Skip to Main Content

Suffs vs Antis: The Long History of the Nineteenth Amendment (June 2020): Primary Sources

by Duncan R. Jamieson

Primary Sources

Having become active in the anti-slavery movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) went with her husband to London for the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention, only to be appalled at being forced to remain silent behind a screen. Several years later she led the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, the first convention for women’s rights in the US. In conjunction with Susan B. Anthony, Stanton edited the History of Woman Suffrage in the 1880s, which was later expanded by Matilda Joslyn Gage and Ida Husted Harper into six volumes chronicling the movement. However, an even more useful reference work is Paul Buehle and Mary Jo Buehle’s The Concise History of Woman Suffrage. The compilation includes 80 documents, along with interpretative introductions. 

 Stanton covers similar ground in her autobiography, Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences, 1815–1897, focusing on the political, legal, and social position of women through the lens of her own life. She describes the influence of her parents, her husband, and their seven children, while also offering her opinion on topics such as marriage and divorce, along with personal anecdotes of many of her feminist contemporaries, especially Anthony. 

Interestingly, although leading Suffs Stanton and Anthony were often thought to have shared tactics, The Elizabeth Cady Stanton–Susan B. Anthony Reader: Correspondence, Writings, and Speeches, edited by Ellen Carol DuBois, overturns this popular belief. Distressed at losing the support of radical Republicans and abolitionists over their demand that women be included in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, these women eventually developed separate feminist agendas. Both still saw suffrage as fundamental to the broader feminist agenda, but Stanton began focusing on sexual oppression, while Anthony’s concern was the economic needs of women.  

Another important account of one of the leaders of woman suffrage is Carrie Chapman Catt: A Biography, a firsthand account of Catt’s accomplishments written by fellow Suff Mary Gray Peck (1867–1957), based on their decades-long association. As Peck details, in 1902 Catt had organized the International Woman Suffrage Alliance to bring the vote to women worldwide. She served as NAWSA president from 1900 to 1904 and then again in 1915, despite opposition from southern members who feared the loss of States’ Rights. One of the most famous women of the first half of the twentieth century, she mobilized NAWSA to force passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, succeeding within eighteenth months of its Congressional passage in 1918.

Nettie Shuler (1862–1939) and Carrie Chapman Catt trace the long road to victory, from Seneca Falls to 1920, in their comprehensive and scholarly Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement. The authors downplay the role of men while displaying the anger and frustration women felt. They also reveal the racism and ethnocentrism that emerged from the movement as African Americans and newly arrived immigrants gained the franchise they were denied. 

Other volumes notable for detailing the arduous path to gaining the vote include The Woman’s Suffrage Movement, edited by Sally Roesch Wagner, and Lifting the Curtain: The state and National Woman Suffrage Campaigns in Pennsylvania as I Saw Them, by Caroline Katzenstein (1888–1968). Compiling letters, journals, newspaper articles, speeches, government documents, and petitions, Wagner’s volume provides context and interpretation for the material and its influence on American society. Katzenstein’s firsthand account as a Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association leader in the 1910s provides a clear accounting of the movement’s success.