best books highlighting less known portions about the movement for suffrage for women, as well: all solid options to add to your reading list during Women’s History Month.


Days after Harris’ selection as the Democratic candidate for vice president, Black women were celebrating the choice, even as they press forward on voter registrations and other efforts for racial justice.

“She is intelligent, she’s experienced and above all, she’s qualified for the job,” said Glenda Glover, the president of the 300,000-member now international Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, which Harris joined as a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

“We know what African American women have meant to this country for so long, we’re the backbone of this country and now an African American woman has the opportunity to hold the second-highest office in the nation so yes, it is an amazing moment for us,” Glover said.

As a non-profit organization, the sorority cannot make endorsements, but it can encourage people to vote and traditionally has had a massive get-out-the-vote operation, Glover said. It works with other non-profits, among them the other historically African American fraternities and sororities, a group known as the Divine Nine.

Besides closed polling places, purged voter rolls and other such obstacles, COVID-19 will present a new challenge that Alpha Kappa Alpha is still grappling with, Glover said. President Donald Trump has been campaigning against voting by mail and many fear that changes to the U.S. Postal Service are designed to interfere with ballot delivery.

But Glover recalled the determination of voters in Milwaukee this spring when Wisconsin’s Supreme Court ordered the primary election to go forward during the coronavirus pandemic. Voters waited in long lines despite fears of the virus.

“Voting meant so much to them that they got out there,” Glover said.

After Harris joined the ticked, Trump has pushed a false and racist conspiracy theory spread by some of his supporters that Harris cannot be vice president because her parents were immigrants.

Harris, who was born in California, is eligible for the office, and constitutional professors told NBC News and others that the assertion was nonsense.

Trump had similarly repeated falsehoods about President Barack Obama’s citizenship.

“I can guarantee you that it will not work this time,” Glover said.

For African Americans, the centennial of the 19th Amendment is a reminder that so many women like Sojourner Truth and Charlotte Forten Grimke were left behind, said Stephanie Young, the chief officer for Culture, Communications and Media Partnerships at When We All Vote, a non-partisan voting initiative launched by Michelle Obama.

“So the 19th Amendment for women of color has not been a goal post,” she said.

“We look back on and remember it with a sense of sadness, however, looking ahead, we are hopeful.”

Harris is a brilliant Black woman with the right experience for the office who will challenge assumptions that Black people are not good enough and are not qualified, Young said.

“I didn’t realize how important it was for me to see a strong Black woman being chosen as a running mate,” said Young, who also attended one of the historically Black colleges and universities and who like Harris is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha.

“I am over the moon,” she said. “I am excited for what this means for our country.”

Challenging the Narrative: Even the Women’s Suffrage Movement has a whitewashed history

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives recently wore yellow roses to commemorate the passage of the 19th Amendment in the lower chamber on May 21, 1919.

June 4 marked the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment by the two-thirds Congressional majority, an action that sent the amendment granting women the right to vote to the states for ratification.

But we must not forget that while the 19th Amendment was momentous, the reality was that it did not grant the franchise to all women in the United States. In practice, it ensured the franchise for primarily white, middle and upper class women women of color largely did not enjoy the right to vote.

How could they? Native Americans were not even granted citizenship until 1924. And, discriminatory Jim Crow laws, coupled with a resurgent and violent Ku Klux Klan, had a firm grip in the Southern states. African-American women in the Deep South could no more exercise their right to vote in 1920 than African-American men after the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870.

It should also be remembered that the women’s suffrage movement often intentionally excluded and undercut the voices of black and brown people to advance its agenda.

Though famed female suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were vocally opposed slavery before the Civil War, their alliance with abolitionists like Frederick Douglass faltered in the post-war years. These alliances especially deteriorated after it became clear that African-American men would get the vote before white women – a development that was viewed at the time as degrading to white women and led to increasingly racist rhetoric within the movement.

As the years wore on, the alienation of black and brown female suffragists only intensified. White women eventually realized that relying on racial exclusion would be the only way to get Southern states to ratify the 19th Amendment.

And, not only did white suffragists exclude their black and brown compatriots from their movement, when its history was written, they rendered women of color, and their important and significant contributions to the fight for equality, invisible.

There are many historians who’ve worked to correct this whitewashed history, bringing forth the names of lesser known female suffragists of color such as Mary Church Terrell, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Sarah Parker Remond, Fannie Barrier Williams, and Mary Ann Shadd Cary. Additionally, The National Portrait Gallery, in its exhibit celebrating the 19th Amendment’s centennial, will give long-overdue attention to the lives and work of these women.

The work of these women of color is evident today in the historic representation by a diverse group of women in Congress. But it’s clear there’s much more work ahead. Native Americans still face significant difficulties accessing the polls, naturalized citizens face voter intimidation, and Southern states have enacted onerous restrictions to systematically dilute the African-American vote.

This lack of political voice among people of color impacts women.

We must recognize that women of color live in the world as women and as people of color simultaneously. Their experiences cannot and should not be separated to prioritize equality for one marginalized identity over another. The black and brown suffragists of history refused to do it – and so should we.

So, as we celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment’s passage, we should challenge oversimplified and exclusionary historical narratives. We should honor the women of color who fought tirelessly for the right to vote. And in doing so, may we recommit ourselves to a women’s movement that stands up for the rights of all women.