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The 19th Amendment on display at the National Archives

The 19th Amendment is on display from March 1 to March 8 at the National Archives Building in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 1913 woman’s suffrage parade in Washington, DC. We will also be screening the 2004 film “Iron-Jawed Angels” at noon on March 2.

Today’s guest post is from curator Bruce Bustard.

The original caption reads: Bastille Day spells prison for sixteen suffragettes who picketed the White House. Miss Julia Hurlbut of Morristown, New Jersey, leading the sixteen members of the National Womans Party who participated in the picketing demonstration in front of the White House, Washington, District of Columbia, July 14, 1917, which led to their arrest. These sixteen women were sent to the workhouse at Occoquan, Virginia on July 17, 1917, upon their refusal to pay fines of $25 each, but were pardoned on July 19, 1917. (National Archives, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, ARC 533766)

The 19th Amendment guarantees American women the right to vote. Achieving this milestone required a lengthy and difficult struggle; victory took decades of agitation. Beginning in the mid-19th century, woman suffrage supporters lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and practiced civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans considered radical change.

Between 1878, when the amendment was first introduced in Congress, and 1920, when it was ratified, champions of voting rights for women worked tirelessly, but their strategies varied. Some tried to pass suffrage acts in each state—nine western states adopted woman suffrage legislation by 1912. Others challenged male-only voting laws in the courts. More public tactics included parades, silent vigils, and hunger strikes. Supporters were heckled, jailed, and sometimes physically abused.

By 1916, most of the major suffrage organizations united behind the goal of a constitutional amendment. When New York adopted woman suffrage in 1917, and President Wilson changed his position to support an amendment in 1918, the political balance began to shift.

House Joint Resolution 1 proposing the 19th amendment to the states, 1919.

On May 21, 1919, the House of Representatives passed the amendment, and two weeks later, the Senate followed. When Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, the amendment was adopted. While decades of struggle to include African Americans and other minority women in the promise of voting rights remained, the face of the American electorate had changed forever.

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