The history of women’s suffrage is a long and persevering fight for the right to be represented equally with men when choosing the leadership of their country. This struggle ebbed and flowed over the years from Colonial times until the 19th Amendment was adopted in 1920 which gave Women the same right to vote that men have. These suffragists, sometimes called, derisively, suffragettes fought hard for this right and in the 20 years before the 19th Amendment they endured mass arrests and many even spent time in jail as a result of their protest rallies.
Lydia Chapin Taft
The first woman to vote in the history of the United States was Lydia Taft. She earned this right when a very important town meeting was held in 1756 to discuss funding for the French and Indian War. Her son Caleb who was voting age had just died of disease, probably small pox. While burying him, his father Josiah Taft also became ill and died a short time later. Since the Taft estate was rather large and could contribute greatly to the war effort. Lydia was given the right to vote because she was the Executor of the estate.
Our second First Lady was not an avid suffragist but she had very strong feelings about a Woman’s right to govern herself. In a now famous correspondence with John Adams during the days of the Continental Congress she made this admonition to the future President, who was strongly advocating American Independence. “In the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” She went on to say that men tended to abuse the god-like power they now had in government and that she was “determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation” if the “ladies” were not cared for.
In 1796 a controversial book was published by Mary Wollstonecraft. It was called A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In this book she compares the way Americans treat woman as being “in the true style of Mohammedanism. She said that woman are “treated as a kind of subordinate being and not as part of the Human species. She encouraged women not to be intoxicated with the power to become merely the alluring objects of men who are not looking out for the Woman’s interest.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Stanton organized and was the motivational powerhouse behind the wildly successful Seneca Falls Convention that is considered by many as the birth of the modern Woman’s Suffrage movement and the turning point in a struggle that it would take 72 more years to fight. She was one of the authors of The Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States, which Susan B. Anthony presented at the Centennial celebration in Washington in 1876.
Like many of the suffragists, Lucretia Mott came to the public’s attention first as an abolitionist. One of her most famous speeches that she delivered many times was called Discourse on Women. She felt that the right to vote was a God given right and that giving women the suffrage would allow them to fulfill the “progress of woman to the high elevation destined by her Creator”. Her views on marriage were that “in the marriage union, the independence of the husband and wife will be equal, their dependence mutual, and their obligations reciprocal.”
Susan B. Anthony
Anthony was the most famous of all of the Suffragists. Her definition of voting was “the right protective of all other rights.” One of her greatest arguments was that it was a shame that all of these woman had to waste time fighting for a right that they should have been born to rather than spending their energy assisting the very governments that were holding them out. She was truly an international character she spoke out for suffrage all over the world.
- A Vindication of the Rights of Woman with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects by Mary Wollstonecraft, 1796, Garland
- History of Woman Suffrage by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownell Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Ida Husted Harper, 1822, Harvard University Press
- The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony by Ida Husted Harper, 1908, The Bowen-Merrill CompanyDiscourse On Woman, a speechby Lucretia Mott, delivered on December 17, 1849