Series: On Their Shoulders: The Radical Stories of Women's Fight for the Vote

These articles were originally published by the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission (WSCC) as a part of the WSCC blog, The Suff Buffs. The Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission was created by Congress to commemorate 100 years of the 19th Amendment throughout 2020 and to ensure the untold stories of women’s battle for the ballot continue to inspire Americans for the next 100 years. In collaboration with the WSCC, the NPS is the forever home of these articles

  • Article 1: “Failure is Impossible!” The Battle for the Ballot

    Black and white portrait photo of a young Harry Burn in a starched collar and tie

    Harry T. Burn had a secret. Everyone assumed he was an “anti,” meaning he would vote against ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. After all, the 24-year-old first-term member of the Tennessee House of Representatives was from a conservative district, and he was running for reelection in the fall. Read more

  • Article 2: The Prequel: Women’s Suffrage Before 1848

    drawing of a group of women in front of a counter

    Most suffrage histories begin in 1848, the year Elizabeth Cady Stanton convened a women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. There, she unfurled a Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, seeking religious, educational and property rights for women – and the right to vote. While Seneca Falls remains an important marker in women’s suffrage history, in fact women had been agitating for this basic right of citizenship even before the first stirrings of the Revolution. Read more

  • Article 3: The Great Suffrage Parade of 1913

    A woman in white sits atop a white horse

    On the afternoon of March 3, 1913, the day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson as the nation’s 28th president, thousands of suffragists gathered near the Garfield monument in front of the U.S. Capitol. Grand Marshal Jane Burleson stood ready to lead them out into Pennsylvania Avenue at exactly 3:00, in what became the first civil rights march on Washington, DC. It also proved to be turning point in the fight for the vote. Read more

  • Article 4: A Noble Endeavor: Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Suffrage

    photo portrait of Ida B Wells

    On March 3, 1913, the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was in a Washington, D.C. drill rehearsal hall with sixty-four other Illinois suffragists. She was there representing the Alpha Suffrage Club (ASC)-- which she had founded as the first black suffrage club in Chicago just two months before. Ida planned to march with the women in what promised to be a parade of unprecedented scale and significance. Read more

  • Article 5: Sister-Wives and Suffragists: Mormonism and the Women’s Suffrage Movement

    Head and shoulders portrait of emmeline wells, black and white. library of congress

    “Do you know of any place on the face of the earth, where woman has more liberty, and where she enjoys such high and glorious privileges as she does here, as a Latter-day Saint?” So spoke Eliza R. Snow in 1870, the year when women in territorial Utah became among the tiny minority of nineteenth-century American women to win the right to exercise the franchise. Read more

  • Article 6: Alice Paul, Woodrow Wilson, and the Battles for Liberty

    women stand in front of a statue at Lafayette Park. Library of Congress

    President-elect Woodrow Wilson’s train pulled into Washington’s Union Station on March 3, 1913, the day before his inauguration. A relatively thin crowd greeted him and his family before a motorcade took them to a hotel. “Where are all the people?” Wilson asked as he peered out the car window. “On the Avenue, watching the suffrage parade.” Across town, Alice Paul was in the thick of that suffrage procession, an event she created, planned and executed. Read more

  • Article 7: How Native American Women Inspired the Women’s Rights Movement

    black and white head and shoulders portrait of Matilda Joslyn Gage. Library of Congress

    “Never was justice more perfect; never was civilization higher,” suffrage leader Matilda Joslyn Gage wrote about the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy, whose territory extended throughout New York State. Read more

  • Article 8: How Susan B. Anthony Became the Most Recognizable Suffragist

    Susan B Anthony sitting at her desk 1900 Library of Congress

    When I ask my college students to name a suffragist, most of them name Susan B. Anthony. Over a century after her death, many even recognize her picture. In 1979, she became the first woman whose portrait appeared on a circulating coin in the United States. A recent study by the National Women’s History Museum reveals that many states require students to learn about her. How did Anthony’s face become so visible? Read more

  • Article 9: Mabel Ping-Hua Lee: How Chinese-American Women Helped Shape the Suffrage Movement

