The 19th Amendment: Suffragists Change Tactics (1878-1916)

This online exhibit—part two of a three-part series—mirrors the second section of the National Constitution Center's exhibit, “The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote.”

By National Constitution Center

The first installment of this series covers the early women’s movement and the push for universal suffrage after the Civil War ended in 1865. With the passage of the 15th Amendment (ratified in 1870)—which guaranteed voting rights for African American men—the movement ultimately split over race and strategy. In this exhibit, explore the next several decades in the long fight for women’s suffrage as the suffragists reassess their tactics.

Section Two of “The 19th Amendment” exhibit (2020) by National Constitution CenterNational Constitution Center

Changing Tactics

As the Reconstruction era (1865-77) ended, the women’s suffrage movement continued to divide over strategy. Some women focused on rallying support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, while others focused on securing voting rights state by state. Across the country, women from minority groups mobilized for suffrage; they believed that the ballot would lead to economic empowerment and community reform.

In the final decade leading to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, confrontational tactics came to define the movement. The next generation of suffrage leaders entered the scene—bringing fresh ideas to the fight for women’s suffrage. Learn more in the upcoming video, as Exhibition Developer Elena Popchock walks through the second section of the exhibit. (Please note that the audio and video will play automatically.)

“The Awakening” (1915) by Henry MayerOriginal Source: Cornell University Library Digital Collections

State by State

Women worked at the state and local levels to extend suffrage. If enough states allowed women to vote, national change might follow. Women’s suffrage spread first in the West—where territories and states sought to attract more women to their borders—and eventually moved eastward.

In 1867, Kansas voters considered universal suffrage (voting rights for both women and African American men), but the measures failed to pass. The first victory for women came in 1869 with the Wyoming Territory. Learn about other state-level wins—and failures—in the next few slides.


“Let Iowa Women Vote” handheld flag (undated)National Constitution Center

Iowa

This small flag signifies one of the many items produced during Iowa’s long struggle for the vote. In 1868, Iowans voted to remove the word “white” from their constitution’s voter qualifications. Women thought they’d be next, but the General Assembly denied them the vote in 1872.

Billboard in Denver, Colorado, supporting women's suffrage (1916)Original Source: Library of Congress

Colorado

In 1867, Colorado achieved statehood. Like other Western states and territories, it considered women’s suffrage for its new constitution—but only granted women the vote in school elections. Suffragists mobilized, leading to victory in 1893. Colorado became the first state to grant women full suffrage through a popular vote.

Justice Bell watch fob (1915)National Constitution Center

Pennsylvania

This souvenir watch fob commemorates the 1915 Pennsylvania campaign, when a replica Liberty Bell traversed the state for women’s suffrage. The “Justice Bell” traveled 5,000 miles during the campaign, but the state measure ultimately failed. 

Drinking cup from the New York campaign (1915)National Constitution Center

New York

Suffragists distributed this novelty cup to support their campaign. The paper cup features a rising sun, symbolizing that a new day was on the horizon.  Despite these efforts, the 1915 ballot measure failed. It passed two years later, granting New York women full voting rights.

“Seeing is Believing! Finish the Fight!” flier (1919)Original Source: Missouri Historical Society

Progress at the State Level

On the eve of the 19th Amendment’s passage in Congress in 1919, women in 15 states and one territory could vote in all elections. These victories would play a key role in securing the national amendment. Check out this interactive map to learn more about these state campaigns!

Suffragettes in London (undated)Original Source: Library of Congress

Taking It to the Streets

As momentum built at the state level, militant suffragists took to the streets to further the national amendment strategy. Younger suffragists, including Harriot Stanton Blatch and Alice Paul, witnessed the confrontational tactics used by the British (known as suffragettes). Inspired by these bold actions, suffragists in the United States utilized new strategies to grab the public’s attention.

Harriot Stanton Blatch attending a women's suffrage parade (July 30, 1913)Original Source: Library of Congress

Organizing the First Suffrage Parades

Harriot Stanton Blatch organized a parade in New York City that drew 20,000 marchers in 1912. Prior to this, she spent 20 years in England, actively advocating for suffrage and labor. Back in America, she recruited working-class women to the suffrage cause.

Alice Paul in academic robes (1913)Original Source: Library of Congress

Planning the First National Suffrage Parade

In 1913, the first national suffrage parade was held in Washington, D.C. Alice Paul, a New Jersey Quaker, helped to organize the procession. Previously, she studied social work in England and joined their militant suffragettes. She returned to the United States, eager to invigorate the movement with more aggressive tactics.

