Women’s Suffrage in the U.S.

A 20/20 Perspective

Developed by Andrea M. Breau with consultants Brenda Lynn Gould,
Kate Webber, Alison Maxell, and Joanna Torow

  • The Suffragist, The Myth, The Legend

    1. One Nation Every Vote, History of Voting podcast, Episode 5: “Women’s Suffrage” (2018)
    2. The National Portrait Gallery, Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence (2019) Digital Exhibit
    3. Elaine Weiss, The Woman’s Hour (2018)

  • The Abolitionist Movement & The Accidental Suffragist

    1. Angela Davis, “The Anti-Slavery Movement and the Birth of Women’s Rights,” in Women, Race & Class (1981)
    2. Sue Monk Kidd, The Invention of Wings (2014)

  • U.S. Immigration Law & The Disappearing Suffragist
    . U.S. National Park Service, “20 Suffragists to Know for 2020: Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee” (2019)
    2. Stacey Lee, The Downstairs Girl (2019)
  • Battle on the Home Front: The Maine Suffragist

    1. Maulian Dana, “Many Still Silenced After Women Got the Vote” (2019), Portland Press Herald
    2. Anne B. Gass, Voting Down the Rose: Florence Brooks Whitehouse and Maine’s Fight for Woman Suffrage (2014)
    3. Optional Film Viewing: Iron Jawed Angels (2004)

  • Marching On: Black Suffragist Legacies & Futures

    1. Martha S. Jones, “How Black Suffragists Fought for the Right to Vote and a Modicum of Respect,” in Humanities: The Magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities (2019)
    2. Shirley Chisholm, Unbought and Unbossed (2010)

Series Description

One hundred years after its ratification, the most popular story about the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution is that it gave women the right to vote and secured their political freedom. It’s a story that at once overstates the ends and understates the means. Though states could no longer bar women from voting on the basis of their sex, there was very little “giving of freedom” involved either before or after 1920. The history of women’s suffrage in the U.S. could more accurately be described as a full-scale battle — fought for nearly a century — to gain a vital, but single aspect of women’s full political participation.

So why do we view the 19th amendment as a gifting of rights rather than a hard-won concession? Perhaps because danger, violence, and the struggle for power are viewed — both then and now — as “unwomanly.”

The actual history of women’s political enfranchisement in the U.S. is more complex than the version of suffrage most of us have heard—that is, if we’ve heard one at all. It was an ugly and sometimes physically brutal fight, as much about power as it was about freedom, with its own contradictory legacy of discrimination.

In this series, participants will explore the multiple, simultaneous, and conflicting stories of those who fought for – and against – women’s right to vote. Taken together, the books and contextual supplements in this series make clear that suffrage activism had no singular approach, bringing to light the important battles within the movement that fundamentally shaped its long and complicated history. The series ends with a consideration of the legacy of suffrage in the ongoing fight for all women’s full political participation in the U.S. today.

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