woman suffrage

Right of women by law to vote in national and local elections. Women's voting rights became an issue in the 19th century, especially in Britain and the U.S. In the U.S. the woman suffrage movement arose from the antislavery movement (see abolitionism) and from the advocacy of figures such as Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who believed that equality should extend to both women and African Americans. They organized the Seneca Falls Convention (1848), which issued a declaration calling for woman suffrage and for the right of women to educational and employment opportunities. In 1850 Lucy Stone held the movement's first national convention. Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 to secure an amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote, while Stone founded the American Woman Suffrage Association to seek similar amendments to state constitutions; in 1890 the two organizations merged as the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Following Wyoming's lead in 1890, states began adopting such amendments; by 1918 women had won suffrage in 15 states. After a woman suffrage amendment was passed by Congress, a vigorous campaign brought ratification, and in August 1919 the 19th Amendment became part of the Constitution. In Britain the first woman suffrage committee was formed in Manchester in 1865. In the 1870s suffragists submitted petitions bearing nearly three million signatures. Despite growing support, suffrage bills were continually defeated; in frustration, some suffragists became militant activists under the leadership of Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. Parliament finally passed the Representation of the People Act in 1918, by which time women had already won voting rights in New Zealand (1893), Australia (1902), Finland (1906), Norway (1913), the Soviet Union (1917), Poland (1918), Sweden (1919), Germany (1919), and Ireland (1922). After World War II woman-suffrage laws were adopted in many countries, including France, Italy, India, and Japan.

Learn more about woman suffrage with a free trial on

The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), an American women's rights organization, was formed as an amalgamation of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) in May 1890. NAWSA was the largest and most important suffrage organization in the United States until the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920. Thereafter NAWSA was reformed as the League of Women Voters, which continues in existence up to the present time.

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.



  • Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States, Enlarged Edition (1959; Harvard University Press, 1996). ISBN 0-674-10653-9
  • Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, ed., One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement (Troutdale, Oregon: NewSage Press, 1995). ISBN 0-939165-26-0

Search another word or see woman-suffrageon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature