On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote in the United States was ratified by Tenessee, the final state needed to pass the amendment. It was signed into law two days later.
This representation a huge milestone for women and male allies everywhere. How did this victory come to be? Read on to find out.
History of Women’s Fight to Get the Right to Vote in the U.S.
The women’s suffrage movement was a long and arduous fight, spanning many decades and even centuries. Key figures including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and others risked everything, even their freedom, to champion women’s right to vote throughout the United States.
While the 19th Amendment was ratified and signed into law in 1920, some states did grant women the right to vote earlier than that, starting with New Jersey in 1776.
New Jersey’s first constitution granted suffrage to all inhabitants “of full age” who were “worth 50 pounds” and had lived in the county for at least 12 months. The text was clarified to include “he or she” in 1790. However, married women were not allowed to own property and thus could not vote. Still, many unmarried women did. Property-holding African American citizens could also vote.
In 1807, the law was revised, limiting voting rights to white, male citizens.
The 15th Amendment
In 1870, the 15th Amendment was signed into law, guaranteeing all men the right to vote regardless of race, excluding women.
Still, many states and territories granted women the right to vote prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment. They included:
* Became states that granted women the right to vote before 1920.
• New York
• South Dakota
In other states, women were granted the right to vote for president prior to the 19th Amendment. They included:
• North Dakota
• Rhode Island
Read Women’s Suffrage: Definition and U.S. History for a comprehensive overview of the fight for women’s right to vote.
The 19th Amendment
Signed into law by U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby, the 19th Amendment guarantees all U.S. citizens the right to vote regardless of sex. The text of the amendment is identical to the that of the 15th Amendment except for replacing the prohibition of denying voting rights based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude" with sex.
The amendment was first introduced by California Senator Aaron Sargent in 1872. It reads:
“The right 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.”
On November 2, 1920, more than 8 million women voted in U.S. elections.
Timeline of Women’s Suffrage
• 1848: The Seneca Falls Convention
Attendees signed the Declaration of Sentiments, drafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and members of the M’Clintock family, which listed grievances concerning a male-dominated society and held that women should have, among other rights, the right to vote.
• 1868: 15th Amendment
The passage of the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, gave black men the right to vote but notably excluded all women. Because of this, many suffragists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, opposed the amendment.
• 1869: National Woman Suffrage Association and American Woman Suffrage Association
The National Woman Suffrage Association was formed as a vehicle for championing a women’s suffrage amendment. Later, the American Woman Suffrage Association formed a faction seeking state-by-state amendments. The groups held opposing views on the 15th Amendment.
• 1869: Wyoming grants women the right to vote
Wyoming became the first U.S. territory to pass a women’s suffrage amendment.
• 1872: Susan B. Anthony votes
Arguing that she had the right to vote under the 14th amendment, Anthony registered and cast her ballot in Rochester, New York. She was arrested and denied trial by jury but never paid the required $100 fine.
• 1878: Introduction of the 19th Amendment text
California Senator Aaron Sargent introduced what would become the text of the 19th amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote.
• 1883: Washington territory grants women the right to vote
• 1887: Rhode Island votes on a women’s suffrage referendum
Rhode Island was the first eastern state to make the vote, but the referendum did not pass.
• 1887: First Senate vote on the women's suffrage amendment
In a 16 to 34 vote, the amendment failed.
• 1890: National American Woman Suffrage Association
The two suffrage groups merged to form a single association with Cady State as the first president.
• 1893–1918: More women’s suffrage amendments
States including Colorado (1893), Utah (1896), Idaho (1896), Washington (1910), California (1911), Oregon (1912), Kansas (1912), Arizona (1912), Alaska (1913), Illinois (1913), Montana, (1914), Nevada (1914), New York (1917), Michigan (1918), South Dakota (1918), and Oklahoma (1918) passed women’s suffrage amendments.
• 1913: Senate vote on a women’s suffrage amendment
The amendment failed.
• 1913: Congressional Union
Alice Paul and Lucy Burns formed the Congressional Union, later the National Women’s Party, to champion a federal women’s suffrage amendment. Members protested women’s lack of voting rights in an 8,000-person march on Washington on the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.
• 1916: Jeanette Rankin become the first U.S. Congresswoman
Montana elected Rankin to the House of Representatives, making her the first women elected to the U.S. Congress.
• 1918: President Wilson supports women’s suffrage
President Wilson declared his support for a suffrage amendment in an address to the Senate.
• 1918: House passage of the women’s suffrage amendment
The House of Representatives passed the amendment by one vote on January 10, 1918.
• 1919: Senate passage of the women’s suffrage amendment
After failing by one vote in the Senate, the amendment was returned to the House floor per President’s Wilson’s urging, where it passed by a margin of 42 votes. On June 4, the Senate passed the amendment.
• 1920: 19th Amendment to the Constitution
The 19th amendment granting women the right to vote was ratified by Tennessee, on August 18. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signed the amendment into law on August 26.
• 1920–1971: Further state ratifications of the 19th Amendment
All states that had not previously ratified the amendment, with the exception of Mississippi, did so over this 50-year period. They included Connecticut (1920), Vermont (1921), Delaware (1923), Maryland (1941), Virginia (1952), Alabama (1953), Florida (1969), South Carolina (1969), Georgia (1970), Louisiana (1970), and North Carolina (1971).
• 1922: Fairchild v. Hughes and Leser v. Garnett
Two Supreme Court cases challenged the validity of a women’s suffrage amendment. In both cases, the Court upheld the 19th Amendment.
• 1984: Mississippi Ratifies the 19th Amendment
Mississippi became the last of the United States to ratify the women’s suffrage amendment.