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

by Duncan R. Jamieson


Focusing specifically on the individual women who drove the movement, a number of biographies stand out as exceptional narratives for understanding and contextualizing the movement for woman suffrage. In Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life, Laurie D. Ginzberg presents a narrative history of the intellectually gifted individual who used societal limitations to establish a philosophy of equal rights. In this excellent biography, Ginzberg does not shy away from the roles of race and class as they influenced her beliefs. 

Turning to Susan B. Anthony, known as the historian of the suffrage movement, Susan B. Anthony and the Struggle for Equal Rights, edited by Christine Ridarsky and Mary M. Huth, brings to light Anthony’s Quaker beliefs and how they influenced her life and suffrage work in post–Civil War America. Anthony first received international attention when, based on the Fourteenth Amendment, she voted in the 1872 presidential election, only to be arrested, tried, convicted, and fined $100 (which she never paid) in a case overseen by a justice of the Supreme Court. Martin Naparsteck recounts the event in The Trial of Susan B. Anthony: An Illegal Vote, a Courtroom Conviction and a Step toward Woman's Suffrage

Another esteemed figure and the first Massachusetts woman to earn a college degree, Lucy Stone (1818–1893) lectured on woman’s rights months before Seneca Falls. In 1869 she cofounded the American Woman Suffrage Association and in 1870 began publishing the weekly newspaper The Woman’s Journal. Sally McMillen’s Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life brings to life this dynamic and passionate leader of the early suffrage movement.

Stone’s contemporary and one of the organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention, Lucretia Mott (1793–1880) was well known for her outspoken opposition to racial and sexual subordination, which Carol Faulkner highlights as stemming from her Quaker faith in Lucretia Mott’s Heresy: Abolition and Woman’s Rights in Nineteenth Century America. Throughout her life, in fact, Mott vigorously opposed all forms of injustice.

A “self-proclaimed woman’s rights man,” the escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1818–95), also actively participated in the Seneca Falls Convention. In Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, Leigh Fought writes that despite his narrow focus, which excluded women from the Fifteenth Amendment, and despite Stanton’s racist statements regarding the inferiority of black males, Douglass continued to campaign for universal suffrage. He died hours after attending a woman’s suffrage meeting in Washington, DC, at which he received a standing ovation.

Jean H. Baker explores the lives and interactions of Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Frances Willard (1839–1898) and Alice Paul, major champions of woman suffrage, in the collective biography Sisters: The Lives of American Suffragists. Baker focuses on how their interactions in their personal lives kept the movement alive, humanizing these prominent leaders and highlighting their similarities and differences.

Victoria Woodhull (1838–1927), both a darling and the bane of the suffrage movement, ran in the 1872 presidential election, embodying the extent to which women were willing to push the limits of social constraints, as Barbara Goldsmith recounts in Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull. Describing the campaign, Goldsmith notes that Woodhull was actually in jail on election day, charged with libel and obscenity.

Chronicling the life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s daughter, Harriet Stanton Blatch (1856–1940), in Harriot Stanton Blatch and the Winning of Woman Suffrage, Ellen Carol DuBois highlights Blatch’s influence in eventually winning woman suffrage. DuBois provides a balanced account of Blatch’s nativism and skill in politics, which helped ensure success in 1920.

Carrie Chapman Catt has received thorough attention for her contributions to woman suffrage as well. According to Robert Booth Fowler, in Carrie Catt: Feminist Politician, she was a political leader and visionary. Working for equality between women and men, Catt founded The League of Women Voters to educate women for intelligent participation in politics and government. In Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life, Jacqueline Van Voris describes her as a skilled organizer and an inspiration to those around her. Devoting the first half of her life to suffrage internationally, she was one of the twentieth century’s most famous women.

Anna Howard Shaw (1847–1919), who led NAWSA from 1904 to 1915, guided the organization’s evolution from one comprised primarily of white, middle-class volunteers to a professional organization attracting working women, college students, and favorably disposed politicians, as Tricia Franzen narrates in Anna Howard Shaw: The Work of Woman Suffrage. This important development in turn increased the number of states with full suffrage from four to twelve.

Alice Paul (1885–1977), another major champion of women’s voting rights, took a much more incendiary route to pushing for the same goals. Having learned radical techniques to push for change upon moving to England in 1907, she used these same fiery tactics to advocate for woman suffrage once back in the US, although these methods often brought on police beatings, imprisonment, hunger strikes, and forced feedings. J.D. Zahnizer and Amelia R. Fry delve deep into Paul’s provocative approach in Alice Paul: Claiming Power, exploring how she eventually left the staid NAWSA to form the radical National Woman’s Party.

 Though the much larger NASWA garners more credit, the NWP created more publicity and had at least an equal share in the campaign that saw the Nineteenth Amendment pass both houses of Congress in 1919, to be ratified in 1920 in time for the presidential election. Once suffrage passed in the US, Paul devoted the rest of her life to the Equal Rights Amendment, first introduced in Congress in 1923 and every year thereafter until it passed both houses of Congress in the early 1970s, though it failed to later gain the requisite thirty-eight states for ratification. Christine A. Lunardini showcases the entirety of Paul’s life and her many political contributions in From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights: Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party, 1910–1928.

Focusing on woman suffrage in the South, Paul E. Fuller's Laura Clay and the Woman’s Rights Movement examines the life of the first president of the Kentucky Woman’s Suffrage Association, the first south of the Mason Dixon Line, organized in 1881. In 1888 it morphed into the Kentucky Equal Rights Association, reflecting the close connection between the demand for the vote specifically and the wider interest in women’s equal rights.  Clay (1849–1941) worked tirelessly in Kentucky before reaching out to states across the nation. Because of her dedication to States’ Rights she opposed a federal amendment, believing the right to vote was a state prerogative. Ultimately, though, her diligent efforts led to Kentucky becoming the thirty-fifth state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, eight months before Tennessee. 

Working at the state level, Abigail Scott Duniway (1834–1915) was the driving force that led Oregon to become the eighth state to accept women’s suffrage, securing victory in a close vote through her indomitable will. A first-generation suffragist, Duniway accepted Thomas Jefferson’s statements on equal rights in the Declaration of Independence, which led her to see women’s suffrage as a logical extension of the nineteenth century’s democratization. In keeping with the close association between suffrage and equal rights, Duniway supported women’s demands for financial autonomy. Ruth B. Moynihan’s Rebel for Rights: Abigail Scott Duniway portrays her as self-educated and rough around the edges, someone who did not fit the genteel middle-class image of the eastern first-generation feminists.

Works Cited