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Congress Approves Women’s Right to Vote

Pin from Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage

On June 4, 1919 Congress approved the 19th Amendment, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which states that “The rights 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. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” Note the wording does not specifically give women the right to vote. It merely takes away sex as grounds for restricting it.

Congressional passage of the amendment was a significant milestone on the movement to grant women the right to vote, an idea first proposed at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. In 1919, there were 48 states in the Union, but only 15 states gave women full voting rights.*

Public Pressure for Women’s Voting Rights

Program from Women's Suffrage Parade 1913

The National American Woman Suffrage Association under the direction of Carrie Chapman Catt organized state-by-state campaigns. Catt’s strategy emphasized that if every state allowed women to vote, a national amendment was not necessary.

Alice Paul, head of the National Women’s Party, disagreed with Catt. She thought Congress should pass a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote and send the amendment to the states for ratification.

Float from Women's Suffrage Parade, 1913

To generate more public awareness about women’s fight for the vote, Paul created public events to showcase women’s accomplishments. The Women’s Suffrage** Parade held in Washington D. C. on  March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration demonstrated women’s committment. Eight thousand women marched on Pennsylvania Avenue, displaying banners and floats from the Capitol to the White House. There were an estimated half a million spectators, not all of whom supported women’s right to vote.

President Wilson did not specifically oppose women’s voting rights, but, he said, women needed to be patient.

Cartoon of Wilson holding back the wave of Woman's Suffrage

In his remarks to the Suffrage Convention on Sept. 8, 1916, President Wilson observed that women wanted to vote “not merely because the women are discontented. It is because the women have seen visions of duty, and that is something which we not only cannot resist, but, if we be true Americans, we do not wish to resist. . . .I have not come to ask you to be patient, because you have been, but I have come to congratulate you that there was a force behind you that will beyond any peradventure be triumphant, and for which you can afford a little while to wait.”

Alice Paul, among others, was tired of waiting. In response to President Wilson’s advice that women should wait a little longer, she organized over 1,000 Silent Sentinels, protestors who picketed the White House holding signs with slogans, such as “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”

White House Pickets

The pickets were subject to verbal and physical attacks from spectators. America’s entry into World War I did not curb their activities. Eventually, Wilson had the women arrested on the charge of obstructing traffic. But no sooner did one group of women go to jail, than another group came to replace them. Soon over 100 women were in jail. Alice Paul led a hunger strike. Jailers responded with twice daily force-feedings, an action that generated public sympathy.

While the Silent Sentinels continued their vigil, the NAWSA mobilized women for the war effort. Women joined the Women’s Land Army to free men for military service. Eight million women volunteered with the American Red Cross. Seven thousand women became “Hello Girls” – the switchboard operators who worked for the Army Signal Corps. Over 22,000 women joined the Army and Navy Nurse Corps.

Woman Working for Signal Corp

Wilson Finally Supports Women’s Right to Vote

On Sept. 30, 1918 – five weeks before midterm elections – President Wilson addressed the Senate Chamber. “We have made partners of women in this war . . . Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege?” Wilson called on Senators to pass the Susan B. Anthony Amendment granting women the right to vote.

On October 1, 1918, the Senate considered the 19th Amendment, but it failed to meet the required two-thirds majority by two votes. Five weeks later, Democrats lost their congressional majority in the midterm elections.

On June 4, 1919, Senators prepared to vote again. After the House of Representatives passed the amendment 304:89, the fight moved to the Senate Chamber. Suffragists sat silently in the gallery. The vote passed 56:25. Suffragists applauded for two minutes, and then began preparations for the fight for ratification.

The 19th Amendment was ratified by the states on August 18, 1920, now known as Women’s Equality Day.

Women practicing to vote

*The states granting women the right to vote before the 19th Amendment was ratified were:

  • 1890 — Wyoming
  • 1896 — Utah & Idaho
  • 1893 — Colorado
  • 1910 — Washington
  • 1911 — California
  • 1912 — Oregon, Arizona & Kansas
  • 1914 — Nevada & Montana

** Suffrage: The right to vote in public elections.

Sandra’s Books: Ambition, Arrogance & PrideSaxon HeroinesTwo CoinsRama’s Labyrinth.

Illustrations & A Few Sources

Congressional Union Women’s Suffrage Pin, 1917; Official Program: NAWSA Procession, 1913; Float depicting Women of the Bible Lands, March 1913; From Tacoma Times, 1914; Suffragists Picket White House, 1917; Back Our Girls, 1918; Women in Dayton OH practice voting, 1920. “Women in World War I,” National Park Service; Kimberly A. Hamlin. “The Forgotten Suffragists.” Humanities. May 31, 2019; Lesley Kennedy. “What the 19th Amendment Did Not Guarantee All Women The Right to Vote.” History. Mar. 1, 2021.

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.

2 thoughts on “Congress Approves Women’s Right to Vote

  1. HI Sandra,
    Another great article, I love these. Thought maybe you would state that all the states ratified the constitutional amendment? Did they or is it a requirement that all have to do so? Secondly the auto text is probably doing you wrong, there were two errors, which I was surprised since you are a writer, one with war effort after Silent Sentinals jail bit, it says ware and the other at the finish, stating the states who had women’s voting rights, it should say before.

    Thank you much, for your great writing!


  2. Thank you, Paula, for your editorial eye. Three-fourths of the states must ratify an amendment before it becomes part of the Constitution.


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