History: African American Women’ Suffrage

This editorial piece gives an overview of the obstacles that suffragist movements faced in their fight against ‘political chauvinism’, which had been legalized based on sheer ignorance and prejudice. Women today can celebrate their inalienable right to vote for any candidate of their choice. However, this right has been achieved after a long battle with chauvinists who could not explain why women were not allowed to vote.

This editorial covers the long struggle that women faced in a bid to get their right to vote. The piece will also highlight the women’s alliances and the government’s response towards the fight for women suffrage. This fundamental right was achieved after a series of struggles by women movements.

The fight for women’s suffrage, which is the legal liberty of all women to vote or seek electoral office, started most notably in the United States and England. The journey to women’s suffrage was achieved over several decades starting in various states and on regulated grounds, and later in 1920, most American states recognized the women’s rights to vote. According to Terborg-Penn (p.139), the women suffrage movement gained momentum in the late 1840s after the Seneca Falls Convention.

This meeting marked the first women’s rights convention to endorse women suffrage despite divergent opinions from some of its members who regarded the resolution as too extreme. The conservatives felt other pressing issues should have been addressed before thinking of the issue of women suffrage.

However, this topic will be analyzed in this editorial by supporting the argument that women suffrage was inevitable to serve as the drive for addressing the dynamic struggles of women’s general democratic rights, which were evident in the 19th and the 20th Centuries.

However, this task was demanding and controversial, and thus it required like-minded women and men to form alliances that would bring together ideas and tactics to fight for universal enfranchisement. I am concerned about this matter because I believe that in a bid for women to understand where they are going they must appreciate where they are coming from.

Even though women movements had divergent opinions and tactics coupled with the struggle for women suffrage as well as other democratic rights grievances, they shared the goal of liberating all American women from political oppression.

Some white suffragists were anxious about the ratification of black males to enjoy political freedom, yet white women could not enjoy the same rights. Women movements demanded equal rights to vote, which would project them to better levels to agitate for economic rights such as equal job opportunities and salaries.

Women suffrage was a way of rescuing women and children from male dominance through availing the opportunity to vote and decide issues affecting this majority group.

Other activists felt that it was time to give women equal rights in a bid to uplift them and use their skills and labor to grow the economy since they formed a huge percentage of the American population. In Utah for instance, Mormons believed that the votes for women were crucial in the quest to conserve the Mormon values and traditions such as polygamy (Gordon, p.13).

For the African American women, some pressing social issues motivated them to join white suffragists. They believed that the freedom to vote would deliver them from slavery to freedom, illiteracy to literacy, and dependence to independence (Terborg-Penn, p.139). Along with white suffragists, African American women felt that their position was subordinate as citizens, and thus they needed the vote in a bid to gain the status of a first-class citizen.

For instance, in Abigail’s correspondence with her husband, John, she describes the state of women as harsh and cruel. She urges her husband to use his influence and ensure that the new Code of Laws will free ladies from the oppressive condition enforced by men. She goes ahead to indicate that fight to seek women liberation will definitely emerge and no law will stop them since they have no attachment to any law that they have no say nor representation (Adams, p.31).

John reply indicates that the government or people within the authorities are not willing to fight for women suffrage. He indicates that the Code of Laws that his wife is advocating are unrealistic and they would only invite chaos in schools, as Negroes would become uncontrollable and compromise the government operations (Adams and Adams, p.84).

The 19th and the 20th Centuries were enthralled with women’s reform movements, which were rapidly gaining international recognition, and ideas used in one region were taken to other regions. Women from diverse races, nationalities, and beliefs cooperated by sharing ideas and resources, which were needed to facilitate the abolishment of their marginalization of political activities in their own countries (Spruill, p.5).

This abolishment would give them the opportunity to vote for their representatives to enforce ratification of reforms, which would look into socio-economic concerns of the American women. Suffrage was a complicated, controversial, and hard task. Anti-suffragists argued that the idea of women suffrage defied the existing order. Laws and traditions in the American states had vested men with supreme powers in public affairs.

Granting suffrage was viewed as a revolutionary act which threatened male powers and privileges. Nevertheless, the improvement in communication and transport infrastructure aided the convergence of like-minded men and women, which facilitated the rise of women’s suffrage movements.

After the Civil War, women’s rights leaders expected the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to approve inclusive suffrage for all Americans (Spruill, p.7). However, the amendments simply extended political liberation to black men only. This aspect divided women’s opinion on whether to back the approval of the Fifteenth Amendment. Consequently, the National Women Suffrage Association (NWSA), which was led by Elizabeth Candy Stanton and Susan B., emerged in 1869.

