Federal Suffrage Amendment
Nineteenth Amendment Adopted
"Suffrage Won -- Forward March!"
On August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was officially adopted, thus enfranchising some 26 million American women.
The journey that led to its ratification was a long one. And yet despite constitutional protections such as the Nineteenth Amendment, which guaranteed women the vote, and the Fifteenth Amendment, which ensured Black men the right to vote, many Americans — particularly African Americans and Native Americans — faced barriers to voting due to poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation, threats of job loss, and other racist practices that kept them from voting or from registering to vote. Even the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was designed to protect the right to vote for people of color, has failed to prevent the types of large-scale voter suppression that occurs today, such as voter roll purges, gerrymandering, and felony disenfranchisement.
The Journey to Ratification
The seventy-year journey that led to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment began, arguably, at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention with the "Declaration of Sentiments." Authored by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the Declaration called for, among other things, "elective franchise" of women.
By 1878, California Senator Aaron Sargent introduced a women’s suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but it took six more years for the Senate to vote on — and reject — his bill.
Meanwhile, organizations like the National American Woman Suffrage Association, under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, and the Congressional Union, led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, focused on securing voting rights for women at the state level. While Wyoming was the first to grant women the right to vote as early as 1890, women in other Western states such as Colorado, Idaho, California, and Washington had also gained the right to the vote. As more and more women secured the vote at the state level, they elected candidates who, in turn, supported women’s suffrage. Meanwhile, African American women, including Mary Church Terrell, Sojourner Truth, and Ida B. Wells had long advocated for both African American civil rights and women’s suffrage. The mainstream suffrage movement, made up predominantly of educated white women, was split on whether to advocate for African American enfranchisement.
By 1919, despite earlier failed attempts to pass a women’s suffrage amendment over the previous decades, both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed a women’s suffrage amendment. Throughout the next year, state legislatures ratified the amendment, and in August 1919, despite strong opposition to women’s suffrage in the South, Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the amendment. With ratification secured by three-quarters of the states, the women’s suffrage amendment would now become part of the Constitution.