WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE: 100 YEARS BEFORE AND 100 HUNDRED YEARS LATER

By: Cozette Vergari

This year is the 100th Anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the states and federal government from denying citizens the right to vote based on gender. Yet the struggle for women’s suffrage began nearly a century earlier, when women began to speak out about inequality and conventions began to be established in protest of the discrimination against women and minorities.  In practice, however, in 1920, non-white women still faced the same obstacles that hindered non-white males in their  right to vote, under the criteria set forth  initially in the U. S. Constitution. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been applied to correct those discriminatory election policies.

As early as 1820, women were questioning  why they did not have the right to vote. Women, in the United States, began organizing to rally and proclaim their right to vote. In 1848, two years before California became a state, the first organized event, bringing substantial attention to the issue, was the Seneca Falls Convention in Rochester, NY led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, where she presented the Declaration of Sentiments.

In 1851, Elizabeth Cady Stanton met Susan B. Anthony, another New Yorker, through their shared goals in the women’s suffrage movement, as well as other social equality issues, including the abolition of slavery. They became lifelong friends and formidable leaders in social reform activities.

In 1850, the first statewide convention, the Ohio’s Women’s Convention was held in in Salem, Ohio.  It is thought to be the first public meeting in the U.S., where the organizers, participants and officers were exclusively women, with Harriett Taylor Upton being one of the leading voices in the movement for a woman’s right to vote. This convention is also considered a pivotal point for women’s suffrage, that led to a long road of 70 years before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.

The first National Women’s Right’s Convention met in Worcester, Massachusetts, on October 23 & 24, 1850, meeting annually thereafter in different states, until 1869. Some 900 people showed up for the first session, men forming the majority, with several newspapers reporting over a thousand attendees by the afternoon of the first day, and more turned away outside. Delegates came from eleven states, including one delegate from California – a state only a few weeks old. 

Lucy Stone was key to the organization of these conventions, sustaining the fight for a woman’s right to vote. She urged the assemblage to petition their state legislatures for the right of suffrage, the right of married women to hold property, and as many other specific rights as they felt practical to seek in their respective states as equals. However, the conventions ceased, soon after the Civil War, as focus shifted toward American equality for all, replaced by broader focused conventions, including discrimination against women, minorities and the poor. 

It is known that Susan B. Anthony, in her thirties at the time, was inspired by the leadership of Lucy Stone. In 1863, Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton founded the Women’s Loyal National League, which conducted the largest petition drive in United States history up to that time, collecting nearly 400,000 signatures in support of the abolition of slavery. In 1866, they initiated the American Equal Rights Association, campaigning for equal rights for both women and African Americans.

In 1869, Anthony and Stanton also founded, along with Lucy Stone and Lucretia Mott, 76 years of age at the time, the  National Woman Suffrage Association in NY, to isolate and promote the right to vote for women. Anthony was a key force in this movement. In 1872, she was arrested for voting in her hometown of Rochester, New York, and convicted in a widely publicized trial. Many women suffered arrest and abuse for marching for their right to vote.

In 1878, Anthony and Stanton arranged for Congress to be presented with a constitutional amendment, giving women the right to vote. Introduced by Senator Aaron Sargent, a Republican from California, it later was tagged the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. It was eventually ratified as the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution  in 1920.

When Anthony, traveling world-wide, first began campaigning for women’s rights, she was harshly ridiculed and accused of trying to destroy the institution of marriage. Public perception of her changed radically during her lifetime, however. Her 80th birthday was celebrated in the White House at the invitation of President McKinley. She became the first female citizen to be depicted on U.S. coinage, when her portrait appeared on the 1979 dollar coin.

The Women’s suffrage movement in California  began in the 19th century and was successful with the passage of  Proposition 4 in 1911, granting women the right to vote. Senate Constitutional Amendment No. 8 was sponsored by Republican State Senator Charles Bell from Pasadena, after a similar Amendment had been defeated in 1896. Senate Constitutional Amendment No. 8 was adopted by the State Legislature and approved as Prop. 4 by voters in a referendum held as part of a special election on October 10, 1911.

Commencing in the 1860s, a small number of activists in California began mobilizing for women’s suffrage. In 1868, orators Laura de Force, just 30 years of age and the second female to be admitted to practice law in California, and Anna Dickinson, just 26 years of age, gave a series of lectures advocating for women’s suffrage. In 1869, Emily Pitts Stevens, co-founder of the California Woman Suffrage Association, along with others, organized the first Pacific Coast suffrage meeting in San Francisco. 

Early on, in the suffrage movement in California, there was an extensive amount of connection between western suffragists and national suffrage organizers on the east coast. De Force,  Dickinson, and Stevens came to the attention of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton. In 1871 Stanton and Anthony took their only trip to California and drew large crowds to their speaking engagements. 

In 1870 Laura de Force Gordon founded the California Woman Suffrage Society, working with lawyer and suffragist Clara Shortridge Foltz, the first female to be admitted to practice law in California and after which the Los Angeles Criminal Courts Building is named. 

In 1894, the Republican Party in the state of California endorsed women’s suffrage.  On November 3, 1896 California Constitutional Amendment 6 made it to the ballot, but was defeated, with a vote of  137,099 to 110,355, with 55.4% of the voters voting to deny women the right to vote in California.

African American women in California had been working for suffrage. The Fannie Jackson Coppin Club, organized in Alameda County, were extremely active in the suffrage movement, led by Lydia Flood Jackson and Hettie B. Tilghman. It proved to be an important club for African American women in Alameda County who were active in the suffrage movement. Flood Jackson also served as a leader of the California Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Tilghman was heavily involved with the League of Women Voters in the 1920s.  African American suffragist Naomi Anderson   traveled throughout the state to campaign for suffrage. 

One of the major organizers of the 1911 suffrage campaign in southern California was Maria de Lopez, the youngest person and first Latina to teach at UCLA, was president of the College Equal Suffrage League. She instituted a campaign among the Spaniards and the Mexicans, touring the State speaking and serving as a Spanish translator for the movement.

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