It took 72 years, hunger strikes, incarceration, parades and demonstrations. But finally, in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was passed and women won the right to vote.
Journalist Eleanor Clift offers a new look at the struggles faced by suffragettes in her book, "Founding Sisters and the Nineteenth Amendment."
Beginning with the Seneca Falls Woman's Rights Convention of 1848, Clift introduces the movement's leaders, recounts the marches and demonstrations, and profiles the opposition--antisuffragists, both men and women, who would do anything to stop women from getting the vote.
The book highlights some women who perhaps aren't well known, like former slave, Sojourner Truth.
Clift tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm, "There were no color lines in the early days of the suffrage movement, which grew out of abolitionist movement. So she was over six feet tall and worked in the field and ridiculed the notion that women were too fragile to enter public life. And she would speak at suffrage rallies and quiet crowds. She had a powerful voice and this was a time when women didn't speak in public."
A powerful march for the movement was held on the eve of Woodrow Wilson's inauguration in Washington, D.C. More than 8,000 women took part.
Clift says, "It was the biggest pageant that Washington had ever seen down Pennsylvania Avenue and when President Wilson arrived for his inauguration, he wondered where all of the crowds were when he arrived at Union Station. He was told they were all over on the avenue watching the ladies. It was a beautiful procession. There were women nurses, women factory workers and women in their academic gowns, but it really turned ugly because lining the parade route were men who were not very happy about the evolving women's roles."
She notes the men started throwing cigarettes at them and tripping them. "Among the march was Helen Keller who was disoriented, obviously, and some 300 women were taken to local hospitals injured. And the headlines the next day featured the violence at the march.
"Alice Paul, the young woman who had organized this march focused on the fact that they were on the front pages and that suffrage had gotten sympathy across the country."
Another important woman of the movement was the frail and beautiful Inez Milholland Boissevain, who died campaigning for suffrage and became a martyr to the movement. Her death spurred protests in front of the White House, to the embarrassment of President Wilson.
The Nineteenth Amendment rested not only on one state, Tennessee, but on the shoulders of a single man: 24-year-old legislator Harry Burn. Burn had previously voted with the antisuffrage forces. If he did so again, the vote would be tied and the amendment would fall one state short of the 36 necessary for ratification. At the last minute, though, Harry Burn's mother convinced him to vote in favor of the suffrage, and American history was forever changed.
"Founding Sisters and the Nineteenth Amendment" mines the many rich stories buried deep within this tumultuous period of our history. Here, Clift reveals how:
- Opposition came not only from men, but also from women who were afraid of losing the special protection they enjoyed as the "weaker sex." It wasn't until the United States was preparing to enter World War I, to defend democracy around the world, that denying women the vote became indefensible.
- The president directed the mass arrests of these peacefully picketing suffragists, and they endured miserable prison conditions that horrified the nation.
- Race divided the suffrage leaders. Frederick Douglass played a crucial role during the early suffrage meetings--and later was betrayed by Susan B. Anthony.
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton had a penchant for "bloomers" as a symbol of women's independence- a risky fashion statement that backfired.