The NWSA condemned the Fifteenth Amendment, but it sought to pioneer the Sixteenth Amendment that would liberate women from political subjugation. The second movement formed during the same time was the American Women Suffrage Association (AWSA) under the leadership of Lucy Stone. AWSA endorsed the enactment of the Fifteenth Amendment, whilst fighting for the universal enfranchisement.

The idea behind approving ratification of the Fifteen Amendment was for the AWSA to assume less radical stand and preserve the shared American values in a bid to reach many people possible in their campaign for women suffrage.

Later in 1890, the two suffrage organizations resolved their differences and merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) led by Elizabeth Candy Stanton (Spruill, p.5). This was the best move that gave the incoming young suffragists the chance to move forward as a common unit. Also gave the aging suffragists a strong promise that their spirited fight was heading to achieve the initial objective in liberating women.

Despite the idea by Stanton to continue advocating general feminist matters, the majority of NAWSA leadership and particularly Susan B. urged the association to concentrate on winning support for women suffrage. While trying to strategize on how to capture the support of the South, NAWSA engaged Catt and Susan B. in campaign tours as well as conducting convention in Atlanta in 1895 (Terborg-Penn, p.140).

The southern region was keen to protect white supremacy by ensuring that women suffrage was not successful. In the wake of the 20th Century, white suffragists withdrew their support for the African American women. Even with this kind of backlash, black women maintained their fight for women suffrage, and they included Ida B. and Wells-Barnett among others. The black women retaliated that they needed the vote to protect rights coupled with countering racism and sexism (Adams, p.31).

At the start of the 20th Century, the American federal government was still dominated by male leaders who maintained the perception that women were weak and illiterate to vote. In 1913, as the government prepared to usher in President Woodrow Wilson, Alice Paul, a suffragist, paraded many women and male supporters who matched past the presidential inauguration ceremony to demonstrate the organized activism that women longed to introduce to the American politics (Baker, p.118).

In 1913, Wilson was an anti-suffragist. Alice Paul and NAWSA under the leadership of Ann Shaw and Carrie Catt decided to influence the president’s stand on women suffrage. I am glad because within the next seven years, Alice and partners converted Wilson from an antagonist to the extent of taking the bold step to urge the US Senate to pass the federal amendment by Susan B.

The access to high school diploma and the typewriter jobs gave women the opportunity to work in public offices as clerks. The American women working in the industries confronted the chauvinistic environments prevalent in different workplaces (Baker, p.119), especially in the southern states where traditionalism had created obstacles to women suffrage.

In November 1917, a suffrage referendum was passed and later in 1920, Alice Paul’s agenda for universal suffrage became a reality. Regions like Tennessee introduced female suffrage in the US Constitution in 1920 and joined the other thirty-five states, which had already enforced the Nineteenth Amendment.

This move indicated that the South was slowly loosening its stance on suffragists, racism, and class differences. According to Baker (p.120), Alice never believed that women would realize equality and justice barely through voting. Throughout her course, Alice created awareness amongst American women by introducing a course that required women to act as opposed to theorizing.

In conclusion, women suffrage heralded equality and justice for women. However, immediately after suffrage was attained, the coherence and winning spirit among the women declined. Fears that political activities and policymaking were men’s duties persisted. This assertion implies that significant progress in women political participation, other than voting, is yet to be realized fully. Today, just like the mid-20th Century, women continue to fight for an equal share in the male-dominated political sphere.

Fortunately, most governments across the world have chosen an alternative means of initiating a relatively gender-balanced political representation. Such measures include reserving specific seats for women. Consequently, women for the first time have been involved in active politics by occupying high-ranking offices in different countries. This aspect fulfills the 19th Century agenda of early women suffragists and most notably the founders of NWSA and AWSA.

Works Cited

Adams, Abigail. “Correspondence with John.” The American Reader: Words that

Moved a Nation. Ed. Diane Ravitch. New York: Harper, 1991. 30-31. Print.

Adams, John, and Abigail Adams. Letters of John and Abigail Adams: 1762 to 1826, New York: Westvaco Corporation, 2001. Print.

Baker, Jean. Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists, New York: Hill and Wang, 2005. Print.

Gordon, Ann. African American Women, and the Vote, 1837-1965, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997. Print.

Spruill, Marjorie. Votes for Women! The Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee, the South, and the Nation, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995. Print.

Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998. Print.

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