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Voting Rights for Women

Although the Declaration of Independence specifies that "all men are created equal," its publication sowed the seeds the seeds for the women's suffrage movement in the United States. The movement took root at an 1840 conference in London, when two determined women met for the first time. Even though they were delegates to the World Anti-Slavery Congress, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton could not participate in the convention because they were female. This snub inspired them to work together to guarantee rights for women.

In 1848, Mott and Stanton hosted the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women's rights convention in the United States. The convention published a Declaration of Sentiments, based on the Declaration of Independence, that called for voting rights for women and other reforms.

Some key grievances included in the Declaration of Sentiments were:

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.

Women's rights conventions were held regularly thereafter. In 1853, Frances Gage presided over the National Women's Rights Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. She commented on the prevailing opinion that women belonged at home, not at the polling place:

I was asked a few days ago . . . "are you not afraid that woman will run into excesses, that homes will be deserted, that men will lack wives in this country?" I have but one reply to make to that question. Society grants to every man in the United States, every free "white male citizen," ... the privilege of voting, and of being voted for; of being President of the United States; of sitting upon the bench; of filling the jury box, of going to Congress; ... and we don't believe woman will get very far out of her place, if society should yield her the same rights.

Unlike African Americans, who were enfranchised by the Constitution but denied the vote by individual states, women found no help in the Constitution. In fact, the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) defined citizens and voters as "male" - a setback for suffragists. Conflict over how to win the vote in light of Amendments Fourteen and Fifteen split the women's rights movement.

In 1890, the two organizations reconciled and became the National American Woman Suffrage Association. By then, women had the right to vote in Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Colorado and Washington. Armed with strategies from both founding groups, and joined by organizations including the National Association of Colored Women, the National Women's Party and the National Federation of Women's Clubs, NAWSA became an influential national force. As a mark of their influence, Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose/Progressive party adopted women's suffrage as party plank in 1912.

The suffrage movement slowed during World War I, but women continued to assert their status as full and independent members of society. Since 1878, a women's suffrage amendment had been proposed each year in Congress. In 1919, the suffrage movement had finally gained enough support, and Congress, grateful for women's help during the war, passed the Nineteenth Amendment on June 5. With these words, Congress at last removed the legal bar to women's right to vote:

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