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Woman’s Suffrage Amendment

by ©2019 Sarah Becker

Woman’s Suffrage Amendment

When the enslaved rebelled against their master[s] they struggled.  To struggle, as defined by The Oxford American Dictionary: (1) make forceful or violent efforts to get free of restraint.  (2) try hard under difficulties.  (3) contend, fight.  (4) make one’s way with difficulty.  (5) have difficulty gaining recognition or a living.  Do men really believe that woman’s suffrage, the passage of the 1919 Woman’s Suffrage Amendment was not a struggle?

“Susan B. Anthony’s self-imposed task, for almost half a century, has been to secure equal rights for her crusade women—social, civil and political,” Ida Hasted Harper penned in 1906.  “When she began her crusade woman in social life was ‘cabin’d, cribb’d, confined to an extent which can scarcely be conceived.  In law she was but little better than a slave; in politics a mere cipher…Is there an example in all history of either man or woman who devoted half a century of the hardest, most persistent labor for one reform?”

“We little dreamed…that half a century later we would be compelled to leave the finish of the [voting rights] battle to another generation of women,” Anthony wrote in 1902.  Susan B. Anthony met cohort Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851; the same year former slave Sojourner Truth delivered her Ain’t I a Woman speech.


Women earned the right to vote only 100 years ago, 24 days before the June 28, 1919, Paris Peace Conference concluded.  It took a world war, not a civil war for women to achieve parity.  In some World War I industries, such as aircraft, the employment of women rose from negligible proportions in 1914 to 19% in 1918.  The percentage of women working in other war related industries was higher, almost double.

“We have made partners of the women in this war,” a previously indifferent President Woodrow Wilson said in 1918.  “Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil, and not to a partnership of privilege and rights?”


The first women’s Petitions for Universal Suffrage were presented in 1866.  They “got nowhere.”  When the reconstruction Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment members had racial equality in mind.  Amendment 14, Sec. 1 states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.”  Yet Sec. 2 refers only to “male inhabitants” when the “right to vote at any election…is denied.”  Female inhabitants were excluded.

“By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law,” British jurist Sir William Blackstone said in 1765, “that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything.”

English-American common law, gender hierarchy, separate spheres, and marital ‘unity’ defined the rules of engagement.  In New York, in 1832, bridegroom, newspaper editor and author of Moral Physiology Robert Dale Owen, of Scotland and Indiana “wrote a bold” marriage contract: “Of the unjust rights which in virtue of this ceremony an iniquitous law tacitly gives me over the person and property of another, I cannot legally, but I can morally divest myself.  And I hereby…declare that I consider myself…utterly divested, now and during the rest of my life….”

“[Man] has never permitted [woman] to exercise her inalienable right to elective franchise,” Quaker Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote in their 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention Declaration of Sentiments.  “He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice; made her, if married, civilly dead; taken from her all rights in property, even to the wages she earns; and usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.”  Marital rape, a discussion topic in 1848, did not become a crime until 1976.

The 15th Amendment, another reconstruction amendment was ratified in 1870.  Sec. 1.  “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  Black men were mostly satisfied but women—black and white— still waited.

In 1878 the U.S. Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections again argued woman’s suffrage.  As Susan B. Anthony, author of the proposed Suffrage Amendment “pled their cause…committee members rudely…stared at the ceiling.”


The U.S. Senate established an ongoing Select Committee on Woman Suffrage in 1882.  The Committee considered “all petitions, bills, and resolves asking for the extension of suffrage to women or the removal of their disabilities.”  Anthony’s Suffrage Amendment was reviewed but “a solid bloc of southern senators derailed it.”  The South feared that woman’s suffrage would worsen their black suffrage problem.


“Why should any married woman be given the privilege of suffrage, as she, being [legally] one with her husband, can only vote as he does?” the Alexandria Gazette asked on June 5, 1895.  The U.S. Supreme Court decided Plessy v. Ferguson, the repressive equal but separate Jim Crow Car Law eleven months later.

“In but few of the States have the disabilities of women been entirely removed,” The Washington Post wrote in 1896.  “The primal doctrine that woman by marriage loses her legal individuality remains almost entirely intact.  In law, the man and wife are one, and the man is the one.”  Common law classed the wife “with lunatics, idiots and infants, as persons under disabilities…unable to enter into contracts or engagements.”

“[Women] must stand as disenfranchised citizens—outlaws—shut out of ‘the body politic,’” Susan B. Anthony counseled.  “Women must now hold themselves aloof from affiliation with each and all of the political parties.  Woman suffrage must be non-partisan.”  The political parties then: Republican, Democrat, Populist, Prohibition, Nationalist and Social Labor.     

Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, the determined President of the National Woman Suffrage Association “talked of a fight being made” in 1900 “in the upcoming Virginia constitutional convention.”  The Association, founded in 1869 wanted “to ingraft in the organic law of the State a clause authorizing female suffrage.”  The 1901-1902 Virginia conventioneers focused on black suffrage instead.

“In 1901 the Virginia General Assembly authorized a convention to draft a new constitution that would, among other things, restrict the vote to white men without violating the terms of the 15th Amendment,” the Library of Virginia explained.  Article II of the 1902 Virginia constitution “was designed to maintain white suffrage…by means of literacy tests, property and poll tax requirements.”  The constitution remained in effect until 1971.