Head of the Woman Suffrage Procession (March 3, 1913)Original Source: Library of Congress

Woman Suffrage Procession

On March 3, 1913—the day before Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration—an estimated 5,000 women from across the nation and the world gathered in Washington, D.C. Such spectacles caught the attention of the press, but not all women were impressed—or welcomed to join. In order to maintain support among white people, suffrage leaders discouraged women of color from participating. 

Howard University sorority asks about marching in the suffrage parade (February 17, 1913) by Nellie M. QuanderOriginal Source: Library of Congress

Howard University sorority asks about marching in the parade

In this 1913 letter to Alice Paul, the sorority president affirmed: “We do not wish to enter if we must meet with discrimination on account of race affiliation. Can you assign us to a desirable place in the college women’s section?” Despite this request, parade organizers succumbed to Southern white prejudice—and their own notions of racial hierarchy—by asking the women to march in the back.

Feature on Ida B. Wells-Barnett in the suffrage parade (March 3, 1913)Original Source: The Chicago Daily Tribune

Chicago Tribune highlights Black participation in parade

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a civil rights crusader, refused to march in the back of the parade. When the march began, she broke ranks and joined her Illinois delegation. Wells-Barnett was a pioneering journalist who investigated lynchings and confronted white suffragists for ignoring the issue. She often criticized the movement’s racism—and focused instead on mobilizing the Black community to promote racial progress.

Souvenir program from the Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington, D.C. (1913)Original Source: Alice Paul Institute

Impact of the Parade

The first national suffrage parade, commemorated in this souvenir program, started at the Capitol and continued to Pennsylvania Avenue. Angry crowds blocked the way, and roughly 100 women ended up in the hospital after violence erupted. Wilson’s inauguration now shared headlines with shocking news of the parade and the attacks—causing public sympathies to soar.

Suffragists pose with umbrellas and sashes (May 1912)Original Source: Library of Congress

Spread the Word!

Suffragists garnered support through colorful collectibles, symbolic souvenirs, and ordinary objects. Beginning in the 1890s, interest in collectibles skyrocketed, thanks to innovative production methods and a growing consumer culture. Suffrage organizations and commercial businesses both saw the opportunity to promote—and profit from—the cause.

“Every badge, pin, or button is a help, arousing curiosity among strangers, stimulating conversation among acquaintances and discussion among friends and antis. Show your colors all day long.” — California suffragist Alice Park, 1913

Newspapers and catalogs advertised accessories that served as persuasive tools, including sashes, hats, gloves, purses, and ribbons. Women also carried messages on paper suffrage fans, umbrellas, and pennants—keepsakes that were distributed at outdoor events.

“Keep Cool and Raise a Breeze for Suffrage” paper fan, Campbell Art Co., 1915, From the collection of: National Constitution Center
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“Votes for Women” sash, undated, From the collection of: National Constitution Center
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Functional items—pepper shakers, cookbooks, pencils, and flyswatters—were produced for the cause and enabled suffrage messages to make their way into the home.

Thread keeper from “Sarah's Suffrage Victory Campaign Fund”, undated, From the collection of: National Constitution Center
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“Washington Women’s Cook Book”, 1909, From the collection of: National Constitution Center
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Suffrage-themed pepper shaker, ca. 1915-17, From the collection of: National Constitution Center
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New York socialite Alva Belmont commissioned “Votes for Women” dishware for the lunchroom at the Political Equality Association headquarters. With her influence—and sales from her suffrage shop—these blue-and-white luncheon sets emerged as popular staples at meetings and tea parties.

“Votes for Women” saucer, ca. 1909-14, From the collection of: National Constitution Center
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“Votes for Women” tea cup, ca. 1909-14, From the collection of: National Constitution Center
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A rising sun, featured on both of the artifacts below, signified a new day on the horizon.

“Votes for Women” button from the New York campaign, 1915, From the collection of: National Constitution Center
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Drinking cup from the New York campaign, 1915, From the collection of: National Constitution Center
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Pants represented gender equality, as well as a reversal of gender roles.

“What will men wear...?” pants-themed postcard, 1913, From the collection of: National Constitution Center
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Button with velvet pants, undated, From the collection of: National Constitution Center
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Illustrations of children helped to convey innocence—and make suffrage seem non-threatening. “Kewpie” dolls (baby cupid characters developed by cartoonist Rose O’Neill in 1909) often appeared on posters, valentines, and postcards.

“Give Mother the Vote” poster with “Kewpie” babies, Rose O’Neill, 1915, Original Source: Howland Stone Store Museum
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“Better Babies” suffrage poster, Rose O’Neill, 1915, Original Source: Howland Stone Store Museum
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Suffrage valentine, undated, From the collection of: National Constitution Center
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However, not all women supported their own enfranchisement. Many opposed the idea, choosing instead to join the anti-suffrage cause.

