Tag Archives: suffrage

A Brief History of U.S. Women’s Rights

Some friends have asked me to provide a brief history of women’s rights in the United States. I am tempted to reminisce about my own involvement with the women’s movement, but that is not the assignment. This kind of exercise is always a good opportunity to review, remember and assess how far we have come while remaining mindful that we do not have full equity yet. As one trained as a historian, I really should not call this a ‘history’ or even a ‘brief history’ when it is more accurately a timeline. This is certainly not an exhaustive timeline, so I have included links to websites that provide more in-depth information. I am not going to editorialize or share my opinion or feelings about anything listed here – this blog post is strictly an informative entry. Should you learn something new, that would be great. If you have any questions about anything here, please let me know. OK, I think that I have covered all of the disclaimers and explanations, so let’s go!
1776 Abigail Adams writes to her husband, John Adams who represented the Colony of Massachusetts at the Continental Congress on March 31:


“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, 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.” http://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/abigail-smith-adams/

1776 United States Declaration of Independence is signed on July 4th. http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html

1787 US Constitutional Convention places voting qualifications in the hands of the states. Women in all states except New Jersey lose the right to vote. http://www1.cuny.edu/portal_ur/content/voting_cal/the_constitution.html
1807 Women lose the right to vote in New Jersey, the last state to revoke the right.
1848 The acknowledged start of the FIRST WAVE of Feminism.
The first women’s rights convention takes place in Seneca Falls, New York. Participants sign a Declaration of Sentiments that call for equal treatment and voting rights for women. http://www.nps.gov/wori/historyculture/report-of-the-womans-rights-convention.htm
1851 Former slave Sojourner Truth: http://www.nps.gov/wori/historyculture/sojourner-truth.htm Delivers her speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?” At the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio:
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?


That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?


Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?


Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.


If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.


Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.
1866 Congress passes the 14th Amendment, which grants all citizens the right to vote. It is the first time that “citizens” and “voters” are defined as “male” in the Constitution. http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_amendments_11-27.html
1869 Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton form the National Woman Suffrage Association, while Lucy Stone and others form the American Woman Suffrage Association. http://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/susan-brownell-anthony/
1896 The National Association of Colored Women is formed out of more than 100 black women’s clubs. http://www.nacwc.org/
1916 Margaret Sanger opens the first American birth control clinic in Brooklyn, NY. Within ten days, the clinic is shut down and Sanger is arrested. She eventually wins legal support and opens another clinic in 1923. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Sanger
1920 Congress passes the 19th Amendment, granting women suffrage. [Suffrage is the right to vote in a national election.] It passes in the Senate by only two votes. http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_amendment_19.html
1942 The term “Rosie the Riveter” was first used in a song of the same name written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb. http://www.nps.gov/pwro/collection/website/rosie.htm
1945 Millions of working women lose their jobs when servicemen return from World War II, although surveys show that 80 percent want to continue working.
1960 The acknowledged beginning of the SECOND WAVE of feminism.
1963 Betty Friedan writes The Feminine Mystique. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_suffrage_in_the_United_States
1964 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race and sex. http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is established to investigate discrimination complaints. http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/civil-rights-act/
1966 The National Organization for Women (NOW) is founded. http://www.now.org/
1968 The EEOC rules that sex-segregated help wanted ads are illegal, a ruling later upheld by the Supreme Court. http://www1.eeoc.gov//laws/practices/index.cfm?renderforprint=1
Shirley Chisholm is the first black woman elected to Congress. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shirley_Chisholm
The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) is founded. http://www.naral.org/
1970 The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution is written by Shulamith Firestone http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dialectic_of_Sex
Sisterhood is Powerful, edited by Robin Morgan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sisterhood_is_Powerful
Sexual Politics is written by Kate Millett http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_Politics
1972 The ERA is passed by Congress and sent to states for ratification. http://www.equalrightsamendment.org/congress.htm
Title IX bans sex discrimination in schools. http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/cor/coord/titleix.php
The Supreme Court rules that the right to privacy includes an unmarried person’s right to use contraceptives. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eisenstadt_v._Baird
Ms. Magazine is first published. http://www.msmagazine.com/
1973 In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court legalizes abortion and overturns anti-abortion laws in many states. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roe_v._Wade
1974 The Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits discrimination in consumer credits practices. http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/hce/housing_ecoa.php
1976 The first marital rape law passes in Nebraska, making it illegal for a husband to rape his wife.
1978 The Pregnancy Discrimination Act passes, banning employment discrimination against pregnant women. http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/pregnancy.cfm
The Female Eunuch is written by Germaine Greer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Female_Eunuch
1981 Sandra Day O’Conner is the first woman ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ruth Bader Ginsberg joins her in 1993.
1986 The Supreme Court rules that sexual harassment is a form of illegal job discrimination. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0477_0057_ZO.html
1990 The acknowledged beginning of the THIRD WAVE of feminism.
1993 The Family and Medical Leave Act goes into effect, allowing women workers to take employment leave after giving birth. http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/
1994 The Violence Against Women act increases services for rape and domestic violence victims, as well as federal penalties for sex offenders. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/vawa_factsheet.pdf
2009 Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act signed by President Obama eliminating the statute of limitations on claims of violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 pay equity clause. http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/epa_ledbetter.cfm
More Information:
National Women’s History Project http://www.nwhp.org/
New York Times Comparative Timeline US History / Women’s History http://www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/millennium/m2/wolf-timeline.html
National Parks Service, Women’s Suffrage History http://home.nps.gov/wori/historyculture/womens-suffrage-history-timeline.htm
~ Wendy



