19th Amendment


Section I:  “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.”

Section II: “Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Became law August 26, 1920

The phrase “on account of sex” should have read “on account of gender” but in the final women were finally enfranchised to vote.

The Nineteenth Amendment’s text was drafted by Susan B. Anthony with the assistance of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

It is worth noting the battle for women’s right to cast a ballot without states restriction took some seventy years.

The work in many respects was not over by any measure when the bill was sent to the states for ratification. The struggle in some ways started a new.

Senator Smith of South Carolina opposed giving women the right to vote, he said, “because to allow it would induce “sectional anarchy.”

The Seattle University Law School said “Casting a vote is the most widely understood and discretely effective way to have one’s voice heard in American politics.”

How important is just one vote, here are some examples:

  • In 1645, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England

  • In 1649, one vote caused Charles I of England to be executed

  • In 1776, one vote gave America the English language instead of German

  • In 1845, one vote brought Texas into the Union

  • In 1868, one vote saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment

  • In 1876, one vote gave Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency of the United States

  • In 1923, one vote gave Adolf Hitler leadership of the Nazi Party

  • In 1941, one vote saved Selective Service – just weeks before Pearl harbor was attacked

  • In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected by one vote per precinct

The 19th Amendment is also referred to as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. Anthony is but one notable women of  the suffrage movement. Women were fighting for the vote in states across this nation. Susan B. Anthony in her famous speech “Women’s Right to Vote” (1875), argued that the words of “The Declaration of Independence” guaranteed women’s voting rights.

The suffrage movement began in France after Olympe De Gouges published The Declaration of Rights og Woman (1791). De Gouges said “Man, are you capable of being just?” Her declarations are worth reading no matter our gender.

It is important to note that most women who fought for the rights of women were also active in the abolitionist movement. There were good men fighting as well. Two of the well known women were Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.


Frederick Douglas said in 1866 “To me, the sun in the heavens at noonday is not more visible than is the right of women, equally with man, to participate in all that concerns human welfare . . .”

Starting in 1837, Sarah Grimke published a series of letters which drew a parallel between the conditions of women and slaves. She was quoted saying “All I ask our brethren is that they take their feet from off our neck and permit us to stand upright on the ground which God destined for us to occupy.” In her first letter she wrote “We must first view woman at the period of her creation. “And God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female, created he them.” [Gen. 1:26-27]. In all this sublime description of the creation of man, (which is a generic term including man and woman), there is not one particle of difference intimated as existing between them. They were both made in the image of God; dominion was given to both over every other creature, but not over each other. Created in perfect equality, they were expected to exercise the vicegerency entrusted to them by their Maker, in harmony and love.”

The Civil War (1861 – 1865) and the Reconstruction Era placed a mighty hold on the suffrage movement.

Abraham Lincoln was not known as a serious advocate for women’s suffrage. In 1836 in a letter he wrote. “I go for all sharing the privileges of the government, who assist in bearing its burdens. Consequently I go for admitting all whites to the right of suffrage, who pay taxes or bear arms, (by no means excluding females.)” Some historians believe this quote to be one of “tongue and cheek”. No matter his intentions women in Washington state used Lincolns words in pamphlets and on poster printing “Lincoln said women should vote,” These words of Lincoln’s was in an effort to link the memory of the assassinated president to the cause of women suffrage and it worked.

In 1782 Anthony and seven or eight other women went to the polls to cast ballots knowing  it was not legal two were allowed to drop their ballots into the box.

Anthony wrote to her friend,

19th_amendment_6 Dear Mrs Stanton

Well I have been & gone & done it!!–positively voted the Republican ticket–strait this a.m. at 7 p’clock–& swore my vote in at that–was registered on Friday….then on Sunday others some 20 or thirty other women tried to register, but all save two were refused….Amy Post was rejected & she will immediately bring action for that….& Hon Henry R. Selden will be our Counsel–he has read up the law & all of our arguments & is satisfied that we our right & ditto the Old Judge Selden–his elder brother.  So we are in for a fine agitation in Rochester on the question–I hope the morning’s telegrams will tell of many women all over the country trying to vote–It is splendid that without any concert of action so many should have moved here so impromptu–

The Democratic paper is out against us strong & that scared the Dem’s on the registry board–How I wish you were here to write up the funny things said & done….When the Democrat said my vote should not go in the box–one Republican said to the other–What do you say Marsh?–I say put it in!–So do I said Jones–and “we’ll fight it out on this line if it takes all winter”….If only now–all the women suffrage women would work to this end of enforcing the existing constitution–supremacy of national law over state law–what strides we might make this winter–But I’m awful tired–for five days I have been on the constant run–but to splendid purpose–So all right–I hope you voted too.


