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Suffragettes in The Struggle for a Better Life for Immigrants

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Prominent suffragists led to progressive causes. Jane Addams established Chicago’s Hull-House, and Ida B. Wells led a campaign against the lynching of African Americans.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, women joined national organizations in great numbers. Women became leaders in a range of social and political movements from 1890 through 1920, known as the Progressive Era. The rise of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, and National Association of Colored Women grew as part of this trend. Women of all backgrounds—rich and poor, white and black, native-born Americans and immigrants—participated in these national women’s clubs. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement, which aimed to make alcohol illegal, was among the most popular national women’s organizations of the period. Their movement succeeded with the start of the nationwide prohibition of alcohol in 1919. Women became leaders in a range of social and political movements from 1890 through 1920. This period is known as the Progressive Era. Progressive reformers wanted to end political corruption, improve the lives of individuals, and increase government intervention to protect citizens. The suffrage movement was part of this wave of Progressive Era reforms. Prominent suffragists led other progressive causes as well. Jane Addams established Chicago’s Hull-House, a settlement house that educated and provided services for local immigrants. Wells-Barnett led a campaign against the lynching of African Americans. While earlier generations discouraged women from participating in public, and political movements, society began to embrace female activism in the late nineteenth century. Progressives often argued that women’s politics complemented their traditional roles as wives and mothers, caregivers and keepers of virtue. Margaret Sanger argued that birth control would improve family life, especially for the working classes. Charlotte Hawkins Brown worked to ensure that black children received a good education. Florence Kelley fought for laws that protected women in the workplace. By turning women’s traditional social roles into public and political ones, this generation of reformers began to win broader support for women’s votes.

Jane Addams dedicated her life to improving the living and working conditions of immigrants, especially those living in poverty in large cities. She believed through voting women could help pass laws that would improve conditions. In her speech, “The Modern City and the Municipal Franchise for Women,” Addams focused on the need of cities to clean up through “civic housekeeping.” This speech, delivered at the National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention in 1906, encouraged women to become more active in civil life in order to bring about change in human welfare.

In the wake of these setbacks in Congress, women’s rights reformers responded by focusing their message exclusively on the right to vote. But the women’s movement fragmented over tactics and broke into two distinct organizations in 1869: the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). Stanton and Anthony created the NWSA and directed its efforts toward changing federal law. Eventually, the NWSA began a parallel effort to secure the right to vote among the individual states with the hope of starting a ripple effect to win the franchise at the federal level. The NWSA, based in New York, largely relied on its own statewide network. But with Stanton and Anthony giving speeches across the country, the NWSA also drew recruits from all over. Although California Senator Aaron Sargent introduced a women’s suffrage amendment in 1878, the NWSA campaign stalled. Meanwhile, Lucy Stone, a one-time Massachusetts antislavery advocate and a prominent lobbyist for women’s rights, formed the AWSA. As former abolitionists, the leaders of the AWSA had mobilized state and local efforts to flood Washington with anti-slavery petitions, and they applied that same tactic after the Civil War to advance women’s rights, mostly at the state level. During the 1880s, the AWSA was better funded and the larger of the two groups, but it had only a regional reach.

When neither group attracted broad public support, suffrage leaders recognized their division had become an impediment to progress. Historian Nancy Woloch described early suffragists’ efforts as “a crusade in political education by women and for women, and for most of its existence, a crusade in search of a constituency.” The turning point came in the late 1880s and early 1890s when the nation experienced a surge of volunteerism among middle-class women—activists in progressive causes, members of women’s clubs and professional societies, temperance advocates, and participants in local civic and charity organizations. The determination of these women to expand their sphere of activities further outside the home helped the suffrage movement go mainstream and provided new momentum for its supporters.

