Suffrage is the right to vote. Women's suffrage, or the enfranchisement of women, means the right of women to vote in political elections. This is an extremely important part of any fair democratic system.
Throughout most of history, only landowning men could vote for their leaders. There were only a few exceptions to this rule. The Iroquois, a Native American tribe, allowed female elders to vote on new chiefs. The island of Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea, allowed women to vote in 1755... but in 1768 the island became part of France and women lost that right. In the state of New Jersey, white women who were not married and owned property could vote in 1776... but this right was taken from them in 1807.
The first country to grant voting rights to women was New Zealand, in 1893. In the United States, women would not gain voting rights until 1920, and it would take a movement to achieve this.
In the United States, women began to organize to promote their rights in the mid-1800s. At the time, they had no voice in politics, as they were unable to either vote or run for higher office. Women were expected to raise children and cook at home. Until the mid-1800s, women in most states could not even own property or sign contracts. Women who wanted to pursue higher education or to have careers were laughed at and blocked from doing so in most cases.
Since women could not vote, they could not get these laws changed. What's more, even women speaking publicly about these issues could cause opposition and sometimes violence. Despite this, in 1848, many women met at the Seneca Falls Convention-the first women's rights convention in the United States. The women's rights movement grew until 1869, when the first women's suffrage associations were founded. These campaigned for federal action to allow female voting. They figured that if they could convince the Supreme Court it would be signed into law.
Susan B. Anthony, one of the most important activists, attempted to vote in 1872 and was arrested for it. In 1875, the Supreme Court voted down women's suffrage. Susan formed the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). The growth of the group shifted its attention to trying to convince people and lawmakers at the state level rather than a federal level. The NAWSA was focused on respectful and organized lobbying.
Another group, called the National Woman's Party, was formed by Alice Paul in 1914. Alice was a veteran of the British women's suffrage movement-enfranchisement for women was a worldwide issue at this point, with a few countries already having adopted it, including some Canadian provinces. Unlike the NAWSA, the NWP staged protests, picketed in front of the White House, and went on hunger strikes. The protesting women were often arrested and force-fed in these cases.
The suffragists faced opposition from liquor sellers and manufacturers, who were afraid women would be pro-prohibition. They were also opposed by factory bosses and mine owners, since many of the women activists were also against child labor.
However, states began to rule in favor of women's suffrage, including New York, then the most populous state. Finally, in 1919, the 19th Amendment was passed after several years of intense debate in Congress. This amendment prevented voting rights to be denied to people based on their gender. It was accepted by all states in 1920. That year was the first U.S. presidential election be voted on by women in all states. This paved the way for greater rights for women in the coming decades.
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