Inside the Archives

Inside the Archives – Winter 2020 – Volume IX Number 1

Winter 2020
Volume IX. Number 1.

Happy 2020!

Pressure Brought to Bear: Passage of the Nineteenth Amendment as a Strategic Effort

Jill O'NeillThe Nineteenth Amendment guarantees all American women the right to vote. Achieving this milestone required decades of agitation and protest. Beginning in the 1800s, women organized, petitioned, and picketed to win the right to vote. Suffrage supporters lectured, wrote, marched, and practiced civil disobedience to achieve what many considered a radical change of the Constitution.  We have asked our guest writer Jill O’Neil to craft a narrative utilizing content from Accessible Archives’ American County Histories, Women’s Suffrage Collection and Frank Leslie’s Weekly. We’re sure you will find this article both inciteful and informative.


Where early Nineteenth Century advocates of women’s suffrage Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton led the campaign for enfranchisement of women, successful passage of the Nineteenth Amendment and final ratification occurred in the twentieth century.

The final achievement of full suffrage in 1920 is attributable to the efforts of women whose names are perhaps less immediately recognizable. Anna Howard Shaw, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Alice Paul adopted approaches that periodically clashed but when combined resulted in the vote for women during a period of economic pressure and world conflict.

Which Approach Wins the Vote?

Carrie Chapman CattThere were two distinct approaches used to drive the campaign of Women’s Suffrage and ultimately, the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Led by Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) placed tremendous emphasis on winning campaigns for the right to vote at the individual state level. As just one example as documented by a history of New York’s Chautauqua County, Anna Howard Shaw visited that county on multiple occasions:

  • In August of 1892, a debate regarding the question of women’s right to vote, featuring Anna Howard Shaw and J.T.
  • Anna Howard ShawBuckley, was on the program of the Chatauqua Institution.
  • In 1903, Anna H. Shaw, President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association again appeared, “delivering a masterly address on “Suffrage, the Basis of a True Republic.”. The country history credits Martha Tiffany Henderson as “the moving spirit in organizing the first club for the crystallization of the woman suffrage sentiment in Chatauqua county” and wielding her influence for the cause across the state.
  • During the Amendment campaign of 1917, Rev. Anna Shaw again appears as influencing voters in New York. “The cause of political equality was won, New York State adopting the amendment to her own constitution, Chautauqua county out of 9,258 votes cast, giving a majority for the amendment of 3,583.”

Making the Issue Visible

Alice PaulHowever, by 1911, only six of the 48 states in the Union had passed state legislation allowing women to vote.  Frustrated by the slow process seen in that approach, Quaker suffragist, Alice Paul, whose own mother had been a member of the NAWSA, adopted a more radical approach. In 1913, to emphasize the importance of there being a constitutional amendment to ensure the right of women to vote, Paul organized a spectacular parade in competition with the inauguration ceremony for incoming President Woodrow Wilson.

Despite opposition from the District of Columbia police department, roughly 8,000 to 10,000 women marched. Contemporary photographs of the parade show floats and bands with a closing set of tableaux to be performed in front of Memorial Continental Hall (just two blocks from the White House).  Anna H. Shaw was present as well, in her role as leader of the NAWSA.

Appalled by the spectacle as well as the scattered instances of violence that broke out, opponents of the suffrage movement spoke out against the event. Appearing in The Remonstrance, a statement reads:

“For 125 years, the inauguration of a President of the United States had been conducted without any attempt to use that event for the furtherance of political propaganda. It remained for women who promise by their votes to show a more excellent way in government, to convert a time of serious dignity into spectacular parades. It was as a protest against this method of procedure that the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage established itself at Washington to direct public attention to some of the arguments against the enfranchisement of woman.”

The political impact of the suffrage parade and pageant suggested to Paul and her fellow organizers that more attention might be given to a federal amendment ensuring the right of women to vote. Pushing for lobbying efforts at the federal level, Alice Paul and her fellow organizers met with the leadership of NAWSA. Anna Howard Shaw had stepped down from the NAWSA in 1915, but Carrie Chapman Catt had been elected President of the organization in her stead. The Congressional Union, supported in spirit by the NAWSA but not with its financial support, was formed in April of 1913. Within a year, the women working in the Congressional Union had proven to be highly effective in driving political awareness in both House and Senate of the potential strength of women voting as a bloc. However, because their national strategy was diverting money and support from the state legislative approach, NAWSA leadership became increasingly disenchanted with Paul and her team. Forced to separate from the more established parent organization, the Congressional Union began the process of becoming a far more radical organization, one that would ultimately become the National Woman’s Party.