The history of women’s suffrage also confirms the difficulty of maintaining unity in social movements. Women’s rights and abolition were closely allied before the Civil War, but that old coalition linking race and gender split irrevocably in the 1860s. The dispute was about who had priority: newly freed African American men or white women, who also wanted to be included in the post-Civil War expansion of political liberties represented by the 14th and 15th Amendments. Suffragists such as Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe had hoped for universal suffrage, but once the amendments were drafted, they supported ratification despite the exclusion of women. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton adamantly refused to support the amendments, often employing racist language to imply that white women were just as deserving of the vote as African American men, if not more so. By 1869 the suffrage movement had split in two over this question, not to reunite until 1890.

That split was both strategic and philosophical, as was the one in the 1910s between Carrie Chapman Catt’s mainstream National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and Alice Paul’s upstart National Woman’s Party (NWP). Catt’s much larger group tended to favor a state-by-state approach, while Paul and her supporters focused on winning a federal amendment. In addition, NAWSA was committed to working within the system while the NWP took to the streets, silently picketing the White House to express their outrage at women’s voteless status. In the end, both sides were necessary to win ratification, just as the 19th-century split had allowed competing personalities with different approaches to advance the movement in their own ways.

During the years that followed, suffragists directed their efforts towards obtaining the vote in two ways-through the states and by means of the Federal Amendment. The successes in the several states will be traced under each of the states. Miss Anthony worked as devotedly to help the women of the states to win the ballot as she worked for the favorable consideration of her amendment by Congress. Until very recently it was felt by most suffragists that the state-by-state method alone offered any good prospects of success, and only since women have been enfranchised in twelve states has hope revived of the passage of the Federal Constitutional amendment.

Roughly stated, the fundamental principle of a republic is this: In deciding what is to be done, we take everybody’s opinion, and then go according to the wish of the majority. As we cannot suit everybody, we do what will suit the greatest number. That seems to be, on the whole, the fairest way. A vote is simply a written expression of opinion.

This paper analyzes the ideological content of American anti-suffragists, a conservative countermovement which attracted a predominantly female membership. Rhetorical analysis of The Woman’s Protest, the official journal of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage between 1912-18, suggests that mobilization to the anti-suffrage cause was motivated by both status and class concerns. It included a status defense of the homemaker lifestyle, fueled by fears of declining prestige, and also protected class interests since antisuffrage women were attempting to safeguard their own material privileges and prevent the proletarianization which paid employment represented. The theoretical implications of these findings for the study of social movements and gender stratification are also discussed.

State-level suffrage efforts during the late 19th century were poorly coordinated and generally proclaimed social justice as the basis for enfranchising women. There were several unanticipated early successes in the west (in the territories of Wyoming in 1869 and Utah in 1870 and later in Colorado and Idaho), surprising both proponents and opponents alike. However, these early victories were followed by a period of stagnation, leading to better coordinated local efforts and a more pragmatic appeal to municipal housekeeping as the rationale for enfranchising women. The result was a new string of new successes: prior to the ratification of the19th Amendment in 1920, 29 of 48 states had extended suffrage rights to women.

Understanding the timing of state-level suffrage laws is important for evaluating the validity of this paper’s empirical strategy (as probed in greater detail in Section V). The most obvious pattern is geographic – all else equal, women in western states could vote before women elsewhere in America. Some historians suggest that frontier conditions were amenable to women’s suffrage because women supported restrictions on common western vices (drunkenness, gambling, and prostitution) or because the harsh realities of frontier life made it impossible to maintain traditional gender roles. Many others argue that idiosyncratic circumstances in each state resulted in the vote for women, citing rich historical evidence in support of this view.8 Quantitative studies yield strikingly inconclusive results. The single robust correlate of suffrage law enactment emerging from these studies is the share of women working in non-agricultural occupations. Although this presumably reflects changing social norms about the role of women, it evolved very gradually over time and can be distinguished econometrically from abrupt year-to-year legislative changes governing women’s right to vote.

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Suffragettes in the Struggle for a Better Life for Immigrants. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from
“Suffragettes in the Struggle for a Better Life for Immigrants.” GradesFixer, 24 May 2022,
Suffragettes in the Struggle for a Better Life for Immigrants. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jun. 2022].
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