Fight for the Right: 100 Years of Women Voting

This online exhibit is adapted from a temporary exhibit at the California Museum. Developed in collaboration with California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom and launched August 26, 2020 to mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment, the exhibit explores women's decades-long struggle to win the right to vote. 

Declaration of Sentiments (1848) by National American Woman Suffrage AssociationOriginal Source: Library of Congress

In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the first U.S. women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY. Her Declaration of Sentiments listed 19 injustices suffered by women and included suffrage among its resolutions. The convention has been called the spark that kindled the American women’s movement.

Suffrage leaders (c. 1880s) by unknown photographerOriginal Source: H. Chase Livingston Collection

Susan B. Anthony (seated, second from left) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (seated, fourth from left) posed with other early leaders of the women's suffrage movement in the 1880s.

The Sibyl (1858) by Lydia Sayer HasbrouckOriginal Source: H. Chase Livingston Collection

Lydia Sayer Hasbrouck believed that women couldn't achieve equality while wearing constricting, heavy, impractical clothing. She founded The Sibyl, which advocated for dress reform, as illustrated in the masthead. Later suffragists adopted traditional "feminine" styles seen as less threatening, but the dress reform movement opened new avenues for women.

Susan B. Anthony ALS (1870) by Susan B. AnthonyOriginal Source: H. Chase Livingston Collection

Susan B. Anthony was arrested and Judge Hunt found her guilty of “illegally” voting in 1872. This letter expresses her frustration at the injustice to women, both Black and white, who had to keep fighting for the vote on a state by state basis, while Black men won it nationally in 1870 with the passage of the 15th Amendment.

Appellant Brief, Van Valkenburg v. Brown (1871) by Sentinel PrintOriginal Source: California State Archives

After trying to register to vote in 1871 in Santa Cruz, CA, and being denied, Ellen Van Valkenburg took her case all the way to the California Supreme Court. Her effort got attention, but not the vote; they ruled that her 14th Amendment citizen rights did not include voting.

Amendment 11 ribbon (1896) by California MuseumOriginal Source: H. Chase Livingston Collection

After two earlier assembly bills introduced in 1893 failed, California Constitutional Amendment 11 made the state ballot in November 1896, giving Californians their first chance to vote for women’s suffrage. It also failed, with roughly 55% of voters opposing the measure. This ribbon lapel pin from the campaign is one of only two known to exist today.

Lozier Cleveland Lady's Safety Bicycle (1893) by California MuseumOriginal Source: U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, Davis CA

The modern bicycle played a key role in the suffrage movement. In ankle-baring outfits that made it easier to ride—often viewed as shockingly revealing—women bicyclists pushed social norms. They could go where they wanted when they wanted without relying on men to take them, and organize for additional rights—such as the right to vote.

Telephone (c. 1900) by California MuseumOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

Telephones, still a novel invention at the turn of the century, became vital to the suffrage movement as more people got them in their homes. Suffragists saw the value, and quickly started using phones to reach beyond their own communities.

Oakland suffrage march (1908) by unknown photographerOriginal Source: California Historical Society

Defying the then-common idea that a “woman’s place is in the home,” 300 women marched through the streets of Oakland, CA, in 1908, proudly displaying the banner of the California Equal Suffrage Association. It was one of the earliest suffrage marches and would later serve as a model on a national level.

Suffragists, from the H. Chase Livingston Collection (c. 1910s) by unknown photographerCalifornia Museum

Suffragists were strategic in crafting their image. Their modest dress reinforced traditional roles, making their message—a fierce call for new rights—seem less threatening. Wearing white for public demonstrations, they stood out from the crowds and conveyed purity, presenting women as reformers who would bring civility to politics.

Lydia Flood Jackson (c. 1880s) by unknown photographerOriginal Source: African American Museum & Library at Oakland

A successful businesswoman and active leader in the Black clubs movement in the Oakland, CA, area, Lydia Flood Jackson was a champion of suffrage and civil rights for Black women and other women of color.

Maud Younger (c. 1900s) by Unknown photographerOriginal Source: Library of Congress

In 1908, Maud Younger helped found the Wage Earners’ Equal Suffrage League for Working Women and began traveling across California to promote suffrage. A forceful public speaker, she visited union halls to reach working-class male voters. She also wrote and distributed pamphlets that argued for the voting rights of wage-earning women.

Suffrage committee headquarters (1911) by unknown photographerOriginal Source: California State Library

After the first statewide vote failed in 1896, California suffragists kept up the fight, not letting disappointing defeats derail them. After a progressive administration was elected in 1910, suffragists had only eight months to mobilize a massive campaign.

