When the Constitution was written in 1787, it allowed each state to make a decision as to who could vote in elections. Most states did not at first give the right to vote to women or African Americans.
The Constitution gave men basic rights but did not mention women. In fact, the Constitution gave men complete control over all their personal property, which included their wives and children.
In 1868, a few years after the end of the Civil War, Congress passed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which gave all U.S. citizens "equal protection of the laws" and was aimed at partially preventing the southern states from trying to block former slaves from voting. But voters were defined as males. Then in 1870, the 15th Amendment was passed that guaranteed the right to vote to all voters, regardless of race or color--but it did not mention women.
From the very beginning of America's history, women advocated for voting rights. Abigail Adams, the wife of President John Adams, was a proponent of women's rights. On July 19th and 20th of 1848, a group of women met in Seneca Falls, New York. They issued a declaration of the rights of women that included a demand for the vote. The leading supporters of the early movement were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. The women's movement also supported an end to slavery and the prohibition of alcohol.
In 1869, a new women's group called the National Woman Suffrage Association was formed. Its leaders were Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Some women's leaders wanted an amendment to the Constitution granting women the vote. Others believed in working at the state level to achieve their goal. By the early 1900s, women's groups had won the right to vote in 12 states. But there was still no national right to vote. As women began to win the right to vote at the state level, Congress passed a resolution that eventually became the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and was ratified in 1920. This amendment gave women the right to vote.
Sample some of the following activities to learn more about women's political history.
Places To Go People To See Things To Do Teacher Resources Bibliography
The following are places to go (some real and some virtual) to find out about women's political history.
Florence Nightingale was an English nurse and is considered to be the founder of modern nursing. She became famous for her medical work in the Crimean War. She was called the Lady with the Lamp because she believed that a nurse's care was never ceasing--night or day.
Hull House was one of the first social settlements in the United States. It was founded by Jane Addams and was based on the university settlements begun in England by Samuel Barnett. Hull House served as a community center and also as a center for social reform activities. Jane Addams received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her work for women's rights and social reform.
Virtually visit the Library of Congress and see its exhibit of photographs from the early women's suffrage movement.
Visit Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. It was the first women-only college in the United States and was founded by Mary Lyon in 1837. Women could study chemistry, geography, and math which were usually male subject areas.
Visit this online museum and learn about the first American women's rights convention, held in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York.
Travel to the National Women's Hall of Fame near Syracuse, New York.
Virtually visit the home where Susan B. Anthony was arrested for voting in 1872.
Meet Elizabeth Blackwell, who received the first medical degree granted to a women in the United States. Learn about Emily Noether. She developed the basis for group theory.
Meet Amelia Jenks Bloomer and find out about her role in dress reform movement for women.
Meet Laura Ellsworth Seiler. As a young woman, she started a suffrage club while a student at Cornell. Read an interview conducted with her in 1973 or listen to the audio of that interview.
Get to know Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She was a leader of the woman-suffrage movement in the last part of the 19th century. She worked for legal, political, and industrial equality of women. Along with Susan B. Anthony, she edited the feminist newspaper, The Revolution.
Ellen Swallow Richards was the first woman admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She got a BS and MS from Vassar in 1870 and another BS in chemistry from MIT in 1873. She continued to study chemistry at MIT but was not awarded the Ph.D. degree because her professors did not want the first Ph.D. degree in chemistry from MIT to be awarded to a woman. She is also considered to be the founder of the field of home economics.
Meet Emma Hart Willard. She was a pioneer in women's education. In 1814, she opened a school in her own home so that girls could study "male" subjects such as philosophy and math that were not available to girls elsewhere. Throughout her life, she continued to lobby with local and state legislatures to fund secondary education for girls.
Ernestine Rose was born in Poland in 1810. During her life, she advocated for women's rights in Europe and the United States. In 1848, she was instrumental in the passing of a bill in New York that allowed married women to own property.
Spend time with Nobel Prize winners. These awards are given annually for outstanding achievement in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, peace, literature, and economics. Women have won Nobel Prizes in all categories except for economics.
Meet Jeannette Rankin. She was the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Meet Lucretia Mott. She was one of the leaders of the antislavery and women's rights movements in America. With Elizabeth Cady Stanton she organized the first women's rights convention in the United States at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848.
