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Although over a century removed from the present day, the U.S. women’s suffrage movement remains an important lesson on how dogged determination can create wide scale, necessary reform. In this article, we would like to honor the herculean effort of many with this women’s suffrage timeline.
The Zero Theft Movement is working to eliminate the rigged parts of the U.S. economy, and recognizes how established structures can be rigged against specific groups. Be it class, sex, race, and so on. Women in the U.S. (as well as all around the globe) experienced a deep absence of choice, from what they could aspire to be to the leaders who would represent the country. Democracies fundamentally do not work when even the smallest minority do not have an opportunity to express themselves.
We hope this also serves as an opportunity to discuss a serious economic issue that could be ripping off the majority of Americans and how we plan to fix it with your help.
Beginnings of the U.S. Women’s Suffrage Movement
We begin the women’s suffrage timeline with the first women’s rights convention (often referred to as the Seneca Falls Convention). It was held over a two-day period in July 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York. Although the event received little publicity, 300 people attended.
“The right is ours. Have it, we must. Use it, we will. The pens, the tongues, the fortunes, the indomitable wills of many women are already pledged to secure this right. The great truth that no just government can be formed without the consent of the governed we shall echo and re-echo in the ears of the unjust judge, until by continual coming we shall weary him.”
Over the two days, the attendants discussed and voted on 11 women’s rights resolutions. 10 resolutions passed unanimously. The one that didn’t? Women’s suffrage, or the right to vote. Stanton, along with the help of African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, managed to sway the vote narrowly in favor of making women’s suffrage one of the convention’s resolutions.
Whether women or African Americans should gain suffrage first would persist as a serious point of contention within and between the two intertwined groups. Some even argued for a no-half-measures approach, believing all had to gain voting rights at the same time.
Occurring two years after the Seneca Falls Convention, the National Women’s Rights Convention brought the movement to the big stage. The convention took place in Worcester, Massachusetts, and attracted over 1,000 women’s rights advocates from the Northeast all the way to California.
“We want to be something more than the appendages of Society; we want that woman should be the coequal and help-meet of man in all the interest and perils and enjoyments of human life…We want that she should attain to the development of her nature and womanhood; we want that when she dies, it may not be written on her gravestone that she was the “relict” of somebody.”
Women’s suffrage leaders held the National Women’s Rights Convention annually until the eruption of the American Civil War in 1861.
During the Civil War, women’s rights activists decided to temporarily shift their focus to supporting the Union and championing abolitionism.
History has perhaps shown that women, when given the opportunity, could more than hold their own. Women provided food, clothing, and shelter, as well as organized massive fundraising events. The Philadelphia Sanitary Fair, for example, raised $1,000,000. They demonstrated their abilities and commitment to the cause by volunteering and working as nurses at U.S. Army Field Hospitals.
DID YOU KNOW?
Over 400 women disguised themselves as men and fought in the Union and Confederate armies.
On the abolitionism front, Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) and Stanton created the first national women’s political organization, the Women’s Loyal National League, in 1863. The organization called for the “emancipati[on] [of] all persons of African descent held to involuntary service or labor in the United States.”
The exploitation of women and African Americans will remain an indelible stain on this nation’s history. Throughout this women’s suffrage timeline, you’ll see how the two groups had difficulty finding common ground. The Zero Theft Movement believes sexism and racism were—and perhaps, still are—symptoms. Symptoms of greed, manifesting in the elite who prioritized their profit motive at the expense of morals and ethics. While the specific strategies themselves might not look the same today, corrupt corporations and individuals could be rigging parts of the economy against the public.
Women’s suffrage experienced a resurgence after the end of the Civil War, when proposals for the 14th Amendment started emerging. Some of the proposals suggested changing the language of the Constitution to include the word “male.”
Stanton, Anthony, and Stone joined forces to campaign against the change in language. They suggested the Constitution should instead use the term “persons.” In 1866, a version of the amendment with the inclusive wording passed the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate. Ultimately, the version of the 14th Amendment that got enacted included “male” three times in the section on voting rights.
Around the time the amendment proposals started circulating, women’s rights activists had resumed the National Women’s Rights Convention. Abolitionists and women’s suffrage leaders had crossed paths frequently, especially through the latter’s work during the Civil War.
During the 11th Convention, the two groups decided to unite to work for universal suffrage, forming the American Equal Rights Association (AERA). The organization would remain in operation for only a few years due to constant infighting.
When President Ulysses S. Grant took office in 1869, he showed strong support for the 15th Amendment: “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.”
Stone and Frederick Douglass, along with other AERA leaders, advocated for the 15th Amendment. Abolitionist Wendell Phillips claimed it was the “Negro’s hour,” that Black male voting rights should take precedence. After the enactment of the 15th Amendment, the AERA could then work for women’s suffrage.
Anthony and Stanton, however, refused to support any constitutional amendment that did not grant women’s suffrage. They reasoned that African Americans did not know the laws and customs of the U.S. political system, while ‘educated’ white women did. Unfortunately, Stanton took it one step further when she stated: “[It’s] a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see ‘Sambo’ walk into the kingdom first.”