On March 3, 1913, Quaker Alice Paul and the repurposed National American Woman Suffrage Association marched on Washington, D.C. in publicity seeking protest.  More than 5,000 women paraded up Pennsylvania Avenue.  The marchers included lawyer and equestrian Inez Milholland, bands, regiments, and attention getting floats.  The suffragettes’ petitions, signed by 200,000 women, “gave expression to the nation-wide demand for an amendment to the United States constitution enfranchising women.”


The suffragettes demonstrated one day before President Woodrow Wilson’s 1913 inauguration ceremony.  Antisuffragettes charged that the bold stance of the marchers smacked of the deliberate exploitation of sex appeal.  “The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage came out in the open,” The New York Times wrote.

“Because of the courage of so many bold women who dared to transcend preconceived expectations and prove they were capable of doing all that a man could do and more, advances were made…and progress triumphed,” President Barack Obama explained in 2016.  Perhaps no one was bolder than Alice Paul.

Alice Paul refused “to inject the Negro problem into the suffrage problem.”  Black women participated in the District march, but “on Paul’s terms, at the back of the parade.”  As Paul knew all too well—southern Senators were against “passage of a suffrage amendment.”

Only eleven, mostly western states allowed women to vote in 1915.  Colorado was the first State to enact women’s suffrage, in 1893.  The Wyoming territory permitted women to vote in 1869, the Utah territory in 1870.  The State of Montana elected the first female to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Jeannette Rankin in November 1916.

“Miss Alice Paul [founder of the 1916 National Woman’s Party] and ten other suffragist pickets were arraigned in Police Court in Washington on a charge of blocking traffic in front of the White House during a picketing attempt,” the Alexandria Gazette reported on October 8, 1917.  “Police Court officials freely predicted that the women would be sentenced to Occoquan [Workhouse] as the alternative to a fine, and the suffragettes have already announced that they will not pay a fine.”  It was there Alice Paul engaged in a hunger strike.

“The long battle for the submission of the woman suffrage amendment was won yesterday when the Senate…passed the resolution which passed the House just two weeks ago,” the Alexandria Gazette reported on June 5, 1919.  “Wild applause from the galleries followed…and the suffrage cohorts immediately fled to the steps of the Capitol, where a demonstration was staged.”


Amendment 19, Sec. 1, as ratified in 1920: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”  In Alexandria, “705 women, a large majority of them white, had been assessed for taxation.  Practically every one who had been assessed…paid the required poll tax of $1.50.”  The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the suffrage Amendment in 1922.  [Leser v. Garnett]

Soon after, Alexandrian Kate Waller Barrett was elected second vice president of the Virginia League of Women Voters.  Under her and others leadership the League “endorsed the direct primary,” recommended “suppression of clandestine agencies and associations, like the Ku Klux Klan, which seek to usurp the prerogatives of the law,” and “make women eligible for jury duty in Virginia.”

A new Washington museum focused on women’s history has many passionate fans—but [outgoing] Smithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton isn’t one of them,” The Washington Post wrote on March 31, 2018.  “The head of the world’s largest museum complex announced that the Smithsonian Institution will launch a Women’s History Initiative to highlight women’s accomplishments.  But Skorton doesn’t support a stand-alone museum.


Skorton said such absent founding Regent Robert Dale Owen’s input.  After years of contentious debate U.S. Representative Robert Dale Owen (D-IN) introduced the hand-written Act which established the Smithsonian Institution.  His statue greets Castle visitors daily.

In 1851 suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton presented Robert Dale Owen with a silver pitcher.  He, a member of the Indiana State Constitutional Convention fought successfully to protect a portion of married women’s property rights.  In December 1865 Owen, then Chairman of the Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission shared Congress’ proposed voter protections—the female lack thereof—with Stanton.  In 1911 Indiana women recognized him with a bust on the Statehouse lawn: “for his efforts to obtain educational privileges and legal rights.”  Not surprisingly Owen’s bust was destroyed in 1970.  Only the base and plaque remain.    

Given Virginia’s and, in turn, the country’s failure to ratify the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment; that the National Women’s History Museum has an online presence only, and construction of the Smithsonian’s stand-alone National Museum of African American History and Culture predates the Institution’s 2018 Women’s History Initiative, I ask.  To what extent does the woman’s struggle for equality continue?

On March 25, 2019, NASA cancelled its first All-Female spacewalk.  It did not have two spacesuits in the women’s size.

Columnist’s Notes: On April 30, 2019, for the first time in 36 years, the House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a Congressional hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment.  ERA advocates want the 1982 deadline for ratification stripped from the language.

On May 15, 2019 Alabama’s male-dominated, Republican controlled state senate “made it a crime to perform an abortion procedure at any stage of the woman’s pregnancy.”    


On May 10, 2019 President Donald Trump (R-NY) increased U.S. tariffs on China (Tariffs—Then & Now/OTC/Sept 2018).  The first round was announced by Presidential Memorandum on March 22, 2018.  The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative then “charged that China is using predatory tactics to obtain foreign technology.”  The tariff, a tax will be paid mostly by American consumers.  “President Trump is undermining the credibility of his trade policies by falsely claiming that China is paying the bill,” The New York Times Editorial Board wrote.  China’s retaliatory tariffs begin June 1.


Congratulations to Alexandria Archaeology’s Emma Richardson, The Virginia Association of Museums and Virginia Department of Education 2019 Virginia Museum Educator of the Year.  Well done!

Sarah Becker started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England. Similar publications followed. She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board. Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency. Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means. The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.” A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007.  Email: abitofhistory53@gmail.com

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