The entrenchment of equal rights of women and men and more noticeably the right of every American woman to vote came into being after the enactment of the nineteenth amendment. It happened in 1920, two years after World War I had ended and nearly after a century of agitation by activists and reformers for that right.
However, It is notable that some states, especially those in the west, with the exception of New Mexico, had already ratified such rights at various levels by 1918. In some of these states, all the rights of citizenship were entrenched in their constitution while others passed but reserved the right to vote.
According to Professor Erika A. Kuhlman, women’s suffrage was realized through the process of agitation for granting of equal rights of women by women activists. Professor Kuhlman argues that progressive reformers inspired progressivism to be a way of life from the mid to the end of the nineteenth century.
The leaders of these reformist movements sought to advance their quest for the emancipation of the woman through creating alliances among groups of common political interests. Such groups included the marginalized or those people among the society who by virtue of gender, race and economic status, could not enjoy the benefits of full citizenship. Among these groups were the African Americans, native Indians and the wage laborers.
The two women activists are of particular interest to Professor Kuhlman. She regards as the most credited with the attainment of women’s suffrage among other rights, namely, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. The Seneca Falls convention in 1948 by Elizabeth C. Stanton and others marks what Professor Kuhlman depicts to be the first milestone in the quest of the emancipation of the American woman.
In this convention, Elizabeth C. Stanton and others present their grievances. These violations of the very Declaration of independence by their male dominated society were presented in their “Declaration of Sentiments”. The two activists met at a convention three years later, and in 1852, Susa B. Anthony joined Stanton’s movement, which sought to raise concerns on the possible causes and abolishment of domestic violence.
In Erika A. Kuhlman (2002), Professor Kuhlman outlines how these two women mobilized and lobbied for the suffrage of the woman in the American society. After the civil war in 1865, the two reformists joined the abolitionists’ causes who agitated for the thirteenth amendment which aimed at abolishing slavery.
Upon the nation passing the thirteenth amendment in 1865, the abolitionists pushed further for the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments that sought to grant full citizenship rights to every man irrespective of their former economic and social status.
Simultaneously, the Stanton and Anthony pushed for incorporation of the equal rights of the women and men into the constitution. To their dismay, the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments were passed, but the male dominated government did not think that time was ripe for women equality.
The author sees the two reformers as progressive and persistent persons who stood for their movement till its demise and did everything for the realization of equal rights. It took a lot of time and efforts to persuade the male dominated federal government to pass the nineteenth amendment.
According to Professor Laura Woodworth-Ney, women’s suffrage was brought about by a combination of factors that varied from place to place. Professor Woodworth–Ney agrees to some extent with Professor Kuhlman assertion on the role of progressive reformists but on limited terms. A major contributor to the realization of the women’s right to vote, Professor Woodworth-Ney, contents that this cause was only attributed to play a key role in some selected states.
According to Professor Woodworth-Ney, in the western states where the right to vote for women was granted first, only in the Pacific Coastal states of Oregon and Washington, the progressive reformist movements played the most notable role in the attainment of suffrage for women. It was until 1871 when Susan B. Anthony alongside Abigail Scott Duniway toured the Pacific Coast and when the agitation for women’s suffrage got a new impetus.
Consequent activism by Duniway and others through her publications and other activities led to the passing of a law that granted the right to own property to women in 1878. However, the dream of women to have the equal rights would not have ever come true if some years later, agitation by reformists from western states that had already passed the law passed it in Washington and Oregon.
The state of Wyoming was the first state among all the other to pass this law in 1869. The passage of the law of suffrage for women was solely attributed to attract women to immigrate and persuade some of them to stay there. Professor Woodworth-Ney notes that, by the time this law was passed, the state had a women population of about 400. In the case of Utah which became the second state to pass the suffrage law, religion was the key player.
The predominant religion in the state was Mormon which advocates for polygamy. The national government had been exerting pressure on the abolishment of such practices. Therefore, the legislators in Utah thought a way round and passed the women’s suffrage law. In doing so, they sought to persuade the national government that the women there made their own decisions and were comfortable with polygamous agreements.
Professor Woodworth-Ney goes on to assert that, in Texas, the drive to pass this law was influenced by the notion that granting equal right to women would serve to disenfranchise non-whites further. They argued that by enacting this law, white votes would be increased, and, therefore, it would increase the chances of whites to retain control of state legislations.
All of the three Professors, namely, Foner, Woodworth-Ney and Kuhlman, agree that granting women’s suffrage was not the ultimate solution to absolute practice of equality in America. Although all the women around the nation could exercise their right to vote, there still existed some laws and practices in the society peculiar to states that contravened the enjoyment of full citizenship status of the American woman.
Some labor laws were restricting the rights of the working woman. Some laws banned women to work at night. Others still prohibited women from doing certain duties, such as holding jobs that could require one to exceed a given time limit a day.
The Professors and the author’s statements indicate strongly that granting the right to vote to women was extremely an evolutionary process. It is notable that on more than one occasion, the granting of the suffrage right was occasioned by overwhelming forces of nature.
As it has been noted, cultural, religious and racial interests for the males were perceived to be served better on enactment of women’s suffrage. The thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments partially liberated the African American woman and fully granted all the citizenship rights to their male counterparts. It is natural to conclude that all the women of color together with their white counterparts were on their way to emancipation.