Skip to Main Content

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

by Duncan R. Jamieson

Winning the Vote

In Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Woman’s Movement in America, 1848–1869, Ellen Carol DuBois concludes that suffrage ultimately developed from black liberation and the labor movement. Moving women into public life and view helped to break down the separate spheres of women and men, and suffrage became the first independent movement by women to aid their own cause, forced on them by their exclusion from the Fifteenth Amendment.

In fact, the NAWSA remains one of the most successful single-issue pressure groups to have formed in the US. Through publicity and propaganda at the local, state, and national levels, women shaped the organization to achieve their goal. As Sarah Hunter Graham concludes in Woman Suffrage and the New Democracy, however, this unfortunately did not gain the hoped-for acknowledgement in the male-dominated political realm. 

Developing a similar argument, Margaret Mary Finnegan describes the new consumer culture that developed in post–Civil War America in Selling Suffrage: Consumer Culture and Votes for Women. Finnegan demonstrates how Suffs aligned themselves with the new middle-class life that was emerging, capitalizing on consumerism to gain the vote and further define their identity. As an example, Finnegan points to the window displays they created that called for women’s right to vote. 

According to Rebecca J. Mead, in How the Vote Was Won: Women Suffragists in the Western United States, 1868–1914, western women aligned themselves with progressive farmers and labor activists to fight for their rights and overcome racism and elitism. Due to the unsettled nature of regional politics these women were more politically flexible, improvising tactics that enabled them to overcome opposition much earlier than their eastern sisters.

In The Puritan Ethic and Woman Suffrage, Alan P. Grimes argues that the issue of woman suffrage ultimately came down to questions such as prohibition or immigration restriction, since male legislators controlled whether women would gain the vote. As women likely supported both these issues, like-minded legislators acknowledged their demand.

In Woman Suffrage and the Origins of Liberal Feminism in the United States, 1820–1920, however, Suzanne M. Marilley develops three waves of feminist theory to explain the movement’s trajectory. During the Jacksonian Era these women suffragists developed the feminism of equal rights to counter the opponents of women participating in the anti-slavery movement. After the Civil War, the feminism of fear developed to free them from injury or death, particularly from drunken men. Finally, in the early 1900s the feminism of personal development sought freedom to live a full life. In a similar vein, Amendment XIX: Granting Women the Right to Vote, edited by Carrie Fredericks, endeavors to place the movement in historical context by examining voting rights, equality, politics, and court texts, and also considers newer arguments on equality and voting rights.

Alternatively, for an illustrative account of how these struggles played out, Cartooning for Suffrage by Alice Sheppard compiles 

Works Cited