It all began in upstate New York in 1848 when five women organized the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls.
Influence of the Abolitionists
The women’s movement has its roots in abolition. Freeing the slaves seemed like an appropriate cause for women to unite behind.
But in 1840, activists Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were barred from attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention held in London. The all-male organization refused to accept female delegates. Mott and Stanton were forced to sit in the gallery and observe the proceedings, but were not allowed to participate
Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls
Angered by their treatment, the two women returned to the United States with the idea of organizing the very first Women’s Rights Convention. They invited Jane Hunt, Mary Ann M’Clintock, and Martha Wright to help them plan the event.
The convention was held July 19 and 20, 1848 in the Wesleyan Chapel, in Seneca Falls, New York. About 300 men and women attended. The purpose was to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition of women.
On the first day, women participated exclusively. On the second day, the men in attendance were allowed to speak. The very idea of a Woman’s Rights Convention was extremely progressive for the era.
The Declaration of Sentiments
At the conclusion of the convention, the group signed the Declaration of Sentiments, which was modeled after the Declaration of Independence.
The document enumerated the ways in which women were oppressed by men. “Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise,” it read, “thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.”
By 1869 Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and others formed the National Woman Suffrage Association and focused their efforts on a federal woman’s suffrage amendment. Divided on how to proceed, the group split into two for a time. They reunited in the 1890s.
The 19th Amendment
After decades of marches, lectures, and lobbying, the women suffragists finally had a reason to celebrate. Early in 1919, the House of Representatives passed the 19th amendment by a vote of 304 to 90, and the Senate approved it 56 to 25. Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan were the first states to ratify it. After much controversy, Tennessee became the crucial 36th state to ratify the amendment, making it law.
Women’s groups had organized around the single issue of enfranchisement. At first, many predicted that women would vote in a single block. In an effort to win them over, many politicians began to focus on “women’s issues.” However, after the 19th amendment, women splintered off into various groups.
Exercising the Right to Vote
Educated, middle class women were the first to exercise their right to vote. But still, women did not vote in the same proportions that men did. Immigrant women were used to leaving politics to men, and African-American women faced additional challenges because of their race. Rural women typically voted the way their husbands voted.
Realizing that women were not a single, cohesive group, politicians stopped paying attention to issues that would exclusively concern women.