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The Right to Vote: Key Women

Women of the Suffrage Movement

"Elizabeth Cady Stanton was one of the primary organizers of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, an early proponent of woman suffrage, and among the foremost leaders of the 19th century women's rights movement. With her friend Susan B. Anthony, Stanton launched the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 and through it campaigned across the nation for various state ballot measures for woman suffrage.

Born in Johnston, New York, Stanton graduated from the community's academy in 1830 and wanted to attend college, but no college in the nation admitted women. In 1831, she entered Troy Female Seminary, a school that sought to provide a classical and scientific curriculum to women. After graduating two years later, Stanton returned to her family's home in Johnston.

Stanton married abolitionist agent Henry Stanton 1840, and 12 days after their wedding the couple left for the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Henry Stanton was a delegate to the convention, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton attended as an observer. Two American female anti-slavery societies also sent delegates, among them Lucretia Mott. When the convention opened, some male delegates protested seating the female delegates, leading to an extended debate and the convention's refusal to seat the women on the convention floor. Instead, they were relegated to a balcony with other women, among them Elizabeth Stanton.

After spending hours together, Stanton and Mott, a Quaker minister, abolitionist, and feminist, became friends. They discussed women's status and resolved to hold a women's convention as soon as they returned to the United States. Eight years later, the Stantons lived in Seneca Falls, New York, and when Lucretia Mott visited a nearby town, the two women renewed their friendship and finally planned a women's rights convention for the following week. Stanton and Mott drafted the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, based upon the Declaration of Independence, to present to the attendees. As the convention date approached, Stanton questioned whether anyone would attend a meeting on women's civil, social, and religious status, but on the day of the convention, the sight of women and men making their way to the meeting place reassured her. Because it was considered unseemly for women even to speak in public, Lucretia Mott's husband, James Mott, presided over the convention, held on July 19 and 20, 1848. The declaration created only minimal controversy until the point on woman suffrage was presented. After some debate, it was also accepted. Sixty-eight women and 32 men signed the declaration.

A partnership that lasted more than 50 years began in 1851, when Susan B. Anthony attended an anti-slavery meeting in Seneca Falls and met Stanton. A single woman who never married, Anthony had the freedom to travel that Stanton, with her growing family and household, did not have. As their partnership in the women's rights movement developed, Stanton provided ideas, rhetoric, and strategies, and Anthony delivered the speeches, circulated petitions, and organized women's rights groups.

During the Civil War, work on women's rights became secondary to efforts supporting emancipation and the war effort. Stanton believed that if women supported the Civil War, they would be granted equal citizenship and equal suffrage as rewards for their patriotism. Stanton spoke and wrote for emancipation and with Anthony formed the Woman's National Loyal League, which collected 400,000 signatures on petitions supporting the Thirteenth Amendment. In 1865, when the Fourteenth Amendment was drafted using the word male to define citizens and legal voters, Stanton was outraged and felt betrayed by the abolitionists with whom she had worked and who supported the amendment. She demanded that women as well as former male slaves gain voting rights, but reformers rejected her pleas.

In 1869, Stanton and Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), with Stanton as president and Anthony as vice president. Their decision formalized the break between them and many abolitionists and women's rights supporters. NWSA supported a woman suffrage amendment, opposed the Fifteenth Amendment unless woman suffrage was included, and did not permit male members. NWSA's agenda included a broad range of women's rights issues, including divorce. The same year, Lucy Stone organized the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), a group that advocated a state-by-state approach to gain woman suffrage and did not endorse any other issue. The two groups battled for members and for financial support for more than 20 years. When the NWSA and the AWSA merged in 1890, Stanton was elected president of the newly formed National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She served one term and refused to serve a second.

Stanton continued to write and publish about woman suffrage, religion, divorce, and related topics for the rest of her life. She died before passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920."


Stanton, Elizabeth Cady (1815-1902). (2013). In S. O'Dea, From suffrage to the Senate: America's political women : an encyclopedia of leaders, causes & issues (3rd ed.). Amenia, NY: Grey House Publishing. Retrieved from

File:LUCRETIA MOTT A woman of the century (page 536 crop).jpg 

"Quaker minister, abolitionist, and suffragist Lucretia Coffin Mott organized the first anti-slavery convention of U.S. women and helped launch the 19th-century women's rights movement. Throughout her life, Mott worked for equality for African Americans, women, Native Americans, immigrants, and the poor.

