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Women's Suffrage Movement Before the Civil War

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 2 months ago

The Portrait Monument

U.S. Capitol represents three of the women involved in the Women's Suffrage Movement:

 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott. It was the work of Adelaide Johnson, circa 1920.

The Portrait Monument, U.S. Capitol


Topics on this page




The Link Between the Anti-Slavery Movement and Women's Suffrage


Key Figures

  • Fanny Wright
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton
    • Solitude of Self Speech
  • Lucretia Mott
  • Susan B. Anthony


African American Suffragists and Activists 

  • Sojourner Truth
  • Ida B. Wells 


 Cross-Link: Ida B. Wells, Activist and Journalist


Cross-LinkMary WollstonecraftFeminist and Activist 


 Cross-LinkLucy Stone, Women's Rights Activist from Massachusetts 


Seneca Falls Convention, 1848


Effects of the Movement


Women's Rights Groups


  Cross-Link to AP U.S. History Period 4.1:  The Early Republic



Focus Question:

What were the goals and accomplishments of the women's suffrage movement in the years before the Civil War?




The goal of the women's suffrage movement was for women to obtain the same rights as men.


  • This included the right to vote, to keep property and wages, to a complete education, and other rights as detailed in the Declaration of Sentiments.


  • Though suffrage was not obtained completely until 1920, great strides were made before the Civil War.


  • A number of important books by female writers encouraged the philosophical dialogue and inspired famous leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.


  • The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 organized suffragists and set goals for the movement. Women in New York and Massachusetts gained property rights, and women in the Kansas and Wyoming Territories gained some voting rights. A number of women's rights groups formed, creating an organized force.


  • Alliances between suffragists and abolitionists formed, strengthening the general belief in equality. These accomplishments helped improve the social standing of women at the time, and produced momentum which allowed it to gain strength after the civil war.


Here is a link to a video of a compilation of silent footage from the 1910s-1920 from the Hearst Metrotone News Collection at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. 

    • This video gives a brief background to the Women’s Suffrage Movement as well acknowledging the lack of women of color in the films and addresses their crucial role in advancing voting rights by strategizing, mobilizing, advocating and fighting hard for their fundamental freedoms.

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline2_rus.svg.png Timelines



  • Here is a link to a timeline that lists the important dates and events with a brief description for each to help view the Women's Suffrage Movement as a continuous movement starting in 1840 and concluding with August 26, 1920 where the 19th Amendment is passed and women win full voting rights.

Women Working, 1800 to 1930 explores women's impact on the economic life of the United States between 1800 and the Great Depression.


  • Women's suffrage was an issue that was also closely tied to the abolitionist movement in pre-Civil War America. Many abolitionists were also suffragists who believed in equality for all Americans. The creation of the Equal Rights Association reflecting this common goal. 


  • Other organizations, such as the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) were less aggressive, and solely concerned with obtaining the right for women to vote and were not focused on other issues. Though these groups differed in strategy, their ultimate goal of the suffrage was the same.






More resources from PBS and here are more related to the documentary


 Primary Sources


  • Click here for The Cult of Domesticity, links to 8 different primary sources related to women's roles . Includes writing and speeches from Catherine Beecher, Harriet Jacobs, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, among others.



Click here to visit the Library of Congress's collection on NAWSA or The National American Woman Suffrage Association. It contains photographs, copies of speeches and pamphlets, and a variety of other multimedia historical materials, including the lawsuit brought against Susan B. Anthony for illegally voting. 



The Link Between the Anti-Slavery Movement and Women's Suffrage


Here, the National Parks Service offers an overview of the connection between the two movements.


Click here for a PBS overview about Abolition and Suffrage Movements

external image Red_apple.jpgHere you can find a detailed page by Virginia Tech on the connection between the movements. This page is extremely comprehensive and has various lesson plans for the teaching of the two movements.


  • Women's involvement in the American anti-slavery movement occurred within the context of an evolving set of ideas about the appropriate activities of men and women in Antebellum American life.


  • Laws codifying the rights of women and men gave rise to notions of appropriate behavior, as did religious revivalism and emerging movements for moral and social reform.


  • These factors and more influenced how white women viewed themselves and their actions once they entered the fray of the abolitionist cause. (history.vt.edu) 

Many historians claim the fight for women's suffrage was born from women's involvement in the anti-slavery movement. 

In the 1830's women began their involvement in the movement, eventually founding societies against slavery throughout northern cities. These societies offered women the opportunity to discus matters of politics and morality through a lens different than the traditional.