    Newspaper photo of Mabel Lee LOC

    Mabel Ping-Hua Lee was a feminist pioneer. She was the first Chinese woman in the United States to earn her doctorate and an advocate for the rights of women and the Chinese community in America. However, due to discriminatory immigration laws, she was unable to become a citizen of the United States. Despite this injustice, she played an important part in the fight for voting rights both in the United States and in China. Read more

  • Article 10: Jeannette Rankin: One Woman, One Vote

    Black and white photo of Jeannette Rankin; library of congress

    Only one woman in American history – Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin – ever cast a ballot in support of the 19th Amendment. In 1916, Rankin represented the citizens of Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives, and she wanted American women nationwide to enjoy the benefits of suffrage. “If I am remembered for no other act, I want to be remembered as the only woman who ever voted to give women the right to vote,” Rankin said. Read more

  • Article 11: Suffragette & Suffragist: The Influence of the British Suffrage Movement

    Black and white portrait of emmeline pankhurst LOC

    “I am what you call a hooligan,” Emmeline Pankhurst announced to the standing-room only crowd of women packed into Carnegie Hall in October 1909. Hundreds more gathered outside, hoping to hear the famous “suffragette” speak. The American suffrage and labor activists in attendance cheered as Mrs. Pankhurst regaled the audience with stories about the fight to win the vote for British women. Read more

  • Article 12: Mary McLeod Bethune, True Democracy, and the Fight for Universal Suffrage

    black and white portrait of bethune, seated. NMAH

    Mary McLeod Bethune -- educator, club woman, and stateswoman -- asserted the universality of equality in and through all things. Her contributions to the women’s suffrage movement were evident in her rhetoric challenging American society to become a true democracy, as well as in her utilization of institutional spaces to plan, strategize, and allocate resources. Read more

  • Article 13: Fraught Friendship: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass

    black and white photo of frederick douglass

    News of the death of Frederick Douglass reached Metzerott’s Music Hall in Washington, D.C., in the early evening of February 20, 1895. There, at a session of the National Council of Women’s triennial meeting, sat Susan B. Anthony. After remarking on her usual “wonderful control over feeling,” a reporter noted, “last night she could not conceal her emotion.”[1] Just hours before his death, Anthony and Douglass had been in the same room. Read more

  • Article 14: The Very Queer History of the Suffrage Movement

    newspaper clipping do you want the vote or a husband

    The women’s suffrage movement allowed women to re-examine, question, and begin to systematically rebel against the many restrictions they had lived under for centuries – including oppressive gender and sexual norms. There are, of course, more serious examples, besides Laughlin’s demand for pockets, of how suffragists defied the gendered conventions of their day. Read more

  • Article 15: Should We Care What the Men Did?

    Black and white portraits side by side of du bois and malone. Library of Congress

    “Who cares what the men did?” That was all the book editor’s rejection note said. Yet in real time, during the 1910s, women cared deeply about the men in their fight. That all-important decade brought the campaign new momentum as state pro-suffrage referenda passed in California in 1911; Kansas and Oregon in 1912; Montana and Nevada in 1914; New York in 1917; and Michigan, Oklahoma, and South Dakota in 1918. Read more

  • Article 16: Suffrage in Spanish: Hispanic Women and the Fight for the 19th Amendment in New Mexico

    New Mexico Suffragists, 1915. Collections of the National Woman's Party

    At three o'clock on an October afternoon in 1915, the suffragists of Santa Fe, New Mexico, took to the streets of the capital city to make "a public act of faith in the cause of woman suffrage." One hundred and fifty women joined the parade, Anglos (the term New Mexicans used to refer to whites) and Hispanics (which referred to the Spanish-speaking citizens of the state). Some marched; others rode in gaily decorated automobiles. Read more

  • Article 17: “All Men and Women Are Created Equal:” The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

    Portrait of a woman holding a child. LOC

    Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) was the leading activist-intellectual of the nineteenth-century movement that demanded women’s rights, including the right to education, property, and a voice in public life. Among those rights was the right to vote, which Americans of her era increasingly understood as an important mark of citizenship. To those who were beginning to demand an end to women’s subordinate status, gaining suffrage came to be seen as an essential step. Read more