Lucy Hobbs Taylor was the first female dentist. She first taught school for ten years in the 1850s. She was encouraged to study dentistry because that was considered to be less demanding. She did so--on her own--and soon practiced dentistry without a license. She eventually was accepted to Ohio College of Dentistry, and she graduated in 1866 with the degree Doctor of Dental Surgery.
Spend time with Lucy Stone. She was a leader in the women's rights movement. In 1870, she founded the Woman's Journal, which was for nearly 50 years the official journal of the American Woman Suffrage Association and, after 1890, the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She is well known for being one of the first women to keep her own last name after her marriage.
Maria Montessori became the first female physician in Italy in 1894. She also developed theories about how children learn and methods to teach them. She felt that if children were provided with a resource-rich environment and given advice and encouragement, they would spontaneously educate themselves.
Meet Sarah and Angelina Grimké. They were sisters from South Carolina, members of the Quaker faith, and outspoken abolitionists.
Meet Sojourner Truth. Her original name was Isabella, and she was a freed slave. She adopted the name Sojourner Truth and traveled throughout the north preaching emancipation and women's rights. Read the text of her famous "Ain't I A Woman" speech.
Meet Susan Brownell Anthony. Some of the issues that she worked for were equal pay for women teachers, for coeducation, and for college training for girls in the 1800s. Read her speech on women's right to vote.
Meet the women (and men) whom they've named craters after on Venus. The list includes a crater named Cather (Willa), a crater named Addams (Jane), a crater named Alcott (Louisa May), a crater named Potter (Beatrix), a crater named Truth (Sojourner), and many more.
Meet 30 modern women who are involved in the world of technology.
Get to know women who work for NASA. This website was developed to encourage more young women to pursue careers in math, science, and technology. It has a "Teaching Tips" section with ideas for integrating the information into classroom curriculum.
In 1872, Victoria Claflin Woodhull was the first woman to run for president of the United States. She and her sister, Tennessee Claflin, were eccentric journalists and spiritualists. They published a newspaper called Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly. It advocated for women's rights and other social issues.
Select a country from the menu to find information links to further resources about women writers from that country. Find out about Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the original author of Frankenstein.
Learn about Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer and their efforts for women's rights in early American history.
Learn about more than 80 twentieth century women who have made original and important contributions to physics.
Find biographies of women who contributed to our culture in many different ways. There are writers, educators, scientists, heads of state, politicians, civil rights crusaders, artists, entertainers, and others.
The Knights of Labor was a labor union formed by Philadelphia tailors in 1869. By 1883, this union had grown into a national labor organization that was one of the first to include women and African-American workers.
Take this online quiz about women's history. It's part of the National Women's History Project.
Learn about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, track key events in the suffrage movement, delve into historic documents and essays, and take a look at where women are today.
From the Library of Congress, find a timeline of people and events that have been instrumental in the women's rights movement.
Learn about Canadian women who energetically advocated for the rights of women during the latter part of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century.
Learn about great women rulers, female heroes, and more.
Learn about the amendment that gave women the right to vote.
- Suffrage Strategies: Voices for Votes
- UEN - Centennial: What A Woman...The Silver Queen
- Voting Rights for Women: Pro- and Anti-Suffrage
- Woman Suffrage and the 19th Amendment
- Women's Equality: Changing Attitudes and Beliefs
- Women's Suffrage: Their Rights and Nothing Less
- Who Were the Foremothers of Women's Equality?
- Ash, Maureen. The Story of the Women's Movement. Chicago: Children's Press, 1989.
- Blumberg, Rhoda. Bloomers! New York: Bradbury Press; Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan Canada; New York: Maxwell Macmillan International, c1993.
- Helmer, Diana Star. Women Suffragists. New York, NY: Facts on File, c1998.
- Macdonald, Fiona. Women in 19th-Century America. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, c1999.
- Mass, Wendy. Women's Rights. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, c1998.
- Monroe, Judy. The Nineteenth Amendment: Women's Right to Vote. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, c1998.
- Nash, Carol Rust. The Fight for Women's Right to Vote in American History. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, c1998.
- Sigerman, Harriet. Laborers for Liberty: American Women, 1865-1890. New York: Oxford University Press, c1994.
- Sullivan, George. The Day the Women Got the Vote: A Photo History of the Women's Rights Movement. New York: Scholastic, c1994.
- Swain, Gwenyth. The Road to Seneca Falls: A Story About Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, c1996.
- Wheaton, Elizabeth. Myra Bradwell, First Woman Lawyer. Greensboro, N.C.: Morgan Reynolds, c1997.