Susan B. Anthony was the dominant figure in NAWSA from 1890 to 1900, at which time she stepped down in favor of Carrie Chapman Catt. Catt was president of NAWSA from 1900 to 1904 and again from 1915 to 1920. Anna Howard Shaw was president of NAWSA from 1904 to 1915. Alice Paul was initially active in NAWSA but found it to be insufficiently militant and led a splinter group that eventually became the National Woman's Party. The NWP also played an important role with its radical tactics in the years up to the final victory of the suffragists in 1920.
Prior to the amalgamation of NWSA and AWSA, NWSA tended to take a more radical position than the American Woman Suffrage Association (see below). It established itself as an organization that would only allow female members, and it passed a resolution opposing the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which recognized suffrage for African American males, but not women's suffrage. This set it apart from the Equal Rights Association, which had begun to concentrate on Negro suffrage to the exclusion of female suffrage, and prominent suffragist Lucy Stone was not invited to its inaugural meeting due to her association with the ERA. In a related connection, it associated itself with George Francis Train, who actively opposed Negro suffrage. It also aimed to cover a wider range of women's issues than simple suffrage.
The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) attracted more conservative members. Its membership overlapped with the ERA. It was established in 1869 by Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Josephine Ruffin, in Boston, Massachusetts. The AWSA was less militant than the NWSA, and unlike the NWSA, it did not campaign on other issues such as employer discrimination and easier divorce for women. In 1870, the AWSA founded the Women's Journal, a magazine edited by Lucy Stone.
Over time, the National became more conservative. When Susan B. Anthony became president, she focused its effort upon women's suffrage to the exclusion of these side issues. Radical suffragists became disenchanted with the organization, and in 1890 the American Woman Suffrage Association agreed to a controversial merger with the NWSA to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), which was led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, Frances Willard, Mary Church Terrell, Matilda Joslyn Gage and Anna Howard Shaw. Joslyn Gage, Olympia Brown and Cady Stanton were all alienated by the merger.