This week commemorates two anniversaries: August 26, 1920 the day that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified granting women suffrage or the right to vote and August 28, 1963 when more than 200,000 people convened the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Commemoration is the act of co-remembering, to publicly share and memorialize some historic event. As a student of history, I love commemorations and the many ways that they influence the present and subsequently, our perceptions of the past.

(© 2003 D’Azi Productions)

“You cannot know where you are going, until you know where you have been.”

My mouse pad, a gift that a friend brought me from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, has “History” (1962) written across the top and a photo depicting three doors. The first door has the word “Women” on it, the second door has the word “Men” on it and third door has the word “Colored” on it. Under the photo is the caption: “You cannot know where you are going, until you know where you have been.”
I love this mouse pad! Every day it reminds me why I do the work that I do. Every day it reminds me of Emma Lazarus’ words: “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” Ms. Lazarus, the poet famous for “The New Colossus” which is etched at the base of the Statue of Liberty was born in New York City but was never able to vote because of her gender.

A Lifetime of Voting
My mother was born eight years after women earned the right to vote in the U.S. and brought me to the voting booth for as far back as I can remember. I remember being in the booth with her, fascinated as she clicked the levers and finally slid the metal bar across that registered her vote and opened the curtain. The Wizard of Oz had nothing on her! I remember entertaining myself while she volunteered at the polls. I remember registering to vote immediately after my eighteenth birthday and counting the months that I had to wait for the first election that I would vote in. It was the 1976 Presidential election and being the nation’s bicentennial made it all even more exciting.

The Women’s Suffrage movement was launched officially in 1848 at a convention in Seneca Falls, NY, where Frederick Douglass, the only African American to attend the event, gave an inspirational pro-vote speech. (There were many women present who were anti-suffrage.) In 1851 at the Women’s Convention in Akron, OH, Sojourner Truth, another former slave delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech which poignantly argues for women’s equality. The women’s suffrage movement had its up and downs over its 72 year span including some deplorably racist tenets held by Susan B. Anthony and others. One might argue that white women competing against African American men for the vote exemplified a successful campaign to ‘divide and conquer’, but it was not and is not that simple. There were some lighter moments as well such as when Alice Duer Miller turned the tables in 1915:
Why We Don’t Want Men to Vote
  • Because man’s place is in the army.
  • Because no really manly man wants to settle any question otherwise than by fighting about it.
  • Because if men should adopt peaceable methods women will no longer look up to them.
  • Because men will lose their charm if they step out of their natural sphere and interest themselves in other matters than feats of arms, uniforms, and drums.
  • Because men are too emotional to vote. Their conduct at baseball games and political conventions shows this, while their innate tendency to appeal to force renders them unfit for government.
March On!
Yesterday marked the 50th Anniversary of the Great March on Washington. In 1963 I watched the historic event on television, awe struck by the vast range of humanity out en masse. The words of hope and inspiration from one speaker and performer after another were incredible, even to a little 5 year old girl. I did not understand the significance of the event nor how it would impact our world, but the message – We all deserve to be free and to be able to make a decent living wage – made its way from the Lincoln Memorial to our living room and has been motivating me ever since.
What is your story?
History – our story – is comprised of people who make a difference every day by marching, walking, talking, sharing, teaching and remembering! How have these historic events affected you and those you love? What is your story? How may we commemorate it?
~ Wendy