The 19th Amendment was not easily won. From the 1830s to 1920, a diverse group of activists used a multitude of strategies to win voting rights for women. Some focused on amending the U.S. Constitution. Others appealed to the states for women’s admission to the polls. They lobbied privately in their parlors and publicly in the halls of Congress. They wrote articles and circulated petitions, preached from soap boxes and pulpits, organized massive marches, and suffered jail terms. These efforts secured piecemeal victories that gave millions of women the vote before 1920 and made possible the triumph of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Nearly passed amendment
On September 30, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson urged the U.S. Senate to vote for a woman suffrage bill passed by the House of Representatives earlier that year. This tally sheet shows that the measure fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for a constitutional amendment to be approved in each house of Congress. The following year, enough congressmen supported woman suffrage to pass the joint resolution in both legislative houses.
Arguing woman suffrage would not endanger white supremacy
As support for a Federal woman suffrage amendment grew, opposition remained steadfast in the South because whites feared it would enfranchise black women. In an attempt to quell that fear, NAWSA President Carrie Chapman Catt sent this letter to Southern Democrat Edwin Webb in 1918. Catt argued that the amendment would not threaten white supremacy because white women outnumbered all blacks in most Southern states, and states had other means of restricting voting rights.
Tennessee Ratification of the 19th Amendment
On August 18, 1920, in a resolution passed by a single vote, Tennessee became the 36th and final state needed to ratify the proposed 19th Amendment. Tennessee Governor A. H. Roberts signed this certificate stating that the Tennessee General Assembly had voted to ratify the amendment and on August 24 sent it to Washington, DC.
A fight over who was first to ratify
On June 10, 1919, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan all ratified the 19th Amendment, just six days after the measure passed Congress. Illinois’ legislature voted first that day, but Wisconsin claimed recognition as the first state to ratify because its paperwork was certified before Illinois in Washington, DC. This copy of a heated letter from the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association attempts to set the record straight on who ratified the amendment first.
A much-needed ratification in New Mexico
New Mexican suffragists, led by Adelina Otero-Warren, fought furiously to convince their state to ratify the 19th Amendment. They won on February 19, 1920. In 1922, New Mexicans then elected Soledad Chacon as Secretary of State, the first Latina and woman of color elected to a statewide executive office. However, the amendment did not guarantee the vote for most of the state's Native American women, whose struggle continued into the 1940s.
Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote
Corinne Porter, curator
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration