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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Finally, Progress

     In 1890, suffragists were finally united behind one national organization. After twenty years of competition, the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association joined to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Efforts to unite the two organizations began shortly after the split of women’s rights activists over the Fifteenth Amendment in 1869. (The American association supported it, even though women were not included. The National association opposed it, believing the exclusion of women from the amendment would prolong the fight for women’s suffrage.) Alice Stone Blackwell (daughter of American association founder, Lucy Stone) led the negotiations to merge the two groups.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony

     Elizabeth Cady Stanton became the first president of the combined organization, but she didn’t like the administrative duties associated with leadership. Her good friend Susan B. Anthony stepped up and took over most of the tasks involved in leading the new association during Cady’s two-year term. NAWSA turned its focus to winning the right to vote on a state-by-state basis.
     In 1892, Anthony was elected to the presidency. Since she was already 72 years old at that point, she groomed two protégées during her time in office, Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw. Catt became head of the organization when Anthony resigned from her leadership position in 1900.
     The NAWSA did not exclude African American women from membership at the national level. However, state and local organizations were allowed to bar them and many did so. National conventions held in the south (like Atlanta in 1895 and New Orleans in 1903) were segregated.
     But encouraging developments brought hope to the suffragists.

A privately-minted stamp (to be used alongside regular postage) put out by suffragists celebrating the four States in which women can presently vote on the same basis as men. (Source: National Federation of Democratic Women web site)
     In 1890, Wyoming became the first state to enter the union with women already having the right to vote in the territory.
     Three years later, the question of women’s suffrage was put up for a statewide referendum in Colorado. Carrie Chapman Catt led the effort on behalf of the NAWSA. The Colorado Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association, a grassroots coalition, rallied across the state in support of votes for women. The measure passed and Colorado women won the right to vote. 

     When Utah Territory applied for statehood, women convinced politicians to include women’s suffrage in the new state Constitution. This became the law with statehood in January of 1896.    

     At the 1889 Constitutional Convention held to found the state of Idaho, women’ suffrage was a highly controversial topic of discussion. Northwest suffragist Abigail Scott Dunaway and Women's Christian Temperance Union President Harriet Skelton were invited to address the convention. Consequently, temperance and women’s suffrage became linked as they were in many states. The women were unable to persuade the state founders to grant women the right to vote that year, but seven years later Idaho became the fourth state to enfranchise women.
     However, not all efforts to win the right to vote in western states were successful.

     Washington was one of the first territories to attempt granting rights to women. In 1854, a legislative measure was defeated by one vote. After years of trying to work with the legislature to win the vote, they next tried to secure the vote via voter referendums in 1889 and again in 1898. Both bids were unsuccessful.  
     In Kansas, suffrage for women and suffrage for blacks were both put before voters in November 1867. Both referendums failed.
South Dakota clipping
     At the South Dakota statehood convention in October 1889, after contentious discussions over full suffrage for women, politicians granted only partial suffrage, legislating that ‘any woman having the required qualifications as to age, residence and citizenship may vote at any election held solely for school purposes. As State and county superintendents are elected at general and not special elections, women can vote only for school trustees. They have no vote on bonds or appropriations.’ Later that month, the South Dakota Equal Suffrage Association was formed and Anna Shaw led the effort for the NAWSA.
     When South Dakota became a state in November, the first state legislature voted to put the issue up for a referendum in 1890. Although women campaigned diligently for full suffrage, the measure was defeated.

     Several years of concerted efforts by suffragists on the national and state levels led to the 1896 referendum on votes for women in California. That measure also failed.
     While this is not an exhaustive list of all initiatives to win rights for women to vote during this time period, these are some of the most high-profile efforts. By 1900, women in only four states had secured full suffrage.    
     After dedicating their lives to fighting for equal rights for women, especially the right to vote, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony turned leadership of the National American Woman Suffrage Association over to a new generation at the end of the century. Stanton died in 1902. Anthony died in 1906. Neither had won the legal right to vote even in her own state. It would be thirteen years after Anthony’s death before the goal she and Stanton had spent much of their lives fighting for would finally be achieved.
Previous installments:
Voting in Colonial America:


The Fight Begins:

A Rupture in the Cause

Hope Emerges


  1. A good recap of the struggle for equal rights, Ann. Now we just have to get out there and vote in November!

  2. That's for sure. My mother instilled in me the importance of voting. Her father had supported women's suffrage.

  3. Thanks for sharing this long important struggle, Ann. I agree, to vote is vital

    1. Thanks for your comment. The research for this series was very interesting.

  4. So much research and so important to our history. Thank you for the hard work and for sharing it. You have done a marvelous job. Doris

  5. Such courage and determination shown by these women. It's so important to vote. Thanks for this post. I love the research and history in this.

  6. Thank you. So sad that so many women worked so long and hard for suffrage, but passed away before the vote was won.

  7. My paternal grandmother was a part of the Women's Suffrage Movement, so even though I never got to meet her, I am very proud of her.
    That Wyoming willingly gave voting rights to women long before other states is one of the main reasons I wrote my Wildings series to take place in that state...and it's a beautiful state.
    I enjoyed reading your post, Ann. So many people have no idea how much women who participated in this movement were jailed, tortured, and degraded for their participation. They were brave and dedicated women and I thank them for their fight.
    All the best to you, Ann.

  8. Thanks so much for your comment. I included a section in Wyoming in my novel, THE CAUSE, (which is centered around the suffrage movement) for that very reason. Did you have a chance to talk with your grandmother about her experiences?