Susan B. Anthony

Anthony was arrested and indicted. After enduring a protracted times before her 19th_amendment_5trial her day in court arrived in June 17, 1873 she of course was found guilty. Her sentence was to pay a $100.00 fine plus court cost. Anthony refused to pay.

Before sentencing Anthony used the opportunity to say her piece “Yes, your honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored. Robbed of the fundamental privilege of citizenship, I am degraded from the status of a citizen to that of a subject; and not only myself individually, but all of my sex, are, by your honor’s verdict, doomed to political subjection under this, so-called, form of government.”

After many attempts by the Judge to silence her Anthony continued to talk. In her final words she remarked “And I shall earnestly and persistently continue to urge all women to the practical recognition of the old revolutionary maxim, that “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.”

True to her word that she would not “pay a penny” she did not. The government never tried to collect.

A good write up on Susan B. Anthony’s trial can be found at University of Missouri, Kansas City, Law School.

19th_amendment_3In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive (Bull Moose) Party became the first national political party to have a plank supporting women suffrage.  The tide was beginning to turn.

Some notes from the founding on the issue of voting rights

The founding fathers have been vilified by many for their seemingly schizophrenic message of equality and at the same time state denial of basic rights to classes of people. While this writer is not willing to let them off the hook completely at the same time I do recognize that sentiments of equality are made complicated by what one perceives in  societal norms. Prejudice of mind. The ugliest norm lies in retaining of power. What the founders did leave us with was an enduring set of original ten amendments to the constitution,  the Bill of Rights. These rights were a clear message of upholding the “peoples rights” and an attempt to restrict government infringement.

In 1776,  Abigail Adams writes to her husband, John, who is attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, asking that he and the other men–who were at work on the Declaration of Independence–“Remember the Ladies.” John responds with humor. The Declaration’s wording specifies that “all men are created equal.” While John Adams made an attempt at humour the use of the plural noun “men” would present problems for many, many decades.

Abigail Adams wrote also her husband, John Adams, “If women are not represented in this new republic there will be another revolution.”

John Adams wrote in 1776 that “no good could come from enfranchising more Americans” he further wrote “Depend upon it, Sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters; there will be no end to it. New claims will arise; women will demand the vote; lads from 12 to 21 will think their rights not enough attended to; and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks to one common level.”

Alexander Hamilton believed as Sir William Blackstone did , he quoted Blackstone, “If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely, and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote… But since that can hardly be expected, in persons of indigent fortunes, or such as are under the immediate dominion of others, all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications, whereby, some who are suspected to have no will of their own, are excluded from voting; in order to set other individuals, whose wills may be supposed independent, more thoroughly upon a level with each other.”

Those men considered “not of qualification” to vote many accepted this premise readily. Most women accepted their status as second class citizens.

James Madison described “the right of suffrage is a fundamental Article in Republican Constitutions. The regulation of it is, at the same time, a task of peculiar delicacy. Allow the right exclusively to property , and the rights of persons may be oppressed… . Extend it equally to all, and the rights of property …may be overruled by a majority without property….”

Thomas Jefferson views seem to boil down to majority rule with regards to suffrage for women.

Susan B. Anthony in addition to be fond of calling out the Declaration of Independence as a document that supported the rights of not only men to exercise their rights as a citizen but included women citizens,  she was also taken with Thomas Paine’s words “The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce man to a state of slavery; for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another. . .”

Framers of America’s constitution in Article 1, Section 4 left the vote question to the states

“The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations…”

Grant M. Hayden in the Oxford Companion to American Law: “The history of voting in the United States has not been characterized by a smooth and inexorable progress toward universal political participation. It has instead been much messier, littered with periods of both expansion and retraction of the franchise with respect to many groups of potential voters.”

Yes messy it has been in both the old world and the new world. It remains so in a huge chunk of the world to this day.

Women were voting to varying degrees within the thirteenth the problem was keeping the right. The whims of politics within the states granted and then revoked the right. The following is but a small sample.


Women lose the right to vote in New York.


Women lose the right to vote in Massachusetts.


Women lose the right to vote in New Hampshire.


Reinstated in New Hampshire awarding rights to vote in local and state elections.


US Constitutional Convention places voting qualifications in the hands of the states. Women in all states except New Jersey lose the right to vote.


Women lose the right to vote in New Jersey, the last state to revoke the right.

And the giveth and taketh occurred in the western territories and states. Borrowed from Oregon State Encyclopedia “The national suffrage campaign spanned the years from the women’s rights convention held in July 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, to the ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 26, 1920. Western states and territories saw most of the earliest victories for woman suffrage (Wyoming, 1869, 1890; Utah, 1870, lost 1887, regained 1896; Colorado, 1893; Idaho, 1896; Washington, 1883, lost 1887, regained 1910; California, 1911; Oregon and Arizona, 1912; Alaska Territory, 1913; Nevada, 1914). This was due in part to territorial and statehood politics.”

