When the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1920, American women won the right to vote. This was a hard-won victory.
In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed. This amendment allowed American women to vote and hold public office. This was by no means an easy victory. Along the way, women’s rights advocates encountered controversy, public outrage, and a host of other obstacles to the accomplishment of their goals.
The Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement
Although American women did not win the right to vote until 1920, the roots of women’s suffrage date back to the 1840s. The first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott championed the cause of voting rights for women. Despite these efforts, it would take 30 years before a women’s suffrage bill was brought before Congress. This bill was defeated every year from 1878 to 1919.
Obstacles to Women’s Suffrage
The main reason the women’s suffrage bill was constantly defeated was society’s mindset in regards to gender roles. Many Americans during this time believed that if women were given any power, they would neglect their traditional duties and that the sacred institutions of marriage and family would suffer as a result, causing society to crumble.
Another barrier was the fact that the gains that were made prior to 1920 were small; furthermore, this progress was the result of necessity as opposed to society’s interest in gender equality. For example, Wyoming became the first state to grant women the right to vote in local elections in 1869, but this law was not passed for the sake of women’s rights. Rather, this law was passed to lure more women to the West, where the men needed wives.
Modern Champions of Women’s Rights
The Nineteenth Amendment was finally added to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. Prior to the amendment’s passage, intelligent American women who were interested in the political process could not hold significant public offices or vote in state and national elections. One of these women was Helen Taft, who served as America’s first lady from 1909 to 1913. Mrs. Taft was forced to experience the American political scene vicariously through her husband, twenty-seventh president William H.Taft.
Therefore, Helen became an ardent crusader for women’s voting rights. Her efforts, as well as those of women’s rights activists who came before her, would ultimately pay off. Today, a number of powerful, smart American women, including former first lady, former presidential candidate, and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, hold high positions in the nation’s political arena.
- Harris, Bill. The First Ladies Fact Book, p. 384. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 2005.