By Tom Dare
STIRRING PHOTOS of some of the women responsible for leading the drive for civil rights for women in the early 20th century in the USA have resurfaced today, on the 109th annual International Women’s Day.
Images show several marches undertaken by American women protesting for their right to vote in the years between 1900 and 1919, with banners and placards chastising the government for not doing enough to give equal rights to women. One banner read ‘How long must women wait for liberty’ while another said ‘Women’s cause is man’s cause. They rise or fall together.’
Further images from the collection shows a handful of suffragettes burning a fire outside of the Whitehouse in protest, with another showing a woman dressed up in a police officer’s uniform ‘to illustrate the concept of women in the police force.’
As was the case in several western ‘democracies’ at the turn of the century, American women found themselves fighting for their right to vote throughout the early 1900s. In 1890 the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was formed, with the goal of achieving equal rights for women. This entailed constantly lobbying the government, organising marches and protests to gain maximum attention and put pressure on lawmakers to make an amendment to the constitution to allow women the right to vote.
NAWSA’s first President was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with one if its leading and most famous figureheads being Susan B. Anthony. From 1900 onwards the group led many campaigns and protests across the country, demanding the attention of politicians and the public through relentless lobbying, clever publicity stunts, civil disobedience and nonviolent confrontation. The group drew their inspiration from other civil rights groups from around the world, such as the British women’s suffrage movement and the antislavery campaigns of the pre-civil war era.
“The true woman will not be exponent of another, or allow another to be such for her. She will be her own individual self, — do her own individual work — stand or fall by her own individual wisdom and strength stand or fall by her own individual wisdom and strength,” Cady Stanton and Anthony said in a statement in 1856.
“She will proclaim the “glad tidings of good news” to all women, that woman equally with man was made for her own individual happiness, to develop every power of her three fold-nature, to use, worthily every talent given to her by God, in the great work of life.”
One of the most notable things about the women marching for equal rights in the early 1900s was their willingness to be arrested for the cause, portraying themselves as political prisoners rather than criminals. Their approach worked, too, with the Whitehouse unhappy with the level of negative publicity being created by the protestors constant lobbying of the government.
America’s involvement in the First World War was instrumental in women winning the right to vote. With the men overseas in Europe fighting, women were left to do many of the jobs which it was commonly assumed they were unable to do, such as working in manufacturing and engineering professions.
In 1915 a suffrage bill was brought to floor of the House of Representatives but was defeated, lacking any real support from the President or the Democratic Party. The bill was voted on again in 1918, where it was defeated in the Senate by just two votes, and once more in February 1919, when it was defeated by a single vote in the Senate.
President Wilson was determined to have the vote passed, though, with many other western countries having already given women the right to vote. The issue was again put to a vote in May 1919, this time one called especially by the President, was finally passed as the 19th amendment to the United States constitution. It was then finally ratified in August 1919, making the 1920 election the first in which women were able to vote.