Because of the competing strategies in use by NAWSA and the Congressional Union, the progress of and momentum for a federal amendment slowed dramatically.

President Wilson and the Democratic Party were chiefly concerned with economic issues facing the country and being dragged into the European war. Wilson had also just lost his wife of 29 years. Furthering the enfranchisement of women was not now nor likely had it ever been a high priority for the 28th President.

From the perspective of Alice Paul and the Congressional Union, the wisest course in 1915 was to send a message to members of Congress who had failed to support the cause of suffrage. Her statement to the press read “The individual stand taken by any Senator or Representative, or any candidate for that office, does not affect our attitude in this contest. We are going to make it plain that it is political suicide for any party to ignore our demands or oppose the cause. We think we will make such a conclusive showing in the nine suffrage states that no party after that will oppose us.”  The effectiveness of her approach was significant; in an initial presentation of the bill, the House passed the Susan B. Anthony Amendment by a margin of 174 votes. Such evidence of support positioned the issue prominently for the next presidential election, due to be held in 1916.

Picketing at the White House

There were only a very few states at this point that extended full suffrage to women, allowing them to vote in Presidential elections. How much those few impacted the outcome of the election is unclear, but Frank Leslie’s Weekly covered the election outcome this way:

“The campaign was remarkably quiet; the vote was large—16,726,500. Until the close of the polls both national committees were claiming everything, and both were fearful of the result. Hughes, failing in election, was 400,000 behind in the popular vote. The East was for him, the South and the West for Wilson. So great was the defection from Republican principles in the West that even Utah, one of the two States carried for Taft four years ago, went for Wilson. At this writing it is difficult to say what effect the enfranchisement of women had on the result. Illinois, where women voted for a president for the first time, gave Hughes a substantial majority. In other states farther west, notably Kansas, it is said that thousands of wives of Republicans voted for Wilson on the ground that he has “kept us out of war,” and critics of woman suffrage see in this a confirmation of the plea that the extension of suffrage to women will intensify the effect of sentimentalism in elections, and that women are unfit to exercise the franchise because they have too keen a sense of personal benefit and too little collective spirit.”

Picketing at the White House

Fearful that winning a second term would allow Woodrow Wilson to again downplay the need to support and work for women’s suffrage as World War I raged on in Europe, Alice Paul adopted a more dramatic form of public protest. Amid protests that such behavior was inappropriate, unpatriotic, and an international embarrassment to the administration, members of the National Woman’s Party began to publicly picket the White House to draw attention to the voting issue.

Anti-suffrage publication The Remonstrance, chastised those picketing in 1917:

“Picketing hurts, not because only a dozen women are doing it, while millions are performing patriotic service; picketing hurts because it puts an emphasis on the stubborn desire of woman for political rights at a time when many people are struggling with might and main to preserve from demolition political rights won by previous centuries of toil.”

Later in the year, The Remonstrance revisited the activity again: APROPOS of the National Woman’s Party picketing of the White House, The Boston Herald of May 26th very justly said:

“The opponents of woman suffrage have not in many a day found such substantial evidence of the unfitness of some women for the ballot as in the presence, in this time of war and violence and disorder, of a group of feminine stimulators of disorder ceaselessly picketing the gates of the White House. That is perfectly true. As an object lesson of suffrage aims and methods, of the recklessness of suffrage leaders, and of the drift toward lawlessness of the present suffrage movement, the White House picketers are an invaluable aid to the anti-suffrage cause.”

As it happened, in a more subdued fashion, Carrie Chapman Catt, President of the NAWSA, was continuing to press equally hard on achieving suffrage at the individual state level. Her approach won greater sympathy and support from President Wilson, who welcomed Catt to private meetings in the White House. Wilson was hoping that if suffrage was passed by individual state legislatures, those successes would relieve pressure on him and allow Congress to focus on national concerns he felt were of higher priority. But success with state legislatures remained limited; only about a dozen states had granted women the vote.