  • Article 18: Alice Paul’s Crusade: How A Young Quaker from New Jersey Changed the National Conversation and Got the Vote

    Black and white portrait of Alice Paul seated at a desk. LOC

    On March 2, 1918, a news item appeared on the front page of the Alaskan newspaper The Seward Gateway. Under the headline, “Alice Paul Has Measles,” was a report that the “militant suffrage leader” was confined to her room but carrying on her campaign through the door’s keyhole. Paul was largely unknown five years earlier when she arrived in Washington to work for an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting voter discrimination based on sex. Read more

  • Article 19: Mary Church Terrell: Black Suffragist and Civil Rights Activist

    Black and white profile portrait of Mary Church Terrell LOC

    Born a slave in Memphis, Tennessee in 1863 during the Civil War, Mary Church Terrell became a civil rights activist and suffragist leader. Coming of age during and after Reconstruction, she understood through her own lived experiences that African-American women of all classes faced similar problems, including sexual and physical violence, inadequate access to health care, limited opportunities for meaningful and fairly compensated work, and no constitutional right to vote. Read more

  • Article 20: "To the wrongs that need resistance:” Carrie Chapman Catt’s Lifelong Fight for Women’s Suffrage

    black and white portrait of catt speaking into an old fashioned candlestick phone. LOC

    When Carrie Lane Chapman Catt was 13-years-old and living in rural Charles City, Iowa, she witnessed something that would help to decide the course of her life. Her family was politically active and on Election Day in 1872, Carrie’s father and some of the male hired help were getting ready to head into town to vote. She asked her mother why she wasn’t getting dressed to go too. Her parents laughingly explained to their daughter that women couldn’t vote. Read more

  • Article 21: Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (Zitkala-Ša): Advocate for the "Indian Vote"

    black and white profile portrait of zitkala sa

    When suffragist and voting rights activist Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (Zitkala-Ša) passed away in Virginia in 1938, she and her husband chose as their final resting place Arlington National Cemetery. Her tombstone reads: "Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, 'Zitkala-Ša of the Sioux' 1876-1938" This statement left an enduring message: she could be both a citizen of the United States and a citizen of the Yankton Sioux Nation. She did not have to choose. Read more

  • Article 22: Nemesis: The South and the Nineteenth Amendment

    Cover of the NAWSA Headquarters Newsletter,

    The South was the nemesis of the woman suffrage movement, the long-term, impassioned adversary that, in 1920, almost kept the Nineteenth Amendment from being ratified. Regional hostility to the women’s rights movement long delayed the development of a southern suffrage movement and precluded state suffrage victories. Powerful resistance from white southern Congressmen and Senators for many years precluded Congressional approval of a federal woman suffrage amendment. Read more

  • Article 23: The Final Desperate Battle for Suffrage in Tennessee

    Exterior photo of the Hermitage Hotel, Nashville. Courtesy Hermitage Hotel

    Everyone knew that Tennessee was a dangerous place to stage the decisive battle for ratification of the 19th Amendment, but the suffragists had no choice. It was their last, best hope to secure ratification before the fall 1920 national elections; it was their only feasible prospect for gaining the elusive 36th ratification state to make women’s suffrage part of the Constitution. After seven decades of struggle, it would come down to Tennessee, and that was terrifying. Read more

  • Article 24: A Centennial Reflection

    Color portrait of Michelle Duster, courtesy Michelle Duster (copyright)

    During my lifetime Black people were deeply entrenched in the struggle for voting rights. As a child of the 1960s I heard a constant emphasis on how important it was to vote. To make our voices heard. I went with my parents to polling places when they voted, where I was surrounded by adults who grew up in the Jim Crow South and knew that voting was not something to take for granted. Michelle Duster is the great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells. Read more

  • Article 25: On This Day August 26, 1920: The Significance of Ratification of the 19th Amendment

    Women celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment. Black and white photo. LOC

    “The Secretary has signed the proclamation,” the Secretary of State’s office told Carrie Chapman Catt over the phone on August 26, 1920. “So quietly as that,” lobbyist Maud Wood Park, who was there, later wrote, “we learned that the last step in the enfranchisement of women had been taken, and the struggle of more than seventy years brought to a successful end.” Read more