In 1776, only white Protestant men (Catholics, Jews, Quakers, and other religious minority groups were barred from voting) who owned property had the right to vote in the U.S. By the mid nineteenth century, most states had removed religion and property ownership as requirements for voting. In 1870, the 15th Amendment gave all men, regardless of race or color, the right to vote. However, women did not earn the right to vote in America until 1920, less than one century ago. Why did U.S. lawmakers initially only allow white landowning American men to vote? W In 1820, non-property owning white men could vote. In 1870, the 15th Amendment gave all men, regardless of race or color, the right to vote. However, all women remained disenfranchised.
In ca. 1915, Alice Paul founded the National Woman’s Party (NWP), the “radical” wing of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement. NWP members used direct action and non-violent civil disobedience, including silent picketing, parades, and hunger strikes, to advocate for women’s right to vote (AKA suffrage). In 1917, police arrested NWP members who were picketing the White House for “obstructing traffic.” (Notable fact: the NWP was the first group of political protesters to picket the White House.) Police subsequently arrested several more NWP members, including Alice Paul, while they were picketing the White House, and sentenced them to the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, where authorities harassed, intimidated, and beat them. Authorities even painfully force fed Alice Paul after she went on a hunger strike, and moved her to the psychiatric ward. The publicity surrounding the treatment of the imprisoned suffragists, combined with their commitment to earn the right to vote, finally wore down the men, including President Woodrow Wilson, who had refused to enfranchise women. In 1918, the House of Representatives finally passed the Nineteenth Amendment: “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.” Upon ratification in 1920, women could legally vote throughout the U.S.
1. Women did not earn the right to vote in the U.S. less than one century ago. Why did U.S. lawmakers initially only allow white landowning American men to vote?
2. Why did American men (and some women) oppose allowing women to exercise their right to vote in local, state, and federal elections?
3. Watch the dramatic reenactment of the force feeding of Alice Paul in the feature film, Iron Jawed Angels. Why do you think the force feeding of Paul, and the treatment of the imprisoned suffragists in general, generated support for the suffragists? Support your opinion with observations from the film.