Suffragists parade down Fifth Avenue in October 1917, displaying placards containing the signatures of more than one million New York women demanding the vote. The New York Times Photo Archives via Wikipedia

Today, President Donald J. Trump issued an Executive Grant of Clemency (Full Pardon) posthumously to Susan B. Anthony, a peerless advocate for women’s suffrage, for a wrongful and unjust conviction stemming from the only vote she ever cast in an election. –White House Press Release, 18 August 2020

Excluding half the population

By Roger Childs

Voting in England and the United States was for centuries based on owning property. Women were not allowed to vote or hold political office, however there were occasional quirks which provided exceptions. In Stuart England in the early 17th century there was a woman sheriff who inherited the job after her husband passed away.

Then in New Jersey in the 1790s and 1800, women who owned enough property actually voted, until 1807 when the male-dominated Congress excluded all members of the female sex from casting ballots.

 In 1848 there was a gathering of American feminists of the time at Seneca Falls in New York state. In their Declaration of Sentiments they used the Declaration of Independence as their model and stated We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal … And in their final statement made demand: … we insist that they (women) have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.

The Seneca Fall declaration provided a clarion call for many women across the planet on the need for equal rights. New Zealand became the first country to approve women’s suffrage in 1893, however American women would wait another 27 years.

72 years after Seneca Falls

What was needed for American women to firstly get the right to vote was an Amendment to the Constitution. This meant convincing the majority of male politicians that suffrage equality should be granted – no easy task. Two women’s organisations began campaigning from 1869 — one headed by Susan Anthony and Carrie Catt and the other by Lucy Stone. Realising that they would be stronger voice if they combined, they joined forces in the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1890. Another influential organisation – The Women’s Christian Temperance Union – which had bringing about prohibition as its main objective, also supported voted for women. 

Frustrated with the lack of success with moderate tactics, Alice Paul formed the militant group in 1916 — the National Women’s Party. Although not as violent as some of the suffragettes in Britain, Paul’s suffragists were involved in picketing and hunger strikes, as well as marches. Their unwavering objective was an Amendment to the Constitution. At the time the United States entered the First World War, NAWSA at last made their main focus a 19th Amendment.

The 19th 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 sex.

Amending the constitution is a complicated process – two third of Congress in Washington DC must approve and then three quarters of the state legislatures. The contribution to the war effort by American women across the country helped the cause. Women’s suffrage was finally passed by Congress on 4 June 1919, but it took until 18 August 1920 after enough states had approved, for the 19th Amendment to eventually be ratified.

Susan Anthony died in 1906. Back in 1872, she was arrested for voting, tried and fined $100 for her crime. Now 148 years later she has received a presidential pardon. For a time after 1979, her likeness featured on a specially minted dollar coin.