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Thu, Dec 11, 2014

Women's Suffrage: The Movement

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The women's suffrage movement began its most public phase in the United States at the Seneca Falls Convention, hosted by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton on July 19-20, 1848 in Seneca Falls, NY. During this meeting, the Declaration of Sentiments, a document of women's rights modeled on the Declaration of Independence and written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was introduced. From this moment, trailblazers worked tirelessly to gain equal voting rights for women up until the moment the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1920. This amendment explicitly states that "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

Suffrage Map

Suffrage Map, 1916 - North Carolina Collection

It was especially difficult for women to gain equal voting rights in the South, as the majority of lawmakers, all of whom were men, were vehemently opposed to the legislation at the state and county levels. The first North Carolina state bill for women's suffrage was introduced and rejected in 1897, after being referred to a committee on insane asylums. Several more suffrage bills followed at the state level and were rejected through 1920, when the amendment passed at the national level. North Carolina was the second-to-last state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, in 1971. Only Mississippi, which ratified the amendment in 1984, trailed North Carolina in officially accepting equal voting rights for women.

"The league was organized
in the Capitol of Virginia"
- Adele Clark

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Women formed and led several major organizations to fight for equal voting rights. Adele Clark, future president of the Virginia League of Woman Voters and a founding member of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia and the League of Women Voters in Virginia, tells of how the Virginia League of Women Voters was organized by Carrie Chapman Catt. The first meeting of the organization was held in the Virginia state capital building in November, 1920, to mark the anniversary of the formation of the Equal Suffrage League. The General Assembly allowed both the League of Women Voters and the Equal Suffrage League to hold their conventions at the capital even as they declined to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. One of the suffrage maps Clark describes in her interview as "pretty black" in the southern states is pictured at right.

"Franchise was a reward"
- Rosamonde R. Boyd

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Rosamonde R. Boyd, an activist for women's rights, felt that voting rights for women may actually have been a "reward for their community service and their national service" during World War I. In return for their faithful efforts in the home and in the workplace, Boyd says, women were given equal voting rights under the law. Some of the arguments in favor of suffrage advanced by Boyd and her school colleagues were that "women are persons. And that women have as much mental ability as men. Women have as much stamina as men. Women, in fact, live five years longer than men."