The Women's Suffrage Centennial
August 18, 2020 was the hundredth anniversary of the ratification of 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees women the right to vote by asserting that this right should not be based on a person's gender. This page contains some introductory resources on the history of women's suffrage in the United States - to find out more about both the suffrage movement and the complex history of voting rights in America, check out the research guide for the 2020 Women's Suffrage Centennial.
Following is a list of resources offering overview and/or commentary on the history of Women's Suffrage.
Source: Public domain
New Jersey native Alice Paul was the architect of some of the greatest achievements in the ongoing struggle for women's equality. Paulsdale, her Moorestown, NJ birthplace and residence, houses the Alice Paul Institute, a museum, archives and education center dedicated to her life and work. The Institute offers a variety of educational programs with an emphasis on women's history, and offers a variety of development and mentorship programs designed to support and encourage women in leadership roles.
The Seneca Falls Convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York, on July 19–20, 1848, was organized by activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott as the first public political meeting in the United States that advocated for women's rights. Women's lack of access to the vote was a key issue discussed during the groundbreaking two-day gathering, and the event is traditionally considered the beginning of the modern women's suffrage movement.
image: CC BY-SA 4.0
Activists have created a Women's Suffrage Memorial not far from where women were imprisoned at the storied Occoquan (VA) Workhouse. The memorial, which is owned and operated by the Northern Virginia Parks Dept., was dedicated in 2021.
The memorial "commemorates all of the millions of little-known women who engaged in the suffragist movement primarily from 1848 through passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 that allowed most women to vote."
The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states:
“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.”
"The amendment was initially introduced in Congress in 1878. Finally approved by the necessary two-thirds majority in each house of Congress forty years later, it was sent to the states for ratification. In 1920 the amendment became a reality when Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify it. From the founding of the nation, it had taken more than a century for women to secure a constitutionally protected federal right to vote." In reality, it would be another 45 years before Black women were guaranteed voting rights.
Source: American Governance
The League of Women Voters was founded just prior to the final ratification of the 19th Amendment. Formed by members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the League is a nonpartisan civic organization that conducts candidate forums and registration drives, and provides comprehensive resources on all aspects of voting and elections.
The League advocates on the local, state and national level with more than 700 state and local leagues throughout the country.
Source: The Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission
Image: Public domain
Journalist, educator and activist Ida B. Wells played an essential role in the Women's Suffrage movement. In 1913, she founded the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago, which organized African American women in the movement; later that year, the Club marched in the seminal Women's Suffrage Procession in Washington DC. Click here to view a brief video about the history of Black women in the suffrage movement.
The U.S. Constitution in its initial form did not expressly address the right to vote, so states were free to do as they pleased; most extended the vote only to white male property owners. In New Jersey, however, some women could vote as early as 1776. The right was relatively short-lived -- in 1807, the New Jersey State Legislature restricted voting rights to tax-paying, white male citizens, thus disenfranchising both women and African Americans.
In 2020, the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia hosted several legal scholars in a virtual discussion focused upon the Suffrage Centennial. The panel also discussed related topics including the 15th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In fall 2021, the Center opened an ongoing exhibit titled The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote, and a companion virtual exhibit, The 19th Amendment: Women Fight for Rights (1848-1877).
Due to extended closure of public buildings, three Washington DC institutions have customized their in-person exhibits for online viewing. You may also view a virtual exhibit via Google Arts & Culture.
Congress passed legislation to create the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission (S.847) in 2017 in order “to ensure a suitable observance of the centennial of the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States providing for women’s suffrage.”
Source: The Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission