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Wild West Legendary Women

Women's Suffrage

To give the rights of citizenship to a person or group of people, especially to give that group the right to vote.

Suffrage: The right to vote or the act of voting.

Women's suffrage represents the first stage in the demand for political equality - the right of women to vote in political elections. It was as early as the 1600s that individual women demanded the right to vote for themselves. An organized movement, led by women, first emerged in the United States in 1848.

The movement was also open to men, but for the most part, woman suffragists often were met with hostility and sometimes violence. In 1893, New Zealand, in fact, became the first country to grant women the right to vote in national elections. Most of the world's women have been granted the right to vote only since the end of World War II and in some Persian Gulf nations as well as some Asian nations, women remain disenfranchised.

Woman suffrage claimed for women the right to govern themselves and choose their own representatives. It asserted that women should enjoy individual rights of self-government, rather than relying on indirect civic participation as the mothers, sisters, or daughters of male voters.

Women Against Men

Women's enfranchisement took many decades to achieve because women had to persuade a male electorate to grant them the vote. Many men, and some women, believed that women were not suited by circumstance or temperament for the vote. Western political philosophers insisted that a voter had to be independent, unswayed by appeals from employers, landlords, or an educated elite. Women by nature were believed to be dependent on men and subordinate to them. Many thought women could not be trusted to exercise the independence of thought necessary for choosing political leaders responsibly. It was also believed that women's place was in the home, caring for husband and children.

Entry of women into political life, it was feared, challenged the assignment of women to the home and might lead to disruption of the family. Priests and ministers believed that women should confine their influence to home and children. Politicians feared that women might vote them out of office. Socialist and labor parties feared that women might vote for conservative candidates. Specific interests, such as textile companies and the liquor, brewing, and mining industries, did not want to allow women voting rights, because they thought women might then vote for legislation that would damage their businesses.

Women in the U.S. & Canada

Women in the United States and Canada were enfranchised relatively early (1920 and 1918, respectively). Mexico, sharing with much of Latin America a Spanish and Roman Catholic heritage that discouraged enfranchisement of women, did not grant women the vote until much later.

The first woman in the North American colonies to demand the vote was Margaret Brent, the owner of extensive lands in Maryland. In 1647 Brent insisted on two votes in the colonial assembly, one for herself and one for Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore, whose power of attorney she held. When the governor denied her request, Brent boycotted the assembly.

Women in New Jersey could vote initially because a loophole in the state's constitution of 1790 gave the vote to "all inhabitants" who satisfied certain property and residence requirements. Property-holding women took advantage of the constitution's vague wording. A state legislator who had almost been defeated by women voters helped to pass a bill to disenfranchise the state's women and black men in 1807.

American women were the first in the world to voice organized demands for the vote. Abolitionist activists Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, along with several other women friends, convened a meeting in Stanton's hometown of Seneca Falls, N.Y., "to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women." At the convention, held on July 19–20, 1848, Stanton read her "Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions," and the convention debated and approved a series of resolutions designed to win equality for women. The most controversial, included at Stanton's insistence, stated that "it is the duty of the women in this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the franchise."

Civil War

During the Civil War, suffragists shelved their cause temporarily, hoping that at war's end, women as well as emancipated slaves would be enfranchised. After the war Republican party politicians believed enfranchisement of the ex-slaves would be defeated if harnessed to the even more unpopular cause of woman's suffrage. They succeeded in passing the 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which gave the vote to black men but not to women.

Rival Factions

In the wake of the passage of these amendments, suffragists split into two rival factions. Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, her longtime colleague, refused to support the 15th Amendment because it did not enfranchise women, favoring passage of another constitutional amendment to do so.

They formed the National Woman's Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869. Conservative feminists, led by Lucy Stone; her husband, Henry Blackwell; and Julia Ward Howe, supported the 15th Amendment and campaigned for the passage of state laws to enfranchise women. They established the American Woman's Suffrage Association (AWSA) in 1869.

But the Supreme Court dashed any hope that the courts might enfranchise women without legislative or constitutional changes. In Minor v. Hapersett (1875) the Court ruled that citizenship did not in itself confer suffrage rights. The AWSA and NWSA eventually reconciled and in 1890 merged to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Anthony retired from the presidency of NAWSA in 1900. Carrie Chapman Catt, the astute political campaigner who succeeded her, organized both a well-coordinated state-by-state and a national effort. By 1910 women had the right to vote in Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, and Washington.

Early 20th Century

The suffrage movement reawakened in the early 20th century. Educated middle-class women questioned the reasons for denying them the right to vote when immigrant men, many of whom were illiterate or poorly educated, could help choose the nation's leaders. Social reformers hoped that a woman's bloc vote might achieve causes they favored, such as laws protecting the health and safety of employed women and the abolition of child labor. Still, the suffrage movement faced considerable opposition.

Alice Paul brought the attention-getting tactics of British suffragists to U.S. shores. In 1916 Paul and other militant activists, inspired by the British woman's movement, left the NAWSA to form the National Woman's Party. To bring pressure on President Woodrow Wilson to back congressional passage of a constitutional amendment, they picketed the White House and chained themselves to the White House fence. Grateful to American women for their active participation during World War I (1917–1918), Congress passed a woman suffrage constitutional amendment by a narrow margin in 1919. It was ratified by the states in August 1920.

As the majority of the population, women are also the majority of the electorate. Nonetheless, women have not exercised their full potential to vote for issues of special concern to them. Initially after enfranchisement, voter turnout among women in most countries was lower than men's. Female voter turnout matched that of men in the United States in the 1980s. Women voters in most countries also favored candidates of religious parties and of the political Right. Women are more likely than men to be religiously devout and swayed by clerical opinion. But in the United States, from the 1980s, women voters were more likely than men to prefer liberal candidates.

Women's representation in political appointive and elected office may be visualized as a pyramid. The higher and more powerful the office, the fewer the women officeholders. Women are generally absent from influential appointive, elective, and civil service posts. There are several reasons for this. The claims of family and of balancing paid work and domestic responsibilities have limited the time women can devote to public life. Moreover, the cultural belief that women's domain is the home has created prejudices against women candidates. Finally, women have had difficulty being nominated to high office and securing financing for political campaigns. However, with advances in women's education and employment, and the impact of the women's movement, political representation of women at all levels of government has been improving.

source: Elizabeth H. Pleck, Center for Research on Women, Wellesley College and edited From Grolier's Encyclopedia Americana

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