Headquarters of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (ca. 1911) by Harris & EwingOriginal Source: Library of Congress

Meet the Anti-Suffragists

By the 1890s, the opposition officially started to organize. While some anti-suffragists supported the idea of women’s suffrage in theory, they opposed a national amendment that would impose this change on the states. Many also worried about the extension of suffrage to non-educated, non-white populations. To prevent these fears from becoming a reality, anti-suffragists voiced a range of arguments.

Below, explore some of the arguments against women’s suffrage.

Family and Gender
Many believed that husbands virtually represented their wives at the ballot box and within the government. They feared that if women entered politics, it would corrupt their virtues, create marital conflict, and disrupt family life by drawing them away from their responsibilities at home.

“Election Day” postcard (1909)Original Source: Johns Hopkins University, Sheridan Libraries

Anti-suffragist Emily P. Bissell sees voting as “man's work”
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“The vote is part of man's work. . . . Woman cannot step in and take the responsibilities and duties of voting without assuming his place very largely.”

Note: This is a modern recording.

“Looking Backward” cartoon (August 22, 1912) by Laura E. FosterOriginal Source: Library of Congress

“Looking Backward”

This anti-suffrage cartoon was published in Life magazine in 1912.

The cartoon depicts a woman running up steps labeled “Disappointment,” “Suffrage,” and “Loneliness.” At the top is a stand identified as “Fame.”

As she reaches the top, she looks back at her children, leaving behind the steps marked “Home” and “Marriage.”

Anti-Black Sentiment

A national amendment would also enfranchise African American women—at a time when Black male voters faced violent backlash. Southerners feared that a women's suffrage amendment would renew efforts to protect Black voters and enforce the 15th Amendment.

“Just like the men!” cartoon (March 1, 1913)Original Source: Library of Congress

Sen. Francis Newlands (Nevada) supports suffrage for white women
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I believe in making this a white man's government, and I would gladly restrict suffrage to people in this country of the white race...I stand, therefore, for the extension of suffrage to white women. I stand for the denial of the right of suffrage in this country to the people of any other race than the white race.


Note: This is a modern recording.

Restricted Suffrage
People debated how much the electorate should grow, particularly as immigration increased. Should all citizens be allowed to vote—or just the educated? Many voiced concerns about allowing too many people to vote.

New York journalist Adeline Knapp (September 21, 1892)National Constitution Center

Journalist Adeline Knapp opposes the expansion of voting rights
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The possibility of extending the suffrage to women must come into serious question. Our voting body is to-day so large, so unwieldy, as to form a serious menace to the institutions of our country.

Note: This is a modern recording.

States' Rights
Until the 15th Amendment (1870) banned racial discrimination in voting, states exclusively determined voter qualifications. Many argued that states should continue to have that authority.

Sen. Nathan Bryan (ca. 1890-1910)Original Source: Library of Congress

Sen. Nathan Bryan (Flordia) argues for a state's right to determine who can vote
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“I am one of those who believe that the privilege of voting ought to be controlled by each State. It is wholly wrong for Arizona to say to Maine who her voters shall be.”

Note: This is a modern recording.

Prohibition of Alcohol
Many women joined the anti-alcohol crusade as a part of an effort to reform society. The liquor industry—a strong anti-suffrage force—feared that the female vote would lead to the prohibition of their products.

“The Case Against Woman Suffrage” cartoon (October 13, 1917) by William OurcadieNational Constitution Center

This cartoon, which appeared on the cover of The Woman Citizen in 1917, presents its “case against woman suffrage”—represented by a case of liquor.

Explore and listen to more of the debates—for and against women's suffrage—here!

“A New Generation Mobilizes and Divides” panel (2020) by National Constitution CenterNational Constitution Center

The Movement Mobilizes and Divides

By the early 1900s, women from all walks of life advocated for suffrage. Middle-class women formed alliances with working women, while Progressive-era reformers joined the movement. While expanding support, suffrage organizations continued to divide over race, purpose, and tactics.

Strikers from the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (February 1910)Original Source: Library of Congress

The Progressive Era

From the 1890s to the 1920s, the composition of America changed. Mass immigration, the emergence of an urban working class, and business growth transformed society. The Progressive movement formed in response to this changing landscape, addressing the corruption of politics and the inequality in wealth. Progressives promoted workers’ rights, the prohibition of alcoholic beverages, and improved public services. 

Phillis Wheatley Club of Buffalo, New York (ca. 1911-30)Original Source: Library of Congress

The Movement Divides

The mainstream suffrage movement grew increasingly divided over race, mostly in reaction to mass immigration and appeals to white prejudices. White women continued to distance themselves from Black suffragists.