Detail of constitution of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society (1836)

Link here to view the annual reports of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society.


 Constitution of the Boston Anti-Slavery Society (1835)


The World Anti Slavery convention was held in June of 1840 in London England. Along with other American women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were met with opposition and a refusal of entry to the meeting.


After negotiating, the women were allowed to attend the meeting by staying in a women's only section behind a curtain where the men of the meeting could not see them. This event reminded women of the inaccessibility to conversations regarding human rights.

  • Link here to learn more on the experiences of the women at the convention.


In 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention, many of the women there were prominent abolitionists. In attendance, many male abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass. Both movements worked together, sometimes disagreeing, throughout the 1850s. The Civil War forced abolitionists to focus on suffrage of the black man, hindering the momentum of the women's rights movement. The transition after the Civil War to the period of Reconstruction would eventually make way for the women of the Progressive Era to reinvigorate the movement. 

Click here to learn about the significance of this emblem to women's participation in the anti-slavery movement. 

Key Figures


Fanny Wright

The suffragist movement intensified in the 1820s when Fanny Wright wrote two books on the subject.

Although her books received little public attention, her ideas motivated several other key players to mobilize and begin working on suffragist movements. She became an established social reformer in the United States, where she argued for suffrage, emancipation of slaves, and free education.

Click here for a free google e-book version of one of Wright's 1820s publications.



Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton began her career as a human rights activist with her husband as an abolitionist. Like many other suffragists, her dedication to universal human rights prompted her to pursue several issues outside of suffrage.

In 1848, Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. There, a resolution was drawn up that stated the specific rights that the women wished to obtain.


Secondary Sources














 Primary Sources

Click here for a fascinating New York Times article on the search for an original copy or manuscript of the Declaration of Sentiments. 


Click here to read more about Stanton.

Video biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton



 Hear and Read the Speech on YouTube

15 Empowering Quotes from Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Lucretia Mott


Painting of Lucretia Mott, Joseph Kyle, 1842

Painting of Lucretia Mott, Joseph Kyle, 1842

Lucretia Mott was a women's rights pioneer and anti-slavery advocate. She became the first president of the American Equal Rights Association, where she fought for suffrage, education and aid for both women and blacks.

Mott was famous for her oratorical skill, which was featured prominently at the Seneca Falls Convention.

Click here to read Lucretia Mott's biography.


Click here to read a letter Lucretia Mott wrote to Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1855. 




Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony began as a temperance crusader but after meeting Stanton in 1851 she threw herself into the women's rights movement. She worked closely with Stanton throughout the 1860s.

Together, they wrote the weekly newspaper, The Revolution, and organized the National Women's Suffrage Association. 


Link to view images of The Revolution 

--> click here to read one of the articles. 

Video Biography of Susan B. Anthony.

This podcast on Susan B. Anthony discusses some of the controversy attributed to her, and her narrow-focused view of the women's suffrage movement.

Click here to read a speech given by Anthony in 1875, called "Social Purity."



African American Suffragists


Sojourner Truth

Sculpture by Artis Lane Bronze 2009 Emancipation Hall, Capitol Visitor Center



Freed from slavery in 1827, Sojourner Truth became an eloquent speaker not only for abolition, but for women's rights as well. A version of her speech at the 1851 Women's rights convention in Akron, Ohio became a cornerstone of the women's movement. Known as the "Ain't I A Women" speech, this version is believed to be a rewriting of the Truth's actual remarks.

Click here to see Alfre Woodard reading Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I A Woman?" speech.




Ida B. Wells-Barnett


Ida B. Wells-Barnett was an American journalist. She owned and wrote in the Newspaper The Memphis Free Speech and Headlight. She also led campaigns against lynching, and shed light on the link between racism and gender discrimination. 


She also helped create/organize the Alpha Suffrage Club, formed in 1913, which helped to create a space for black women within the Suffrage movement. 


To read more about Ida B. Wells-Barnett check out these links:



There were many more notable women associated with the suffrage movement, but unfortunately, many of their legacies were either overlooked or omitted from historical accounts, such as History of Woman Suffrage.


Here is a source that gives insight to African American women engaging in significant reform efforts and political activism that aided the ratification despite being overlooked. This source gives insight to Black women working side by side with white suffragists and organizations formed by Black women to continue their efforts.

  • Most significantly were African-American suffragists


Click here to view a video which discusses Black women suffragists. 


Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft


Mary Wollstonecraft was a British writer, philosopher and political theorist best known for her book Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).

