The Nineteenth amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees U.S. women the right to vote. But this right was not easily won for women. It took many decades of political agitation and protest before such a right became part of U.S. law. The struggle for women’s right to vote began in the middle of the nineteenth century. A movement arose that included several generations of woman suffrage supporters, who became known as suffragettes. These women lectured, wrote articles, marched, lobbied, and engaged in acts of civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans then considered to be an enormous change in the Constitution. Few of the movement’s early supporters lived to see the amendment ratified in 1920.
The amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878, but it was ratified on August 18, 1920. Those who supported voting rights for women used a variety of strategies to achieve their goal. Some worked to pass suffrage acts in each state; their efforts resulted in nine western states adopting female suffrage legislation by 1912. Others used the courts to challenge male-only voting laws. Some of the more militant suffragettes organized parades, vigils, and even hunger strikes. Suffragettes frequently met resistance and even open hostility. They were heckled, jailed, and sometimes even attacked physically.
By 1916, however, almost all of the major female suffrage organizations had agreed that the best strategy was to pursue the goal of a constitutional amendment. The following year, New York granted suffrage to women. This was quickly followed in 1918 by President Woodrow Wilson’s change in his position to support an amendment in 1918. These important events helped shift the political balance in favor of the vote for women. Then, on May 21, 1919, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the amendment, followed in two weeks by the Senate. With Tennessee becoming the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, the amendment had thus been ratified by three-fourths of the states. The U.S. Secretary of State, Bainbridge Colby, certified the ratification on August 26, 1920, and women had gained the constitutional right to vote. Women’s collective experience in pursuit of this goal differed significantly from that of Black Americans, who had actually gained the right much earlier but who had to struggle against sustained efforts to curtail their exercise of this right.