Votes for Women (1911) by Bertha Margaret BoyeOriginal Source: Center for Sacramento History

Bertha Margaret Boye’s design for the 1911 campaign won first place in a contest sponsored by San Francisco’s College Equal Suffrage League. Printed on cards, flyers and stamps, the design was one of the movement's most popular images. For a week in August 1911, San Francisco stores plastered the poster in their windows.

Maria de Lopez (1907) by unknown photographerOriginal Source: University of Southern California

During the 1911 campaign, suffragist Maria de Lopez was instrumental in getting the message out to Spanish-speaking people. President of the College Equal Suffrage League, a member of the Votes for Women Club, and a high school teacher from Los Angeles, de Lopez toured the state giving speeches in Spanish and English.

Argument in favor of Amendment 8 (1911) by H.G. CattellOriginal Source: California State Archives

Republican state senator Charles W. Bell sponsored California’s Amendment No. 8 in 1911, arguing that women would “uplift the state” with their intelligence and honesty. Assemblymember H. G. Cattell wrote the ballot argument in favor. He argued that women shouldn’t be subject to taxation without representation.

Argument against Amendment 8 (1911) by J.B. SanfordOriginal Source: California State Archives

Assemblymember J.B. Sanford wrote the opposing argument, stating that suffrage was a privilege, not a right, and that women should keep in their proper places in the home.

Sixth star on the suffrage flag (1911) by California Equal Suffrage AssociationOriginal Source: Ella Strong Denison Library, Scripps College

In November 1911, California voters passed women’s suffrage. Early results showed defeat. But when the count was complete, rural voters had turned the tide. Proposition 4 had won by an average majority of just one vote per precinct. California was the sixth state to approve women’s suffrage, joining Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Washington.

First California women voters (1912) by unknown photographerOriginal Source: California State Library

Women legally voted in California for the first time in 1912. With the California win, the number of U.S. women with full suffrage doubled.

The Awakening (1915) by Hy MayerOriginal Source: Library of Congress

California’s success in 1911 bolstered suffrage campaigns in other states and served as a model for suffrage parades, pickets, and strategy. Women in Oregon, Kansas, and Arizona won the right to vote in 1912. The eastern states would prove harder.

Charlotta Bass (c. 1909) by unknown photographerOriginal Source: California Eagle Photographs Collection, Southern California Library (Los Angeles)

In 1911 Charlotta Spears Bass became the first Black woman in the U.S. to own and operate a newspaper. She used The California Eagle to promote many causes important to the Black community, including women’s suffrage.

Keepsake spoon from NAWSA convention (1912) by California MuseumOriginal Source: H. Chase Livingston Collection

During its 1912 Convention, the National American Association of Woman Suffrage (NAWSA) appointed Alice Paul and Lucy Burns to lead its Congressional Committee. They would shift focus toward seeking a federal amendment for women's suffrage, rather than a state-by-state approach.

Suffrage march on Washington (March 3, 1913) by unknown photographerOriginal Source: Library of Congress

Alice Paul and the National American Woman Suffrage Association held a massive parade in Washington, DC, on March 3, 1913. Many of the thousands of marchers were attacked while police stood by. Over 100 women were hospitalized for injuries. The chaos actually served the cause, attracting news coverage and congressional hearings.

Suffrage parade drum (March 3, 1913) by California MuseumOriginal Source: H. Chase Livingston Collection

The 1913 suffrage parade was the first large-scale march on Washington in U.S. history. Over five thousand suffragists marched up Pennsylvania Avenue, along with over 20 parade floats, nine bands, and four mounted brigades.

Inez Milholland (c. 1915) by unknown photographerOriginal Source: H. Chase Livingston Collection

Labor lawyer Inez Milholland turned suffrage celebrity after leading the 1913 parade. In 1916, she went on a speaking tour of the West, despite suffering from anemia. She collapsed during a speech in Los Angeles and died a month later. Her last public words were, “How long must women wait for liberty?”

Ida B. Wells (c. 1893) by unknown photographerOriginal Source: National Park Service

Journalist, educator, and activist Ida B. Wells had battled inequality since the 1880s. She condemned lynching, promoted suffrage, and encouraged women of color to participate in politics. At the 1913 march, she joined her state's delegation despite being told to march at the back with other Black suffragists.

Phoebe Apperson Hearst (1915) by EdmonstonOriginal Source: Library of Congress

At odds with NAWSA over tactics and goals, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU) in April 1913 to campaign for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women's suffrage. Prominent Californian Phoebe Hearst was a member of CU's national advisory council.

