19th Amendment Gives Women the Right to Vote

U.S. #1406 – pictures suffragists on the left and woman voting on the right.

On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed, granting women’s suffrage.

During colonial times, only property-owning adult males could vote. Most women could not vote, although some colonies made exceptions for property-owning widows. When the U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1789, it didn’t clearly define who could vote. Instead, states made that decision. New Jersey was the only one to allow women to vote, and that right was taken away in 1807.

U.S. #959 commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention.

In the early 1800s, there were small movements and organizations that sought women’s suffrage, but they were scattered and didn’t work together. That all changed in 1848 when Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton arranged the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. The two had first met at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention, where they were both denied entrance because they were women. The purpose for the Women’s Rights Convention was to forever change the role of women, from sheltered and silent wives and mothers to productive and contributing members of society. Many famous Americans, including Frederick Douglass, attended the two-day event, held July 19-20, 1848.

Item #81873 – Elizabeth Cady Stanton commemorative cover.

Some opponents of the suffrage movement felt that women did not possess the common sense to vote. Other people used the argument that men were somehow saving women from the “contaminating and demoralizing” responsibility of having to vote.

On the other hand, supporters believed that women were more qualified than men to vote based on a somewhat higher moral character. Others thought that women, as white people born in this country, had more rights to vote than newly emancipated slaves or recently naturalized immigrants, both of whom had the right to vote by the late 1800s.

U.S. #2980 pictures a combination of two historic images – the 1913 procession of women at Wilson’s inauguration and a 1976 march for the Equal Rights Amendment in Illinois.

The movement grew in strength over time, especially after the passage of the 15th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave black men the right to vote in 1870. A women’s suffrage amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878, but it failed to pass. The 19th Amendment was reintroduced in Congress for every session for the next 40 years.

By the beginning of the 20th century the right to vote had been won in only four states, but the suffrage movement continued to gain national momentum. Demanding the right to vote, women across the country held rallies, gave speeches, marched in parades, and lobbied in Congress. When the grand dames of society joined the cause, suffrage even became fashionable. In the coming years, more new western states granted women’s suffrage.

U.S. #832b – The only U.S. postage stamp printed on Internal Revenue paper.

Carrie Chapman Catt succeeded Susan B. Anthony as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1900. In the years that followed she led campaigns that earned state-level suffrage in New York. And when the U.S. joined World War I, she placed the group on the forefront of the war effort, earning the support of President Woodrow Wilson.

President Wilson spoke openly of his support for the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote, however, in two separate attempts in 1918 and 1919, it still failed, but only by two and then one vote.

U.S. #3184e – From the Celebrate the Century series.

Then in May 1919, the bill was brought to the House, which passed it by 42 votes. That June, the Senate passed it as well, after lengthy discussion. Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan were the first to ratify the amendment in the coming days. Over the next year, several more states ratified it. However, 36 states needed to ratify the amendment within a given a period and that end date was fast approaching in August 1920. Finally, after holding a special session on August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th amendment, making it law and giving women the right to vote.

The amendment says: “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.” More than just a victory for women, it was, as the Kansas City Star proclaimed, “a victory for democracy and the principle of equality upon which the nation was founded.”

Click the images below to learn about some of the suffragists pictured on U.S. stamps.

Susan B. Anthony

Alice Paul

Harriet Tubman

Frances E. Willard

Lucy Stone

Belva Ann Lockwood

Julia Ward Howe

Frederick Douglass

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. Thank you for including Alice Paul. It was her leadership of the National Women’s Party and their use of non violent protest – pickets, marches, arrests and hunger strikes – that put more pressure on President Wilson.

    1. Yep, it was nice to see the stamp of her included, but the author of the article did not bother to mention her. Saw a TV bio pic about her a few years ago starring Hilary Swank. First time that I ever heard of her.

  2. It took way too long to happen. Still lack the ERA and equal pay. The former was done in by including a deadline for its enactment. While 35 states ratified it, it still lacked two more to make 37 when time ran out. Setting such a deadline was a more recent requirement for amendments. BTW, the Bill of Rights originally passed by Congress back in 1789, had 12 proposed amendments, not just 10. The last amendment added to the Constitution, the 27th, which deals with Congressional pay, was one of the remaining two. Wasn’t ratified by the states until 1992.

  3. I especially like the paragraph:
    -Some opponents of the suffrage movement felt that women did not possess the common sense to vote. Other people used the argument that men were somehow saving women from the “contaminating and demoralizing” responsibility of having to vote.
    With our current Presidential campaigns and election nearing, I can relate to the thought of being saved from the “contaminating and demoralizing” responsibility of voting.

    The more things change the more they stay the same.

    While both of my Grandmothers voted after 8/18/1920, neither one ever drove the car. It seems that took another generation for that change to come about?

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