It took female activists and reformers almost 100 years to win the right to vote. The campaign for this right was not easy. Disagreements over strategy threatened to cripple the movement more than once. However, the 19th amendment was finally ratified in 1920, enfranchising all American women and declaring for the first time that they, like men, deserve all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. On Election Day in 1920, millions of American women exercised their right to vote for the first time.


The campaign for women’s suffrage began in the decades before the Civil War. During the 1820s and 30s, most states had extended the franchise to all white men, regardless of how much money or property they had. At the same time, all sorts of reform groups were proliferating across the United States–temperance clubs, religious movements and moral-reform societies, anti-slavery organizations–and in many of these, women played a prominent role. Meanwhile, many American women were beginning to chafe against what historians have called the “Cult of True Womanhood”: that is, the idea that the only “true” woman was a pious, submissive wife and mother concerned exclusively with home and family. Put together, all of these contributed to a new way of thinking about what it meant to be a woman and a citizen in the United States.