We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal. . . . In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object.
– Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Declaration of Sentiments, 1848
The campaign for women’s voting rights lasted more than seven decades. Considered the largest reform movement in United States history, its participants believed that securing the vote was essential to achieving women’s economic, social, and political equality. Culminating 100 years ago in the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the fight for women’s suffrage was not for the fainthearted. Determined women organized, lobbied, paraded, petitioned, lectured, and picketed for years. Suffragists were ridiculed, patronized, and dismissed by opponents, yet they persisted. Some were assaulted and endured the harsh confines of prison for daring to claim rights equal to men, but they would not be denied.
The movement questioned the country’s commitment to democracy, exposed the nation’s longstanding class, regional, and racial divides, and challenged existing gender stereotypes. Arguments and strategies for and against women’s suffrage varied over time and place. Proponents forged uneasy alliances and overcame countless controversies. Although few of the women who began the suffrage campaign before the Civil War lived long enough to witness its final victory in August 1920, their work was carried on by their daughters, granddaughters, and other women whom they had inspired, nurtured, and taught. Their collective story is one of courage, perseverance, savvy, creativity, and hope that continues to inspire women today.