Author: Sarah Staples, Helen Steiner Rice Archivist
For many years, women in this country were denied even the most basic constitutional rights. They could not speak publically, sign contracts, gain a formal education, successfully own property separate from husbands or fathers or retain custody of their own children. They struggled to be heard on women’s issues, as well as other issues like abolition and temperance.
The first women’s rights movement formalized in the 1840s. Their main focus: suffrage, or gaining the right to vote. The fight to change laws was a particularly tough task when women were unable to vote to change the law. Women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone and many others fought their entire lives for the right to vote – a fight that lasted almost 100 years. Many were arrested and imprisoned, their reputations and livelihoods were threatened and damaged, and some even had their children taken from them.
Women all across America were finally granted the right to vote only when the Nineteenth Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution on August 26, 1920.
As the historical documents from our collection show, many people struggled, sacrificed, and fought for women to gain the right to vote and in the process they protected everyone’s voting rights.