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Women's Suffrage: A Long Path to Change

It’s hard to believe that if you were a woman living in the United States over 100 years ago, you were not guaranteed the right to vote. Many determined and courageous women and groups worked throughout the 19th century and into the 20th to make women's suffrage a reality. On August  , 1920 the 19th amendment was passed giving women the right to vote. This exhibit pays tribute to some of those that worked to make it happen.

“I was a woman before I was an abolitionist,” replied Lucy Stone to abolitionists arguing that her antislavery efforts should take precedence over her support for women’s rights. Lucy Stone lectured widely on the topic of women’s suffrage and defied tradition by retaining her maiden name when she married Henry Blackwell in 1855. She was a founder of the American Equal Rights Association, which sought to secure voting rights for African Americans and women. She also helped to organize the first national women’s rights conference in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1850.  Lucy Stone was among the women’s suffrage advocates who toured Vermont in 1870, trying to persuade the state’s men to share the right to vote.

Sojourner Truth attended the first national women’s rights conference in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1850 and was an eloquent advocate for women’s rights and abolition all of her life. Born into slavery in upstate New York as Isabella Baumfree, she was sold four times before escaping at the age of twenty. She became an itinerate preacher and changed her name to Sojourner Truth and although she could not read or write, she dictated her memoir in 1850, which became a celebrated text on American slavery. She possessed extraordinary public speaking skills and gave her famed “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at the Women’s Rights Convention of 1851 in Akron, Ohio. Susan B. Anthony observed of Truth “had she been educated—no woman could have matched her.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were two of the most important leaders in the initial quest for women's rights in the nineteenth century.  They met in 1851 and formed an incredible team. Anthony managed the business affairs of the women's rights movement while Stanton did most of the writing. Together they founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869, based in New York, to achieve the vote through a Constitutional amendment and push for other woman’s rights issues. Stanton and Anthony built the foundation for women's suffrage and helped pave the way for the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

Member of the Women’s Suffrage Association of Vermont protesting for women’s voting rights at the 1912 Vermont State Fair in White River Junction.

A Liberty-like woman walks across the map of the United States from west to east, bringing the torch of enlightenment about suffrage.

More than four million women had voting rights equal to men in eleven western states by the end of 1914. Henry Mayer’s 1915 illustration was the centerfold of a special suffrage issue of Puck magazine, guest-edited by New York state suffrage groups.

Gov. Clement was an opponent of women’s suffrage. In 1919 he vetoed a bill giving Vermont women the right to vote in presidential elections. Clement also rejected pleas to hold a special session to give women the right to vote by passing the 19th Amendment in 1920. Only one more state was needed to ratify the amendment, and that fell to Tennessee in August 1920.

On August 26, 1920 American women win full voting rights when three quarters of the state legislatures ratify the Nineteenth Amendment.

List of women voters in 1919 from Lincoln.

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