Faced with this mounting racism, Black women organized separately into clubs and pushed for the vote to secure social and economic change.

“Meet the Suffragists” panels (2020) by National Constitution CenterNational Constitution Center

Meet the Suffragists

Key suffrage pioneers from the first and second generations died in the late 1800s and early 1900s, leaving room for new leaders to emerge, mobilize support, and reassess tactics. The third generation grew more diverse.

Mary Church Terrell (ca. 1880-1900)Original Source: Library of Congress

Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954)

Mary Church Terrell, born enslaved in Tennessee, dedicated her life to fighting racial injustices. After emancipation, her family achieved great wealth and sent her to Ohio to be educated. As a light-skinned suffragist and professional lecturer, she participated in both Black and white organizations, but frequently criticized the movement’s racism. 

Convention of the National Associatation of Colored Women's Clubs (1924)Original Source: The New York Public Library

National Association of Colored Women (NACW)

Confronted with growing racism and exclusion from the mainstream movement, Black women organized the NACW in 1896 to address issues including suffrage, poverty, education, lynchings, and domestic violence. The group sought to restore racial pride, adopting the motto “Lifting as We Climb.” Terrell served as the first president.

Carrie Chapman Catt (ca. 1914)Original Source: Library of Congress

Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947)

A former teacher and talented speaker, Carrie Chapman Catt served as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She transformed the organization—increasing membership to two million by 1917. A keen strategist, Catt devised her “Winning Plan” to build support among the states most likely to ratify the amendment.

Headquarters of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (1913) by Harris & EwingOriginal Source: Library of Congress

National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)

In 1890, the two major suffrage organizations merged to form NAWSA. Within a decade, branches existed in every state. The group focused on fundraising, organizing public demonstrations, and lobbying state and national officials.  However, few Black women joined or supported the association due to growing racism.

Lucy Burns (1916)Original Source: Library of Congress

Lucy Burns (1879–1966)

While attending graduate school in England, Brooklyn native Lucy Burns was introduced to the militant suffragettes. She left her studies to join them—eventually meeting Alice Paul in a London police station. The two friends partnered to inject aggressive tactics into the American movement.

Executive group of the National Woman's Party (ca. 1910-20) by Harris & EwingOriginal Source: Library of Congress

National Woman's Party

Tired of the state-by-state campaign, Lucy Burns and Alice Paul (the organizer of the Washington, D.C., suffrage parade) turned their focus to a national amendment. Paul and her followers formed the NWP in 1916 to pursue this strategy. They embraced militant tactics—picketing the White House and burning political speeches to demand action.

Mabel Ping-Hua Lee (ca. 1920-25)Original Source: Library of Congress

Mabel Ping-Hua Lee (1896-1966)

Born in China, Mabel Ping-Hua Lee immigrated to the United States on a scholarship. She rode on horseback in the 1912 New York City suffrage parade and delivered speeches supporting the cause. Victory came in 1917, when New York granted women the vote. However, federal law prevented Lee, a Chinese immigrant, from becoming a citizen and exercising this right.

Margaret Murray Washington (ca. 1910-15)Original Source: Library of Congress

Margaret Murray Washington (early 1860s-1925)

Raised in poverty in the South, Margaret Murray Washington was sent to live with Quakers who oversaw her education. She taught at the Tuskegee Institute, where she served as Dean of Women and married Booker T. Washington. She also organized and participated in reform groups, focusing on the challenges facing African American communities.

Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren (July 11, 1923)Original Source: Library of Congress

Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren (1881-1965)

Born in the New Mexico Territory, Nina Otero-Warren promoted education and public health, particularly within the Hispanic and Native American communities. She was appointed chair of the New Mexico branch of the National Woman’s Party, overseeing outreach to Spanish speakers.

Women participating in an election (ca. 1917)Original Source: Library of Congress

Closer to Victory

Suffragists embraced a broad range of tactics while pursuing the vote. The momentum created by state-level victories, militant protest tactics, and continued lobbying led many to believe that women’s suffrage could finally achieve enough support. These strategies, combined with the nation’s entry into World War I in 1917, eventually turned the tide in favor of a national amendment.

Credits: Story

This online exhibit was developed by the National Constitution Center—the second installment in a three-part series based on its exhibit, “The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote.“ To learn more, including how to visit, go to our website.

Explore the first installment of the online exhibit series here.

Want to learn more about the state campaigns? Visit our interactive map to explore each state's suffrage story.


To hear more audio from the debates surrounding women's suffrage, check out our online interactive experience.

Find out how the 19th Amendment was drafted and explore a timeline of key events through the Interactive Constitution's Drafting Table. 

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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