Born on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, Mott attended a local grammar school and then a Quaker boarding school, where she developed her commitment to abolitionism. After completing the curriculum, Mott joined the teaching staff and occasionally taught after her marriage in 1811. Mott was formally recognized as a Quaker minister in 1821, but her relationship to the Quaker faith would be repeatedly challenged as she became increasingly involved in social reform issues.

Mott decided in the early 1820s to boycott all products made by slave labor, including cotton, cane sugar, and molasses. Although her boycott did not provoke controversy, her repeated discussions during Meeting (the Quaker expression for corporate worship) attracted criticism. She furthered her involvement in the abolitionist effort in 1833 when she organized a gathering that led to the formation of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. Mott organized the first Female Anti-Slavery Convention of American women in 1837, but it was the second convention the next year that proved dramatic and dangerous. A mob of thousands of people gathered outside the convention hall, posing so great a threat that the mayor asked those gathered at the convention to leave. Mott, demonstrating the courage that characterized her, invited the women to leave quietly in pairs, one white woman accompanying each black woman through the crowd. Later that night, a mob of 17,000 burned the convention hall. The third convention, in 1839, proceeded without violence. That year, Mott became an officer in the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society.

The society named Lucretia Mott, and her husband James Mott, delegates to the World Anti-Slavery Society convention in London in 1840. Lucretia Mott was one of several U.S. women delegates to the convention, all of whom learned upon arriving in London that the convention organizers did not want to seat the women. The Motts and others protested the exclusion, but the English abolitionists remained adamant, and the women were relegated to a balcony.

Eight years later, in July 1848, while visiting a mutual friend of hers and Stanton's, Mott received an invitation to a tea that Stanton also planned to attend. Over cups of tea on July 13, 1848, Mott, Stanton, and a few other women wrote a call to a women's rights convention for publication the next day in the Seneca Falls newspaper. In less than a week, they drafted resolutions based upon the Declaration of Independence for the convention's consideration. One of the resolutions Stanton proposed distressed Mott because it called for woman's suffrage. Mott believed that it would make the women appear ridiculous, but she came to see that it was important and consented to its introduction.

Lucretia Mott's husband presided over the convention, the women believing it improper for one of them to chair it. The resolutions, including the one for suffrage, were accepted by the convention on July 20, 1848, but after the convention, some of the women in attendance asked to have their names removed from the document because their husbands opposed it. The convention launched the 19th-century women's rights movement and with it the demand for woman's suffrage. In addition to political rights, Mott believed that professional opportunities should be opened to women. For example, despite the opposition of the American Medical Association, she worked to help women obtain training and gain acceptance as doctors."


Mott, Lucretia coffin (1793-1880). (2013). In S. O'Dea, From suffrage to the Senate: America's political women : an encyclopedia of leaders, causes & issues (3rd ed.). Amenia, NY: Grey House Publishing. Retrieved from

"A charismatic leader, Susan B. Anthony used her organizational ability and her political acumen to help gain suffrage and other rights for women. With her political partner Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she carried the women's rights message across the country, educated women about the legal and constitutional barriers to their full citizenship, and organized the National Woman Suffrage Association.

Born in Adams, Massachusetts, Anthony, a Quaker, attended Deborah Moulson's Seminary for Females when she was 17 years old. After teaching and serving as a headmistress at other schools for several years in her twenties, she left teaching to manage her family's farm in 1849. Her parents had created a gathering place for temperance activists and abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips. In addition, her parents and younger sister had attended the 1848 women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York.

Anthony entered politics through the temperance movement, making her first speech as president of the local Daughters of Temperance in 1849. It was through her temperance work that Anthony met Amelia Bloomer in 1851 and through her, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who had helped organize the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. At a Sons of Temperance meeting in 1852, Anthony stood up to speak but was told that women were supposed to listen and learn and was denied permission to speak. When she walked out of the meeting, it was her first spontaneous protest action. In response, she organized the Woman's State Temperance Society, with Stanton serving as president.

Anthony attended her first women's rights convention in 1852 in Syracuse, New York, where she became convinced that without the right to vote or to independently own property, women had virtually no political power. She had found the issue to which she devoted the rest of her life—women's rights.

Anthony and Stanton began their cooperative reform efforts in 1854, working to expand married women's legal rights. They sought to secure for married women the rights to own their wages and to have guardianship of their children in cases of divorce. Anthony organized door-to-door campaigns throughout New York, soliciting signatures on petitions for these causes. The Married Women's Property Act, passed in 1860, gave a married woman control over her wages, the right to sue, and the same rights to her husband's estate as he had to hers.

