The road to the 19th Amendment, without question, warrants commemoration. An uncritical celebration of its ratification, however, would be an acute misstep that fails to address
the complicated legacy
of the women's suffrage movement in the US.
Typically demarcated as commencing at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention
and ending with the passage, ratification, and adoption of the 19th Amendment, the women's suffrage movement as fully understood reaches further back into American history and continues forward from 1920, through the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
. Prior to the American Revolution, property-owning women
in some of the Northern colonies could vote. When these colonies became states, they stripped the right to vote from women. In 1807, New Jersey
became the last state to limit the elective franchise to men. By the mid-19th century only white adult men throughout the country could vote.
Although Seneca Falls was the first women's rights convention, some of the questions posed and resolutions drafted at this historic gathering stemmed from abolitionist activism through involvement in anti-slavery associations. White abolitionist women
such as the Grimké sisters Sarah and Angelina
, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke out against slavery and began to make connections between abolition and women's rights. Seneca Falls brought together those invested in the struggle for women's rights and those fighting for the abolition of slavery, with some advocating for both causes.
While Frederick Douglass, a noted Black abolitionist, orator and writer attended, Black women weren't present at Seneca Falls -- but their voices and perspectives on women's rights, which for them necessarily included the abolition of slavery, are part of the long history of suffrage activism as well. Both interracial cooperation
as well as tensions stemming from anti-Black racism and anti-immigrant sentiments existed in the woman suffrage movement from its inception. The tensions
between White suffragists and suffragists of color, primarily African American women, intensified post-Emancipation and after the passage, ratification and adoption of the 15th Amendment
to the Constitution, which prohibited the federal government and each state from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
The last of the aptly named "Reconstruction Amendments" effectively enfranchised men of color in 1870 and left women of all races without the elective franchise. Notably, this Amendment was rendered nearly meaningless for newly enfranchised African American men in the years after its passage due to Black Codes
as well other forms of Jim Crow era legal and extralegal voter suppression
While the failure to secure universal suffrage irrespective of race or gender angered suffragists of all races, the virulently racist response
to the 15th Amendment, particularly by prominent White suffragists such as Stanton, caused irreparable damage to already fragile cross-racial solidarities. The fracturing of the suffrage movement in the aftermath of the 15th Amendment briefly stymied the push for women's voting rights. By the late 1800s, however, new and restructured local and national organizations, clubs and campaigns launched full throttle into reinvigorated efforts
that would ultimately lead to the ratification and adoption of the 19th Amendment.
in front of the White House, organized parades
in cities and towns throughout the country, endured violence
from individuals and groups opposing woman suffrage and forged transnational solidarities
with women in countries such as China
and the United Kingdom