Women suffragists persisted for 70 years to win the right to vote in 1920

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It seems hard to believe that there was a time when American women were not able to participate in democracy. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified by 36 states and made law in 1920, finally gave women in the United States the right to vote, though women of color would still face barriers to voting for decades to come.

It was not an easy road.

Many of the women who started the fight to win the right to vote did not live to see the amendment passed or cast their own ballots in the 1920 election.

The fight for women's suffrage took more than 70 years.

On the 100th anniversary of ratification, take a look back at some of the highlights, milestones, disappointments and victories of the women's suffrage movement.


July 19: The first Women's Rights Convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York. Suffrage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton presents "The Declaration of Sentiments" to several hundred convention-goers, including Frederick Douglass. The declaration calls for women to receive the right to vote.


Oct. 23: The first National Women's Rights Convention is held in Worcester, Massachusetts. The convention forms an alliance with the Abolitionist movement, and leaders such as Lucy Stone and Sojourner Truth are there. An estimated 1,000 people attended.


May 29: Sojourner Truth, a former slave, delivers her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at women’s convention in Akron, Ohio. The speech advocated for the women's rights and abolitionist movements.


The women's suffrage movement is put on hold during the Civil War.


May 10: The 11th National Women's Rights Convention is held in New York City, where Black and white suffragist leaders, including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, from a new organization, the American Equal Rights Association. The association advocated for universal suffrage, regardless of race or sex.


July 9: The 14th Amendment is ratified, granting citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the U.S., including former slaves. But the amendment limits voting rights to male citizens.

Dec. 7: Sen. Samuel Pomeroy, R-Kan., an early supporter of women's suffrage, introduces a constitutional amendment that all citizens be given the right to vote. The Senate never votes on the bill, and Pomeroy loses his reelection campaign in 1872.


Jan. 19: The last National Women's Rights Convention takes place in Washington, D.C.

May 12: Suffragists debate whether to support the 15th Amendment, which while ensuring Black men would have the right to vote did not address women's suffrage. The debate results in a split of the American Equal Rights Association.

May 15: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony form the more radical National Woman Suffrage Association. Their goal is to push for a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. Their organization opposes the Fifteenth Amendment in its form, believing women should be included.

November: Lucy Stone (above) and Julia Ward Howe found the more moderate American Woman Suffrage Association, focused on amending state constitutions. This organization supports the 15th Amendment and universal suffrage.

Dec. 10: The territory of Wyoming passes a law that grants women the right to vote, recognizing the need to attract women to settling on the frontier.


Feb. 3: The 15th Amendment is ratified; it states citizens cannot be excluded from voting based on "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." However, in the South, Jim Crow laws would disenfranchise Black men from voting through poll taxes and other means for decades to come. The NWSA, Susan B. Anthony's more radical group, does not advocate for the amendment.

April 2: Suffragist and business owner Victoria Woodhull announces her campaign to become president in a letter to the New York Herald. "I am quite well aware that in assuming this position I shall evoke more ridicule than enthusiasm at the outset. But this is an epoch of sudden changes and startling surprises. What may appear absurd today will assume a serious aspect to-morrow."


Jan. 11: Victoria Woodhull becomes the first woman to address a U.S. House committee when she testifies to the Judiciary Committee, arguing that women had the right to vote based on the 14th Amendment.

Feb. 27: The anti-suffrage movement picks up speed after notable educator Almira Lincoln Phelps writes a letter to The New York Times stating that "silent masses" of women oppose suffrage.


Nov. 5: Several suffrage leaders, including Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth, attempt to vote in the presidential election. Anthony casts her vote and is arrested and charged with illegal voting. She takes her case to federal court. “The only chance women have for justice in this country is to violate the law, as I have done, and as I shall continue to do,” Anthony writes. Truth demands a ballot but is turned away from her polling place.

Nov. 5: Running under the banner of the Equal Rights Party, Woodhull and her unofficial running mate, Frederick Douglass – who never accepted the nomination, receive a small number of votes in the presidential election.


June: Federal Court rules that citizenship does not automatically give someone the right to vote in United States v. Susan B. Anthony case. She is fined $100.


November: Annie Wittenmyer founds the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, which opposes alcohol consumption and its effect on society. The WCTU also supports the women's suffrage movement and officially endorses it in 1881.


March 29: The U.S. Supreme Court rules women are citizens but are not entitled to vote in the case of Minor v. Happersett. Virginia Minor was a Missouri woman who was not allowed to register to vote. "The Constitution does not confer the right of suffrage upon any one," the ruling reads.


Jan 10: What becomes known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment is presented to Congress, proposing women should receive the right to vote. Sen. Aaron Sargent, R-Calif., introduces the bill. The next day, suffragists testify before the Senate. The eventual 19th Amendment would be the exact wording as this proposed amendment.

June 14: Congress recommends the women's suffrage amendment be postponed indefinitely.


February: The Senate votes on the Susan B. Anthony amendment for the first time. It is defeated 34-16.


March: Susan B. Anthony, Frances Willard and other suffragist leaders found the International Council of Women.


Feb. 18: After taking opposing views and strategies for decades, the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association merge, becoming the National American Woman Suffrage Association and combining their techniques of advocating for a constitutional amendment and working to make changes at the state level. Alice Stone Blackwell, daughter of AWSA leader Lucy Stone, leads the effort to bring the two groups together. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is its first president.

