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In the United States
It was first seriously proposed in the United States at Seneca Falls, N.Y., July 19, 1848, in a general declaration of the rights of women prepared by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and several others. The early leaders of the movement in the United States—Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Abby Kelley Foster, Angelina Grimké, Sarah Grimké, and others—were usually also advocates of temperance and of the abolition of slavery. When, however, after the close of the Civil War, the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) gave the franchise to newly emancipated African-American men but not to the women who had helped win it for them, the suffragists for the most part confined their efforts to the struggle for the vote.
The National Woman Suffrage Association, led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was formed in 1869 to agitate for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Another organization, the American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Lucy Stone, was organized the same year to work through the state legislatures. These differing approaches—i.e., whether to seek a federal amendment or to work for state amendments—kept the woman-suffrage movement divided until 1890, when the two societies were united as the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Later leaders included Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt.
Several of the states and territories (with Wyoming first, 1869) granted suffrage to the women within their borders; when in 1913 there were 12 of these, the National Woman's party, under the leadership of Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and others, resolved to use the voting power of the enfranchised women to force a suffrage resolution through Congress and secure ratification from the state legislatures. In 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution granted nation-wide suffrage to women.
In Great Britain
The movement in Great Britain began with Chartism, but it was not until 1851 that a resolution in favor of female suffrage was presented in the House of Lords by the earl of Carlyle. John Stuart Mill was the most influential of the British advocates; his Subjection of Women (1869) is one of the earliest, as well as most famous, arguments for the right of women to vote. Among the leaders in the early British suffrage movement were Lydia Becker, Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies, and Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson; Jacob Bright presented a bill for woman suffrage in the House of Commons in 1870. In 1881 the Isle of Man granted the vote to women who owned property. Local British societies united in 1897 into the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, of which Millicent Garrett Fawcett was president until 1919.
In 1903 a militant suffrage movement emerged under the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters; their organization was the Women's Social and Political Union. The militant suffragists were determined to keep their objective prominent in the minds of both legislators and the public, which they did by heckling political speakers, by street meetings, and in many other ways. The leaders were frequently imprisoned for inciting riot; many of them used the hunger strike. When World War I broke out, the suffragists ceased all militant activity and devoted their powerful organization to the service of the government. After the war a limited suffrage was granted; in 1928 voting rights for men and women were equalized.
In Other Countries
See The History of Woman's Suffrage (ed. by E. C. Stanton et al., 6 vol., 1881–1922); E. Pankhurst, My Own Story (1914, repr. 1970); M. Fawcett, What I Remember (1925); A. Kraditor, The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890–1920 (1965, repr. 1971); W. Severn, Free but Not Equal (1967); D. Morgan, Suffragists and Democrats (1972); B. Beeton, The Woman Suffrage Movement, 1869–1896 (1986); R. Darcy et al., Women, Elections and Representation (1987); L. Scharf and J. M. Jensen, ed., Decades of Discontent: The Women's Movement, 1920–40 (1987); C. D. Cahill, Recasting the Vote: How Women of Color Transformed the Suffrage Movement (2020).