A wonderful documentary on the 70 year history of the women’s suffrage movement from the Seneca Falls Convention to Alice Paul’s picketing of the White House and prison hunger strikes.
The Fourteenth Amendment
When congress was drafting the Fourteenth Amendment to give African American men the right to vote, women activist petitioned to have woman suffrage joined with black suffrage. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and others founded the American Equal Rights Association which worked towards the interests of black and woman suffrage. Susan B. Anthony stated, “Would it not be advisable, when the constitutional door is open, [for women to] avail ourselves of the strong arm and blue uniform of the black soldier to walk in by his side?”
Radicals in congressed dismissed their appeal. Abolitionist Wendell Phillips stated “This hour belongs to the Negro.” The Fifteenth Amendment states that no one could be disfranchised on the grounds of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” After the American Equal Rights Association collapsed, Stanton and Anthony founded the National Woman Suffrage Association which competed with American Woman Suffrage Association founded by Lucy Stone. Some women advocated for woman suffrage through what was called the New Departure. Those advocating this position argued that “women were ‘persons’ whose rights as national citizens were established by the first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment” and that the right to vote was a right to every citizen, therefor there was no need for a change in constitution specifically giving women the right to vote.
Susan B. Anthony’s trial for illegal voting.
Susan B. Anthony’s response to Judge Hunt is moving and inspiring. She states “[I have been tried] by forms of law all made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men, in favor of men, and against women.” Her statement is a rallying cry for women’s rights and social justice. She argues that the “man-made forms of law” do not recognize women and therefore cannot measure women’s disposition or her grievances. Furthermore, she argues that just as those who violated the fugitive slave law were serving their conscience, her violation of the law serves humanity.
Yes, your honor, but by forms of law all made by men, interpreted by men, administered by men, in favor of men, and against women; and hence, your honor’s ordered verdict of guilty, against a United States citizen for the exercise of “that citizen’s right to vote,” simply because that citizen was a woman and not a man. But, yesterday, the same man-made forms of law, declared it a crime punishable with $1,000 fine and six months’ imprisonment, for you, or me, or any of us, to give a cup of cold water, a crust of bread, or a night’s shelter to a panting fugitive as he was tracking his way to Canada. And every man or woman in whose veins coursed a drop of human sympathy violated that wicked law, reckless of consequences, and was justified in so doing. As then, the slaves who got their freedom must take it over, or under, or through the unjust forms of law, precisely so, now, must women, to get their right to a voice in this government, take it; and I have taken mine, and mean to take it at every possible opportunity.
She argued against the injustice of being denied the right to vote. She articulately stated, “As then, slaves who got their freedom must take it over, or under, or through the unjust forms of law, precisely so, now, must women, to get their right to a voice in this government, take it; and I have taken mine.” Anthony condemns the processes of the law that allow for women to be denied rights. Just as former slaves must continue the struggle to attain greater equality and “take it over,” so too, must women confront inequality were it stands in the way and tramples women’s struggle for justice. Anthony does this by confronting the judge and the criminal system of injustice and poignantly asserts her rights beyond the parameters of detained justice.
Alice Paul and the National Women’s Party
The National Women’s Party was founded by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. They were both college graduates who participated in the suffrage movement in Great Britain. Paul was one of the first women in the country to earn a Ph.D. in political science. Alice Paul became the chair the Congressional Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1912 and one year later formed by the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage which would become the National Women’s Party. Paul and Burns campaigned in a number of different ways for suffrage, including petitions, pageants, lobbying congress, picketing, protest, and civil disobedience.
Paul and Burns organized the first national suffrage parade in Washington, DC, March 3, 1913. It was the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inaugural parade. Paul wanted to capitalize on all the attention the inaugural parade would receive to help bring national attention to the cause. Previous suffrage parades in New York City had gathering between 400 and 20,000 woman. 5,000 women participated in the pageant in D.C.. It was the first demonstration held in the capital.
Suffrage activist had succeeded in winning Woodrow Wilson’s support but he explicitly only supported states deciding the vote. Paul, Burns, and the NWP decided to take a more radical approach. During the first World War women from the NWP picketed the White House holding signs that read “Mr. President, How long much women wait for liberty” and “Mr. President, What will you do for woman suffrage.” Carrie Chapman Catt and the NAWSA felt the actions of the NWP were too radical. Eventually the picketers were arrested, one after another. Some of the women suffered harsh treatment in prison. The women insisted on being recognized as political prisoners. Paul and others went on hunger strikes which lead to forced feedings. Still, the women did not relent. After the press ran stories about what these women were doing there was a backlash. All the women were suddenly and unconditionally released and Wilson became in favor of a constitutional amendment.
In June of 1919, congress passed a measure that would send the 19th Amendment to states for ratification. There were some wins and some losses but it all came down to Tennessee. The final vote and deciding vote was by Harry Burn who everyone assumed would vote nay. To everyone’s surprise Burn voted yay at the request of his mother who told him “Don’t forget to be a good boy […] and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘Rat’ in Ratification.” The 19th Amendment was added to the constitution on August 26, 1920.
See Also: Women of Protest. American Memory. The Library of Congress