Skip to Main Content

Nineteenth Amendment: About

Amendment XIX: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Why is the Nineteenth Amendment Important?

The 19th Amendment guarantees American women the right to vote. Achieving this milestone required a lengthy and difficult struggle; victory took decades of agitation. Beginning in the mid-19th century, woman suffrage supporters lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and practiced civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans considered radical change.

Between 1878, when the amendment was first introduced in Congress, and 1920, when it was ratified, champions of voting rights for women worked tirelessly, but their strategies varied. Some tried to pass suffrage acts in each state—nine western states adopted woman suffrage legislation by 1912. Others challenged male-only voting laws in the courts. More public tactics included parades, silent vigils, and hunger strikes. Supporters were heckled, jailed, and sometimes physically abused.

By 1916, most of the major suffrage organizations united behind the goal of a constitutional amendment. When New York adopted woman suffrage in 1917, and President Wilson changed his position to support an amendment in 1918, the political balance began to shift.

On May 21, 1919, the House of Representatives passed the amendment, and two weeks later, the Senate followed. When Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, the amendment was adopted. While decades of struggle to include African Americans and other minority women in the promise of voting rights remained, the face of the American electorate had changed forever. Continue reading from National Archives

Interpretations on Citizenship and Who Deserves to Vote

In the early days of the Republic, states typically limited the right to vote to “freeholders”—defined as persons who owned land worth a certain amount of money.  It was thought that, among other things, property-less individuals had no stake in the community or might be inclined to vote for profligate spending, since they were not subject to property taxes. Still, land was cheap, and the qualification level was usually set low, so a large majority of free, adult males could vote.

It is easy to slip into believing that if white men’s voting rights were limited, voting rights for women and racial minorities must have been utterly unthinkable. But the truth is more complex. Most blacks were slaves, owned by their white masters, and could not vote. Several states,  however, allowed otherwise-qualified, free blacks to vote. Most women couldn’t vote.  But in a significant number of locations, otherwise-qualified women voted in local elections and town meetings. New Jersey was perhaps the most interesting case for women. The 1776 New Jersey constitution provided that “all inhabitants” of legal age who met the property and residency requirements were entitled to vote. It is unclear whether this was originally intended to include women. But a 1790 state election law used the phrase “he or she,” thus clarifying the law.

Alas, New Jersey’s early experiment with women’s suffrage didn’t last. After a few hotly contested elections in which rampant voter fraud was alleged, there were calls to tighten voter qualifications. In 1807, amid allegations that men dressed as women had been going to the polls to cast a second ballot, the right of women to vote in New Jersey was withdrawn. If there was much opposition to this act of disfranchisement, history has failed to record it.

Over the course of the next few decades, property qualifications for men were gradually eliminated, with the notable exception of Rhode Island, which did not eliminate property qualifications for foreign-born citizens until 1888. The country as a whole was on the path toward universal manhood suffrage. In contrast, women’s suffrage was rarely taken seriously. An exception was Elizabeth Cady Stanton who, at the historic Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, sought to propose a resolution stating, “Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.” Lucretia Mott counseled against it, telling her, “Why Lizzie, thee will make us ridiculous.” Continue reading from Constitution Center

Link to She votes : how U.S. women won suffrage, and what happened next by Bridget Quinn in the catalog
Link to The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss in the catalog
Link to The Women's Suffrage Movement edited by Sally Roesch in the catalog
Link to Vanguard : how black women broke barriers, won the vote, and insisted on equality for all by Martha Jones in the catalog
Link to Mr. President, how long must we wait? : Alice Paul, Woodrow Wilson, and the fight for the right to vote by Tina Cassidy in the catalog
Link to Suffrage : women's long battle for the vote by Ellen Carol Dubois
Link to American women's suffrage : voices from the long struggle for the vote 1776-1965 from The Library of America in the catalog
Link to Exploring women's suffrage through 50 historic treasures by Jessica Jenkins in the catalog
Link to A century of votes for women : American elections since suffrage by Christina Wolbrecht in the catalog
Link to Victory for the vote : the fight for women's suffrage and the century that followed by Doris Weatherford in the catalog
Link to Amazons, abolitionists, and activists : a graphic history of women's fight for their rights by Mikki Kendall in the catalog
Link to Suffragist sheet music : an illustrated catalogue of published music associated with the women's rights and suffrage movement in America, 1795-1921, with complete lyrics by Danny Crew in the catalog
Link to A history of the American suffragist movement by Doris Weatherford in the catalog
Link to Why they marched : untold stories of the women who fought for the right to vote by Susan Ware in the catalog
Link to All stirred up : suffrage cookbooks, food, and the battle for women's right to vote by Laura Kumin in the catalog
Link to Sisters : the lives of America's suffragists by Jean Baker in the catalog
Link to Jailed for freedom : American women win the vote by Doris Stevens in the catalog