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The Suffrage Movement

Women's suffrage refers to the right of women to vote and to run for office. "Suffragists" advocated for the extension of political voting rights for women, while in some places "Suffragettes" were women who sought the right to vote through organized protest. Today, "suffragettes" is a term commonly used around the world to identify women who campaigned for the right to vote in elections. 

The suffrage movement in the United States chose the color of gold or yellow for identification. In 1867 when Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton campaigned in Kansas to help pass a state suffrage referendum, the pro-suffrage forces adopted the state symbol, the sunflower, which led to the association of yellow or gold with the suffrage cause. Purple and white were subordinate colors often used. 

In the 19th century a "woman's place" was firmly in the home. Although a few women were attending university and seeking careers, most were restricted to the home and the exhausting physical labor required to maintain the house and raise the children. To many men it was incomprehensible that a woman could focus her attention on political matters. 


Women were portrayed as emotional, weak, unable to make decisions, and consumed with domestic and trivial matters. One objection raised was that married men would have a double vote since it was assumed their wives would vote as they were told by their husbands. Women from different backgrounds and different geographical locations worked together to achieve the vote and the recognition of their rights, which these votes provided.  

In 1888, the International Council of Women was founded in Washington, D.C., by Frances Willard (who wrote its constitution and served as first (president), Susa B. Anthony (who served as vice president), and May Wright Sewall (who served as corresponding secretary and later as president). Today, women's suffrage is explicitly stated as a right under the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, adopted by the United Nations in 1979.

The beginning of the struggle for women's suffrage in the United States is usually traced to the first Women's Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848, under the leadership of Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Over three hundred men and women attended the convention, protested the mistreatment of women in social, economic, political, and religious life. Four years later, at the Women's Rights Convention in Syracuse, Susan B. Anthony joined the effort. While working for the cause of temperance, she demanded the vote for women. To her, the vote was the solution for everything.

In 1878, an amendment to the United States Constitution was proposed. It was reintroduced in every session of Congress for the next 41 years. Congress finally approved the 19th Amendment (votes for women) on June 4, 1919, and sent it to the states. It was ratified on August 18, 1920.

The role of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in the suffrage movement is significant. One lesson the women learned as a result of the Woman's Temperance Crusade, forerunner in the winter of 1873-1874 to the founding of the WCTU, was the need to be able to vote. Many of these women would never have sought this right for their own, but they desired to protect their homes and their country from the scourge of alcohol. Many of them were leaders in their communities and protected by important fathers and husbands. The women were shocked by the reaction of many men to the idea of suffrage. On the other hand, there were women who also opposed suffrage. 

In 1876, Frances Willard, convinced that women needed the ballot as a tool in their battle against alcohol, gave her first women's suffrage address, The Home Protection Ballot, at the National WCTU Convention in Newark, New Jersey. At the 1877 National WCTU Convention in Chicago, Illinois, another resolution was advanced to seek the right to vote on liquor issues. By this time, the growing suffrage movement in the United States had convinced many WCTU members of the value of the vote as a tool for their main objective of stopping the liquor traffic. On the other hand, many delegates still felt that suffrage was inconsistent with their sense of "ladylikeness." There was a lengthy and spirited debate before the resolution passed. 

At the 1879 National WCTU Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, Willard was elected National President, and by 1881 National Convention in Boson, Massachusetts, she had the WCTU's full support for women's suffrage. 

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