The partnership that developed between Anthony and Stanton resulted in some ways from their personal circumstances and strengths. Stanton, who was married and had children, had little freedom to travel and organize, but she could develop arguments to support women's rights and write speeches and articles. Anthony, who was single, did not have the same responsibilities, and her strengths included organizing and publicity. Through their work, the two women challenged the assumptions that confined women to the private sphere. They argued that gender did not limit a woman's ability to think, that women were not made to serve men, and that women and men should receive the same education in co-educational settings.

In addition to working for women's rights, Anthony was active in the abolitionist movement. By 1856, Anthony was the principal agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society in the state of New York. With the creation of the Republican Party, Anthony began advocating the inclusion of a plank in the party platform for the immediate emancipation of slaves, a proposal that provoked angry responses. Lecture halls she had reserved were denied to her, effigies of her were burned, and violent mobs threatened her. To further the cause of emancipation, Anthony and Stanton founded the Woman's National Loyal League in 1863, advocating the freedom of all slaves and constitutional guarantees for their rights. Under the auspices of the league, Anthony led a national petition drive for emancipation, obtaining 400,000 signatures in support of the cause. After Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865, the Woman's National Loyal League disbanded.

In 1867, Anthony and Stanton went to Kansas, where referenda on African American and woman suffrage amendments were being held. Republican leaders supported African American suffrage but were silent on woman suffrage, which convinced Anthony and Stanton that the party would not promote the woman suffrage measure. During the campaign, Anthony and Stanton met George Francis Train, an eccentric, wealthy Democrat, whose racist and pro-slavery views were well known. Train campaigned for woman suffrage and against the measure for blacks, often appearing onstage with Anthony. Her alliance with Train created a scandal among Republicans and abolitionists, which ridiculed and discredited Anthony as a woman suffrage leader. Kansas voters defeated both amendments.

A constitutional amendment for woman suffrage was introduced in Congress for the first time in 1868, as was the proposed Fifteenth Amendment, which granted suffrage to male former slaves, but not to women. The next year, Anthony and Stanton organized the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) to develop support for the woman suffrage amendment and opposition to the Fifteenth Amendment as long as it excluded women. In addition to its call for woman suffrage, NWSA advocated divorce reform and working women's rights. In response, two other suffrage leaders, Lucy Stone and her husband Henry Blackwell, organized the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), which supported the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment and advocated working for state woman suffrage amendments. The two groups competed for more than 20 years.

Seeking alternative strategies for voting rights, Anthony and other suffragists began reconsidering the Fourteenth Amendment as a route to the voting booth. Some suffragists believed that the amendment's identification of citizens as male and the Fifteenth Amendment's provision that citizens were voters combined to exclude women from voting.

Other suffragists argued that the Constitution permitted states to define the qualifications for voting. Anthony concluded that she was a citizen and that the Constitution did not specifically prohibit women from voting. She cast her ballot in the 1872 presidential election in New York State. Fifteen other women joined her, and all of them were arrested. Charges were dropped against all but Anthony. Her trial was scheduled for early in 1873, time she used to travel the state of New York, lecturing on the reasons that she believed women could legally vote. Using the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, and the Fourteenth Amendment, she argued:

“It was we, the people, not we, the white, male citizens, nor we the male citizens; but we, the whole people who formed this Union. We formed it not to give the blessings of liberty but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people—women as well as men. It is downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the only means of securing them provided by the democratic, republican government, the ballot.”

In 1890, Anthony helped with the merger of the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association into the National American Woman Suffrage Association(NAWSA). Stanton served as NAWSA's first president from 1890 to 1892. Anthony was vice-president-at-large those years and succeeded Stanton as president from 1892 until 1900. Anthony made her last public statement in 1906, at a gathering of suffragists celebrating her 86th birthday. After expressing her appreciation to her friends and colleagues and after noting that suffrage had not been won, she said, “with such women consecrating their lives, failure is impossible.” Her declaration, “failure is impossible,” became a motto for suffragists and for feminists who followed later in the 20th century. The Nineteenth Amendment granting women the vote was ratified in 1920, 14 years after Anthony's death."


Anthony, Susan Brownell (1820-1906). (2013). In S. O'Dea, From suffrage to the Senate: America's political women : an encyclopedia of leaders, causes & issues (3rd ed.). Amenia, NY: Grey House Publishing. Retrieved from