The Rights of Women argued that men were not naturally superior to women, but it appeared so because men had greater access to education. She argued that women deserve the same rights as men and should be treated as companion to men, not property of them.

The book was influential to women suffragists in the antebellum period.

Vindication of the Right of Women online, including a searchable index.






Seneca Falls Convention - 1848

The Seneca Falls Convention was the first women's rights convention ever to be assembled in the Western world.


  • It was organized in western New York by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and a collection of Mott's fellow Quakers. 


    • The convention lasted six days and was attended by 300 people.


  • At the convention, Stanton unveiled a seminal work in American history, the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions. 
    • The Declaration was modeled after the Declaration of Independence, with a list of the grievances caused by men and inequality, which paralleled those caused by the King of England. 


    • It was followed by a list of resolutions which detailed the demands for female equality at home, in the workplace, in education, and elsewhere. 


    • It also included a demand for suffrage which was strange and unusual at the time, and thus caused controversy. 


    • Even Mott initially recommended the removal of the demand, fearing it was too radical for the early movement. 


  • Famed orator Frederick Douglass attended the convention and spoke on behalf of the Declaration and the inclusion of the suffrage resolution.


    • After the discussion, its inclusion was accepted, and the document was signed by 100 people, mostly women. 


    • The Seneca Falls Convention and the conventions that followed were often ridiculed at the time. Today, it is considered the starting point of the women's suffrage movement.

The actual documents of the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions are currently lost. This video explains the "treasure hunt" for these documents, as well as their importance in understanding American history and today's struggles for women's rights.

Watch an overview of the Seneca Falls Convention and its significance in American and Women's history.

external image Red_apple.jpg

Click here to read about the movement from the History Channel.

Effects of the Movement

Political Cartoon Opposing Women's Rights, 1849, George Cruikshank, Comic Alamanck
Political Cartoon Opposing Women's Rights, 1849, George Cruikshank, Comic Alamanc

Though universal suffrage would not be obtained in the lifetime of these famous suffragists, the beginnings of the women's rights movement began to lead to a sea change in thought. The moral regard for equality started to become commonplace, and abolitionists and suffragists alike made great gains.

  • In the territory of Wyoming gave women the right to vote in 1869, and in the Kansas territory, women were allowed to vote in some municipal elections.


  • Conventions like the Seneca Falls Convention and the creation of a number of women's rights group gave the movement a stronger presence and established an organized front.


  • Women began entering into fields previously dominated by men, becoming more vocal in social in political issues.


  • Oberlin College opened its doors in 1833, becoming the first college to admit both African-Americans and women.


  • The National Labor Union backed equal pay for equal work, and Congress passed a law in 1872 granting such.


  • Women also gained property rights in Massachusetts and New York during this time, which allowed women to keep ownership of property in their name upon marriage, and to obtain land during marriage without the inclusion of husbands.

While this isn't necessarily an effect of the suffrage movement, the pivotal role the bicycle played in the women's movement shouldn't be overlooked. Bicycles provided women with independence for the first time, and Susan B. Anthony even said that the advent of the bicycle "has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world." To watch a short video and read a brief article about this, click here.

Women's Rights Groups

During the movement, there were two rival women's rights groups who differed in strategy.


  • The National Women's Suffrage Association (NWSA), led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, promoted suffrage via a constitutional amendment. 
    • They also refused to endorse the 15th amendment unless it included women. This was considered a radical approach, and the NWSA was often considered to be more aggressive and militant.


  • The American Women's Suffrage Association (AWSA) was led by staunch abolitionists who supported the 15th amendment, and believed suffrage was more likely is introduced on a state-by-state basis.
    • It was led by Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe.In 1890, the NWSA and AWSA decided that it would be more efficient to combine forces and form the new suffragist movement group called the National American Women Suffrage Association.
    • Together, the group wrote and spoke to state legislature, strengthening the movement and becoming a major force.


 Click here for the Library of Congress collection of 167 primary sources from the members of the NAWSA.


 On August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was passed in the U.S. Constitution that granted women the right to vote. In gaining the right to vote, women and men began to be seen more an equals in political and social spheres. The women's suffrage movement evolved to tackle other women's social issues, and it continues today.


It is important to note, that only white women had gained the right to vote. 

  • This article discusses and explains when/how women of color gained the right to vote.  

external image Red_apple.jpgAn overview of Antebellum Reform from the College Board AP program, including lesson plans.


Click here to watch a crash course on the movement.


  • This link is from Wesleyan University on the connections between the Civil Rights Movement and the Women's Suffrage Movement.


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