A Historical Perspective

To place more historical perspective on the struggle on voting rights be it for women or others it is worth a look back in history. The one thing that pops out is class. Women in this context while represented in all classes they were considered mere appendages of men. Their lot in life were in matters within the family structure. The value of women’s labor and women’s role as a force for stabilization within society was generally accepted.

The right to vote from the get go in most colonies was based on wealth of an individual. Protection of the owners of the propertied was viewed almost universally by the founding as desirable.

To give a context of the concentration of power relative to control of voting privileges is to understand that in the 1700’s according to Daniel Friedenberg in  Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Land: The Plunder of Early America, “By 1700, three-fourths of the acreage in New York belonged to fewer than a dozen persons. In the interior of Virginia, seven individuals owned over 1.7 million acres. By 1760, fewer than five hundred men in five colonial cities controlled most of the commerce, shipping, banking, mining, and manufacturing on the eastern seaboard. In the period from the American Revolution to the Constitutional Convention (1776-1787), the big landowners, merchants, and bankers exercised a strong influence over politico-economic life, often dominating “the local newspapers which voiced the ideas and interests of commerce.” Except for Pennsylvania only white males who were propertied could vote this resulted in only about ten percent of the population.

The founding clearly are not without guilt of bringing old world ideas to the new world. In the old world  there existed no direct inheritance by women, they were treated as minors, if property was passed temporarily to women it was her first male child who was awarded power of the property. This idea permeated the new world. Barred from direct ownership of property then it follows that the award to vote was problematic. In the context of religious communities women’s role was in many instances one no less than subservience to men and church. Segregation of women in churches existed. Segregation in some faith based denominations exist today.

Voting by all of the masses was a threat to the wealthy class of men. This class of men were in the minority. It is also true that this class of men were the most educated. Illiteracy among the masses was the norm.  The founding did recognize that a literate society was desirable however picking of winners and losers if you will was also desirable.

There existed many women writers within the thirteen colonies many to be published did so under a pseudonym.

By the beginning of the 18th century literacies rates were close to fifty percent of women and hovered around twenty-seven percent of men. The type of education expected of women centered mostly around matters for bettering the lives of one’s children. Women of the wealthy class were more educated than those of the lower class.

The fact that women were viewed as ‘mere children’ and add to that direct ownership of  land people  in abject servitude of some kind it becomes more easy to understand that for a minority class to control was not only desirable but crucial for their well being.

Chipping away at all the obstacles in the path of obtaining the right to vote while immense nonetheless were broken down piece by piece and often with great sacrifice and personal abuse. Some obstacles such as control by men of property begin to break down as some men would sell the farm without consultation of their wives throwing the family into abject poverty and that presented a state with many issues to confront. By 1771 in New York husbands had to secure permission from their wives before selling “the farm”. By 1791 in the new America legislation emerged in the states that allowed women to execute wills. Adoption of this type slowly spread among the states.

In 1787 unmarried women were allowed into the trade profession in Massachusetts. This was before the final ratification of the constitution in 1790  and well before 1791 when the Bill of Rights were adopted. Although slowing moving at a snails pace change was on its way.

In 1870, Amendment XV to the U.S. Constitution was passed by Congress February 26, 1869. Ratified February 3, 1870, “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.” This extended the right to vote to black men.

Borrowed from the NOW, “The 14th Amendment, passed in 1868, guaranteed all “persons” the right to “equal protection under the law.” However, the second section of the amendment used the words “male citizens,” in describing who would be counted in determining how many representatives each state gets in Congress. This was the first time the Constitution said point blank that women were excluded. Similarly, the 15th Amendment in 1870 extended voting rights to all men — but not to any women.”

If the above was not true then the suffrage movement would not have been necessary. With strokes of a pen the XV could have been written to include women black and white and others of different races as well.

Native Americans were not granted dual citizenship until 1924. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 put a stop to various states efforts to restrict their voting privileges.

This writers grandmothers and great grandmothers never cast a vote not because they did not have the desire the reason quite simply was that the men in their homes restricted their access. My Mother always insisted on voting. I can recall at election time my Father and Mother sitting at the kitchen table. My Father would go over the voting material with her. He would say “vote for this person or vote for that”. My Mother listened intently. When he was through and his attention drawn elsewhere I can remember my Mother saying “well he is right about this person but wrong about this one, I intend to cancel out his vote.” Both of my parents were equal in education. Both.  although never having finished the fifth grade, were avid  readers. I always felt my Mother had one step up on my Father — she consumed a lot of history. On finishing reading the paper and completing chores she could be seen with a history book in her hands.

It is important to read history.