The bitter conflict within the AERA effectively ruined any goodwill between its leaders. Underlying prejudice and shortsightedness perhaps prevented the two groups from achieving their goals sooner. The American Equal Rights Association ended after the 1869 meeting, and the women’s suffrage movement divided into two independent organizations (Anthony and Stanton’s National Woman Suffrage Association and Stone’s American Woman Suffrage Association).
The Women’s Suffrage Movement in the Late 19th Century
The middle point of the women’s suffrage timeline begins in November 1872, with Anthony illegally casting her vote for Ulysses S. Grant in the presidential election. She famously brought a group of women to a voter registration office in Rochester, New York, and demanded to vote under the 14th Amendment.
source: National Women’s History Museum
After arguing with election inspectors for over an hour, she eventually got what she wanted. Anthony was later arrested and tried. The judge gave her a $100 fine for voting illegally. She reportedly said, “I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.”
And true to her word, she never did.
Despite a few successes but many more failures, the women’s suffrage movement remained persistent. Federal reform appeared to be imminent, when Senator Aaron Sargent (R-CA) introduced S.Res. 12 (later nicknamed the ‘Susan B. Anthony Amendment’).
The amendment proposed that “The right of the 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.”
An important event that in and of itself did not bring about the reform that some believed it would. The introduction of what would be the 19th Amendment perhaps served as a precursor for the impending push for women’s suffrage.
Maybe old age and illness soften the heart as Stone had been thinking about extending an olive branch to Anthony and Stanton. She reasoned that a united front would make the women’s suffrage movement all the more powerful.
After much controversy (particularly within the National Woman Suffrage Association), the reunited leaders announced the merger/formation of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) with an ‘Open Letter to the Women of America.’
The decision marked a huge turning point in public support for the women’s rights movement. The NAWSA started with seven thousand members. Membership numbers eventually grew to two million. Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947) directed the organization during its greatest successes, including the passage of the 19th Amendment.
source: Wikimedia Commons
By 1893, the suffragists had only gained voting rights in Wyoming, but they saw a huge opportunity for reform in Colorado.
Women in southern Colorado were threatening to force their anti-suffrage state senator out of the region. They backed the Populist, pro-suffrage governor Davis Waite. Saloon keepers and brewers vaguely feared that women voters would support prohibition but not enough to take the suffrage movement all that seriously.
Catt, with the help of local women such as activist Elizabeth Ensley and journalist Ellis Meredith, organized a grassroots campaign pushing for “equal suffrage.” A male lawyer from Denver drafted the desired referendum, which Rep. J.T. Heath sponsored. Thirty-three newspapers approved of equal suffrage; only eleven opposed the reform.
The results of a popular vote established Colorado as the second state to allow women’s suffrage.
Racism buried the much unheralded work of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), so we thought it important to highlight some of the organization’s important work. You can’t find evidence of racial prejudice within Stanton and Anthony’s History of Woman Suffrage because it actually leaves out the contributions of black suffragists. The omissions serve as the proof itself.
Black female reformers did not exclusively champion women’s suffrage; they pushed for myriad reforms to combat segregation and generally improve the lives of African American people. The ruling in the 1896 Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson, entrenched Jim Crow laws as long as segregated facilities were “separate but equal.”
Society was not only divided; it was far from equal. From facilities, education, opportunities, services, and on and on and on…
For an example of the NACW’s work, the organization pushed to remove barriers preventing African American men from voting. The right to vote was not the issue, as the 14th Amendment had addressed that. Instead, black men faced impossible literacy tests, high poll taxes, and grandfather clauses that prevented many of them from casting their ballots. NACW suffragists worked to achieve unobstructed suffrage for African Americans, a problem that persists to this day.
To bring the discussion back to economics once more, we see how racism ultimately stemmed from greed. Ignore morality, and you can have free labor. But the exploitation did not stop there; it extended to white women and men.
The Atlantic examined how plantation owners prevented revolt by providing job opportunities: “…it was the very existence of enforcement work in the slave system that militated against coalition-building. Slave-driving and overseeing were the only kind of labor in the slave system that could not be entrusted to blacks, and thus was guaranteed to poor whites. Revolution sounds nice, until you consider that it meant poor whites sacrificing the only exclusive means they had for feeding and sheltering their own families.” By pitting two groups against each other, the major villains could continue to line their pockets by barely paying wages.
The Zero Theft Movement wonders if something similar isn’t happening to this day. Sure, slavery is illegal now, but others means exist to rip off one’s customers and employees alike. Don’t believe us?
Achieving National Women’s Suffrage
The last part of this women’s suffrage timeline involves a great chain of successes.
Revolutionary movements require powerful allies. For the women’s suffrage movement, that ally turned out to be President Theodore Roosevelt.
According to PBS, Roosevelt had a long history of supporting and promoting women. He argued for equal rights for women in his Harvard senior thesis, writing “Viewed purely in the abstract, I think there can be no question that women should have equal rights with men …I would have the word ‘obey’ used no more by the wife than by the husband.” While serving as the police commissioner of New York, he put women in executive positions.
But his biggest contribution occurred in 1912, when he came out in support of women’s suffrage.
