Ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment: The Backstory, 1848-1919

With the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 18th,1920, American women finally secured the most fundamental right of citizens in a democracy. The broad outlines of the story are well known: the decades long, hard-won victory was due largely to the collective efforts of thousands of women across the nation whose protests, picket lines, politicking, and publications finally persuaded (male) voters to extend women the right to vote. Less well understood is the complex backstory: the early impetus for woman suffrage provided by the Western states versus the inertia of the Eastern Seaboard; the grassroots fervor of disparate groups of polygamists, prohibitionists, socialists, and populists, versus the well-funded resistance of the railroad and liquor industries; the enthusiastic support from those jurists and legislators who welcomed, as well as those who deeply feared the consequences of the 14th Amendment; and the profoundly conflicting political and social visions of the numerous women’s organizations that could agree on little else except the necessity of women’s suffrage. In this seminar we will take a closer look, from the Civil War onward, at the backstories: the reasoning and motivations of opponents as well as supporters; relevant 19th C. court cases and legislation; the personalities and political tactics of key change agents, both male and female; the factors of race, class, and religion in different regions of the country; the involvement of Big Business; and the “pioneering” contributions of the Western states. Participants will be introduced to primary and secondary sources that can be used in middle and high school settings.