Catt was maintaining a delicate balance in her pursuit of success. In 1917, with the resources from a 1.7 million dollar bequest by Mrs. Frank Leslie (born Miriam Florence Folen) to Catt and the NAWSA, she organized a “Woman’s Parade” that allowed the substantive role of women in public roles to be made visible without appearing to undermine President Wilson. The monies left for Catt and the NAWSA allowed Catt to expand her “Winning Plan” to engage in lobbying efforts on both the state and federal levels. Her support of Wilson and the Democratic Party in the election of 1916 had been instrumental in electing a majority of Democratic candidates to both House and Senate.

Suffrage MapBut for the suffrage movement to be successful, external pressure through the strategic use of picketing needed to continue. Alice Paul’s picketers were no longer treated as a relatively mild nuisance to the president. Instead, facing an entirely unsympathetic judge, the women were arrested and sentenced to confinement in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia. Conditions were deemed to be inappropriate for refined ladies, arousing public ire against Wilson who thought to extricate himself by issuing pardons to those ladies. Over the course of the second half of 1917, there began a cycle of picketing and arrests. With the intent of deepening pressure on the government, the women confined to Occoquan Workhouse and other jails launched a series of hunger strikes and public opinion became further aroused against Wilson. Because of this on-going campaign of pressure, with the dawning of 1918, the tide began to turn.

In January of 1918, the U.S. House of Representatives began debate on the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. The vote was a clear victory; 274 votes in favor of the amendment with 136 against. The legislation was sent to the Senate which scheduled a debate for June of that year. Both Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul were aware that the opposition was stronger in this body and indeed, a filibuster on the floor of the Senate prevented the debate from opening.

Again, Alice Paul’s National Woman’s Party took to the streets, even as the organization kept meticulous notes on all of the Senators, their support for women’s suffrage or lack, and any element of their lives that might be leveraged to move their vote. Picketing at the White House (which had been temporarily suspended during the House voting process) was revived and mass demonstrations with some urban rioting began.

World War I ended in November of 1918. In a special address before Congress, Woodrow Wilson spoke before Congress and expressed support for legislation that would extend voting rights to women. However, it made clear that this was still not his chief priority as immediately he left for Europe with the intent of building support for his proposed League of Nations. The women were again left on their own to drive support for the Amendment. A vote in the Senate failed in February of 1919, but another vote held early in June pushed the Amendment to final approval, 66-33.

It was now the summer of 1919 and both Catt and Paul wanted to maintain the momentum needed to ensure a rapid process of ratification by three-quarters of the States currently in the Union. Thirty-six states had to vote in their state legislatures to accept the proposed Nineteenth Amendment if that success were to be achieved. Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Kansas, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Texas, Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota and New Hampshire had all agreed to the ratification by the end of September, while efforts in Georgia and Alabama had failed. By the end of December in 1919, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota and Colorado had also voted to accept the Amendment. The most readily obtained votes to accept had been gathered in. Eleven more states would ratify the amendment in the first half of 1920, but the legislatures of South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland all rejected passage. Lobbying became raucously intensive in persuading six more states to ratify, but at the last and most unexpectedly, it was the State of Tennessee that finalized ratification. It was done.

Not surprisingly, Frank Leslie’s Weekly reported on that final success, applauding the work of forty years or more of women like Catt and Paul, noting in its July issue:

“It is interesting to glance at some of the women successors of Miss Anthony and Mrs. Stanton who finished the work in Congress which the two famous pioneers began so many years ago. First and foremost is Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, head of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. For years she had worked faithfully for the suffrage amendment, during which time she developed into a wonderful executive and a clever politician. When the amendment finally passed the House, Mrs. Catt was sitting in the gallery with folded arms and tense countenance. It was the big event in her life, yet her sole remark was, “Well, the women of the United States will now vote for President in 1920.”

Coming Soon - The Women's Tribune

Accessible Archives Honors the Centennial!

Accessible Archives Honors the Centennial

The 19th Amendment

To celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, Accessible Archives is pleased to announce the release of two new products in our Women’s Suffrage Collection: The 19th Amendment Victory: A Newspaper History, 1762-1922 and The 19th Amendment Victory: Books, 1812-1923. These new products provide essential content on the Women’s Rights Movement, the march to full suffrage, public debates and commentary, and the individuals responsible for the success of women’s fight to vote!

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