The NAWSA’s Congressional Committee seized the opportunity created by President Roosevelt. Suffragists had not attempted to actually change the Constitution before, but now it appeared like a very real possibility.
In 1913, Alice Paul (1885-1977), who led the Congressional Committee, branched off to form the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU) with the help of Lucy Burns (1879-1966). Paul and Burns drew inspiration from their time supporting Emmeline Pankhurst, Emily Davison, and the whole UK suffragette movement. The CU eventually named the National Woman’s Party, eventually adopted the militant and sometimes radical methods (e.g. hunger strikes in prison) of their British counterparts. The CU’s use of these methods became a significant point of conflict between the organization and the NAWSA.
Extreme or not, the CU managed to capture the attention of many congressmen, and in 1914, they successfully got the 19th Amendment introduced in Congress for the first time since 1878.
Suffragists Mabel Vernon and Sara Bard Field decided to travel cross country to get citizens to sign petitions to change the Constitution. Just imagine driving back then, without the infrastructure using a (relatively) rudimentary automobile. Both Vernon and Field expectedly soldiered through much hardship. They reportedly dealt with “Wyoming blizzards, mid-western mud, and repeated mechanical breakdowns.”
The transcontinental proved somewhat successful, as the duo had collected over 500,000 signatures by the time they presented the petitions to President Woodrow Wilson.
source: Library of Congress
Women made a major headway in politics when Montana Republican Jeanette Rankin was elected to Congress. The first-ever woman in history to hold such a position in government. Her vote against joining World War I ruined her chances of reelection, but she eventually served a second term in the 1940s.
Rankin approved of fellow Congresswoman Margaret Chase Smith’s famous comment, “I’m no lady. I’m a member of Congress.” Her election forecasted that women’s suffrage was truly imminent, not just a pipedream.
Much like in the Civil War, women showed their capacity to perform jobs typically performed by men during World War I. They worked as factory laborers, bank clerks, elevator operators, ticket sellers, and a whole host of other jobs.
These professional opportunities actually exposed the sexism plaguing the U.S. According to the University of Washington, employers regularly paid women half of the men’s wages. They also circumvented wartime equal pay policies by employing several women to replace one man, or by breaking down skilled tasks into several ‘lower value’ steps.
The unfair treatment of women laborers during World War I serves as an example of how plutocrats and corrupt corporations can take advantage of workers in order to unethically and sometimes illegally boost their profits. While perhaps the methods are different today, similar large-scale economic rigging could still be happening across the U.S. economy.
Don’t believe the public’s getting ripped off?
First introduced in 1878, the Woman Suffrage Amendment passed the House of Representatives and the Senate. The legislation then went to the individual states for ratification.
source: Democrat and Chronicle
August 26, 1920
It took over a year and a half for enough states to ratify the 19th Amendment and make it certifiable by federal law. Tennessee finally tipped the scales on August 18, 1920, and the 19th Amendment was certified as law just eight days after.
The End of the Women’s Suffrage Timeline
While the women’s suffrage timeline ends in 1920, that doesn’t mean sexism has been eradicated.
To this day, many women potentially experience wage discrimination purely based on their sex. This targeted economic injustice, if it truly still exists, would contribute to the rigged layer of our economy, allowing plutocrats to unethically profit off of competent, skilled women.
These unethical practices don’t stop with wage suppression based on sex.
Through a whole host of different tactics across the economy (e.g. tax evasion, exorbitant prices on goods and services, excessive high-risk investments), corrupt corporations and individuals could be ripping off millions of hardworking, honest citizens. By exposing bad actors, including crony capitalists and legislators who have succumbed to regulatory capture, we, the public, could benefit from higher wages across the board, markets that involve genuine competition for our business, and a government that legislates based on our interests rather than moneyed interests.
But how can you help?
The Zero Theft Movement, along with our growing community, works to calculate the best estimate for the monetary costs of corruption in the U.S. Corporate, political, and everything in between.
We have built a safe and independent voting platform where you and your fellow citizens collaborate to thoroughly investigate potential problem areas across the economy. Everyone votes on whether (1) theft is or isn’t occurring in a specific area of the economy, and (2) how much is being stolen or possibly saved. Through direct democracy, we can collectively decide where the problem areas are and start working on addressing them systematically.
Only through hard evidence can we prove where the rigged parts of the economy exist and force Congress to hold the bad actors accountable. We can achieve economic justice, a financial system that allows the many good businesses (big, medium, and small) and good individuals (regardless of their socioeconomic status) to thrive.
The Zero Theft Movement does not have any interest in partisan politics/competition or attacking/defending one side. We seek to eradicate theft from the U.S economy. In other words, how the wealthy and powerful rig the system to steal money from us, the everyday citizen. We need to collectively fight against crony capitalism in order for us to all profit from an ethical economy.
Terms like ‘steal,’ ‘theft,’ and ‘crime’ will frequently appear throughout the article. Zero Theft will NOT adhere strictly to the legal definitions of these terms (since congress sells out). We have broadly and openly defined terms like ‘steal’ and ‘theft’ to refer to the rigged economy and other debated unethical acts that can cause citizens to lose out on money they deserve to keep.