Lillian Harris Coffin (c. 1915) by Geo. G. Fraser Portrait StudioOriginal Source: Library of Congress

Lillian Harris Coffin was another member of the Advisory Council of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage. One of California's most active club women, she had founded the San Francisco Equal Suffrage League in 1906 and headed the Central Committee of the California Equal Suffrage League.

"Suffrage school" program (1914) by Women's Political Union of New JerseyOriginal Source: H. Chase Livingston Collection

Organization was everything. As the movement spread, women’s clubs hosted “suffrage schools,” where members trained in organizing and public speaking.

The Crisis (1915) by W.E.B. Du BoisOriginal Source: H. Chase Livingston Collection

W.E.B. Du Bois was a staunch supporter of the women’s suffrage movement. He used the magazine he edited, the NAACP’s The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races, to advance the cause. From 1911 to 1920, he published essays from leading women’s suffrage advocates.

Suffrage envoys (1915) by unknown photographerOriginal Source: Library of Congress

After California women won the vote, suffragists from the state turned their attention to the national cause. Envoys from San Francisco are shown here on their way to Washington to present a petition to Congress containing more than 500,000 signatures in favor of a constitutional amendment.

"Votes for Women" toy (c. 1910s) by California MuseumOriginal Source: H. Chase Livingston Collection

The “Votes for Women” slogan was popularized on such merchandise as soaps, trading cards, sheet music, paper cups, cookbooks, and toys like this spinner.

Alison Turnbull Hopkins picketing outside White House (1917) by The SuffragistOriginal Source: Library of Congress

In January 1917, the National Woman’s Party began a picket outside the White House to protest inaction on a federal amendment. The "Silent Sentinels" took turns standing with banners bearing messages aimed at President Woodrow Wilson. Over the two-and-half year protest, many of the nearly 2,000 picketers were harassed and arrested.

Silent Sentinels' banner (1917) by California MuseumOriginal Source: H. Chase Livingston Collection

This banner, also shown in the previous slide, was used during the Silent Sentinels' White House picket between 1917 and 1920. Covered widely in the newspapers and deemed unpatriotic during WWI, the protest sparked controversy.

Vivian Pierce with suffrage banner (c. 1918) by Harris & EwingOriginal Source: Library of Congress

Vivian Pierce of San Diego held another homemade suffrage banner, bearing one of the movement's most famous slogans, "Forward into Light," outside suffrage headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Red Cross Motor Corps (October 10, 1918) by American National Red CrossOriginal Source: Library of Congress

The 1918 pandemic slowed passage of the 19th Amendment. Just before a deadly second wave of influenza hit the U.S. in Fall 1918, women’s suffrage was voted down in the Senate. Suffragists poised to jump back into campaigning saw their efforts grind to halt. With public gatherings now impossible, they turned to the telephone, letters, and newspapers to keep the pressure on.

The Suffragist (1919) by Congressional Union for Woman SuffrageOriginal Source: H. Chase Livingston Collection

As the fight for a federal amendment intensified, suffragists were arrested for picketing and other "offenses." When they protested their imprisonment with hunger strikes, they were force-fed. This issue of The Suffragist was devoted to a national "Prison Special" speaking tour.

"Prison Special" tour (1919) by unknown photographerOriginal Source: Library of Congress

In 1919, National Woman's Party activists went on a nationwide "Prison Special" tour, speaking about their experiences being jailed for demonstrating for the right to vote. Here, speakers in prison dresses speak to a San Francisco crowd.

Governor's 19th Amendment Proclamation (November 1, 1919) by William StephensOriginal Source: California State Archives

Years of effort finally paid off when the Senate passed the 19th Amendment in June 1919. But it still had to be approved by 2/3 of the states to take effect. California became the 18th state to ratify on November 1, 1919.

Alice Paul raises a toast to the 19th Amendment (August 18, 1920) by unknown photographerOriginal Source: Library of Congress

The 19th Amendment was added to the Constitution after Tennessee—the 36th and final state needed to reach the required majority—ratified it with one tie-breaking vote in the state House of Representatives on August 18, 1920. A young Tennessee Congressman stunned onlookers when he cast the last vote needed—changing his mind after receiving a note from his mother.

Women's March (2018-01-20) by Andie Mills / AlamyCalifornia Museum

The fight for the right goes on

Ratification of the 19th Amendment brought the single largest extension of democratic voting rights in American history. But still not everyone could vote. Native Americans got the right to vote in U.S. elections in 1948, Asian immigrants in 1952. Black voters in southern states finally got access to the polls with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today, the fight goes on to adequately register voters, provide equal access to polling places, and increase representation in government. Dreaming big and taking action, California women continue to pave the way for future generations.

Credits: Story

H. Chase Livingston Collection
California State Archives
Center for Sacramento History
California State Library
U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, Davis CA

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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