July 10: Wyoming is admitted as a state and becomes the first state to guarantee women the right to vote.


Olympia Brown, a minister and suffragist, founds the Federal Suffrage Association, aimed at pushing forward women's issues beyond just suffrage.


Nov. 7: Colorado citizens vote in favor of women's suffrage, which is then added to the state constitution.


January: Utah becomes a state and women's suffrage is included as part of the state constitution.

July: Suffragists Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell and others found the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. The association was focused on more than just suffrage, including wide reforms to improve the lives of Black people in the U.S.

Nov. 3: Idaho citizens vote in favor of women's suffrage, which is added to the state constitution.


May 21: More than 400 women march and more ride in cars in a suffrage parade in New York City. It's one of the first large parades in the U.S.

Nov. 8: Washington State Constitution is amended to give women the right to vote.


December: Josephine Dodge founds the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage and organizes events and campaigns just like the suffragists. The group argues women are busy in the home and don't have the mental capacity or time to stay informed on political matters.

May 6: An estimated 3,000 marchers take to the streets of New York City to advocate for women's suffrage.

Oct. 10: California becomes the sixth state that includes women's suffrage in the state constitution.


Progressive Party presidential candidate Teddy Roosevelt speaks in support of women's suffrage. He is the first candidate from a major party to do so.

Oregon, Kansas and Arizona all grant women the right to vote in state constitutions.

November: About 20,000 marchers participate in a New York City suffrage parade.


March 3: The National American Woman Suffrage Association organizes a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. It's considered the first national suffrage parade. The march takes place the day before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration and is planned by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. The march includes more than 5,000 marchers, bands, mounted brigades and floats.

April: Alice Paul and Lucy Burns become the leaders of the Congressional Union, which is a part of the National American Woman Suffrage Association but eventually will break apart and become known as the National Women's Party, one of the most radical groups in the suffrage movement.

July 31: Suffragists deliver a petition with more than 75,000 signatures to the U.S. Senate.


March 19: For the first time since 1887, the Senate votes on a constitutional amendment for women's suffrage. The issue falls 11 votes short.

Montana and Nevada adopt women's suffrage, becoming the 10th and 11th states to do so.


Women's suffrage march on New York's Fifth Ave.
Women's suffrage march on New York's Fifth Ave.

Jan. 12: For the first time, the U.S. House of Representatives votes on a women's suffrage amendment, which is defeated.

Oct. 23: 40,000 march in New York City suffrage parade dressed in white.


Nov.: Jeannette Rankin of Montana is first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first woman elected to Congress.


January: The National Woman's Party organizes White House pickets – called "Silent Sentinel" – that continue through early 1919. More than 500 women are arrested, and some are jailed in workhouses in Virginia.

February: Arkansas allows women to vote in primary elections, becoming the first state in the South to do so.

April 6: U.S. enters World War I.

October: Alice Paul, head of National Woman’s Party, is sentenced to seven months in prison for picketing. During her sentence, she is force-fed and placed in solitary confinement.

Nov. 6: New York votes in favor of a women's suffrage amendment to the state constitution.

Nov. 14: On what is known as the "Night of Terror," the jailed picketers known as the "Silent Sentinels" are beaten and chained. They're released just a few weeks later.


Jan. 9: President Woodrow Wilson declares support for women's suffrage amendment.

Jan. 10: Jeannette Ranking introduces a suffrage amendment in the U.S. House, which passes.

Sept. 26: Federal women's suffrage amendment introduced in the Senate.

Sept. 30: Wilson asks Senate to pass the amendment as war measure. “We have made partners of the women in this war…Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?”

Oct. 1: Senate defeats suffrage amendment, just two votes short of meeting the two-thirds majority.

November: Michigan, South Dakota and Oklahoma pass state constitutional amendments for women's suffrage.

Nov. 11: World War I ends.

Dec. 2: Wilson urges passage of amendment in congressional address.


February: Members of the National Woman's Party travel the county to share their experiences being jailed for picketing the White House and to campaign for suffrage.

Feb. 10: Senate vote to approve Susan B. Anthony amendment fails by one vote.

May 21: U.S. House approves legislation for the 19th Amendment.

June 4: U.S. Senate approves constitutional amendment for women's suffrage, and the amendment heads to the states for ratification.

June 4: National Women’s Party begins ratification campaign in the states.

June 10-Dec. 15: Michigan and Wisconsin become the first states to ratify the amendment on June 10. By mid-December, 21 other states have ratified.


Jan. 6-June 20: Another 23 states ratify the amendment, bringing it to within one vote of the 36 needed to become law.

Aug. 18: Tennessee ratifies the amendment, becoming the 36th state to do so and the final state needed to achieve a two-thirds majority.

Aug. 26: The 19th Amendment becomes part of the U.S. Constitution.

Note: In the coming years, 48 states would ratify the 19th amendment, with the last state, Mississippi, voting in favor in 1984. Alaska and Hawaii did not become states until 1959 and did not vote on the amendment.

SOURCE National Parks Service, National Women’s History Museum, Senate.gov, crusadeforthevote.org, Smithsonian Magazine, History.com; Photo Illustrations by Veronica Bravo, graphic by Janet Loehrke.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 19th Amendment anniversary timeline celebrates women's suffrage

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