Last updated: August 22, 2019
Women first organized and collectively fought for suffrage at the national level in July of 1848. Suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened a meeting of over 300 people in Seneca Falls, New York. In the following decades, women marched, protested, lobbied, and even went to jail. By the 1870s, women pressured Congress to vote on an amendment that would recognize their suffrage rights. This amendment was sometimes known as the Susan B. Anthony amendment and became the 19th Amendment.
The amendment reads:
"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
Until the 1890s, Hawai’i was ruled by a monarch (a king and/or queen). But in 1893, Hawaiian Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown by A group of businessmen and landowners. Shortly after, Hawai’i became a United States territory in 1898. When this happened, native Hawaiians like Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett argued that they should have suffrage rights in the US too. Dowsett founded the National Women’s Equal Suffrage Association and hosted meetings in her home. Her passion for suffrage was infectious and many other women, particularly those native to Hawai’i, became active in the fight for suffrage. Dowsett and other would go door to door, encouraging native women to get involved in the movement.
After decades of arguments for and against women's suffrage, Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment in June 1919. After Congress approved the 19th Amendment, at least 36 states needed to vote in favor of it for it to become law. This process is called ratification.
Because Hawai’i was not yet a state, it could not vote for or against the 19th Amendment. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, making women’s suffrage legal in the United States. Hawaiian women became enfranchised along with their mainland sisters when the 19th Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution in August 1920. As residents of a U.S. territory, however, their elected representation was limited.
Hawai'i sent a symbolic ratification star to the National Woman's Party in celebration of the passage of the 19th Amendment.
Hawai’i Places of Women’s Suffrage: 'Iolani Palace
‘Iolani Palace was home to the last monarchs of Hawai’i including King Kalākaua and Queen Lili’uokalani. As the first and only Queen of Hawai'i, Lili’uokalani was a powerful symbol of women’s ability to govern and participate in civic life. Her brother, King Kalākaua, also recognized the importance of including women in political decision-making. During his reign, Kalākaua relied on the service and advice of women like Emma Kaʻilikapuolono Metcalf Beckley Nakuina. In addition to serving as the first curator of the Hawaiian National Museum, Nakuina was appointed the Commissioner of Private Ways and Water Rights from 1892 to 1907. Nakuina also hosted social gatherings of nationally acclaimed women’s suffragists. ‘Iolani Palace is a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public.