Congress passed the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919, then ratified it on August 18, 1920. This was the result of decades of women protesting, doing activist work, writing news articles, books, speeches, etc. A few are still remembered today, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. However, there are many like Mary Church Terrell who are lesser known. To celebrate women’s suffrage, let’s look at five instrumental suffragists.
1. Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Born November 12, 1815, Stanton was an abolitionist and fought for women’s suffrage. She held the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. For this convention, she wrote a document titled “The Declaration of Sentiments.” It was about the rights that men were guaranteed that women should also be guaranteed. She also wrote and gave speeches like the “Address by Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Woman’s Rights” in 1848.
She founded and led the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 with Susan B. Anthony. It later merged with the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), forming the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1890. Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Joslyn Gage wrote the first three volumes of History of Woman Suffrage.
However, she was primarily concerned with only women like her: white, at least middle class, Christian, educated, etc. She fought against women’s inequality, yet she was unconcerned with women outside of her group. While her importance regarding women’s suffrage is undeniable, it is crucial to reflect on her influence on feminism.
2. Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Born July 16, 1862, Wells-Barnett was a journalist, civil rights leader, and educator. She helped found the National Association of Colored Women in 1896 and the National Afro-American Council in 1898. In Chicago in 1913, she founded the Alpha Suffrage Club, which focused on electing officials to serve the African American community. As the leader, she was invited to the 1913 Suffrage Parade in D.C.
However, she and other African American women were told to march in the back or not at all; Wells-Barnett ignored this and marched with the white women in front. She believed strongly in the rights for all women, that African American rights had to be secured to truly have gender equality, and she refused to back down.
Wells-Barnett was also heavily focused on lynchings that occured in the South. Under the pen name Iola, she wrote for black newspapers and eventually owned two herself: Memphis Free Speech and Headlight and Free Speech. Her autobiography, Crusade for Justice, is about her private life as well as her relentless and tireless pursuits for civil rights and women’s suffrage.
3. Mary Church Terell
Born September 23, 1863, Terrell was a journalist and activist for civil rights and women’s suffrage. She founded the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1896 and was president until 1901, co-founded the NAACP in 1909, and co-founded the College Alumnae Club, later called the National Association of University Women, in 1910. In 1884, she graduated from Oberlin College, the first to accept female and African American students. Terrell was one of the first African American women to earn a college degree.
She used the pen name Euphemia Kirk to write articles protesting unfair treatment of African Americans and women. She also wrote and gave many speeches, such as “In Union There is Strength” in 1897 and “What It Means to be Colored in the Capital of the U.S.” in 1906. Her autobiography, A Colored Woman in a White World, published in 1940, was hugely influential. It gave an important and insightful look into the intersectionality between race and gender in her life, which is still relevant now. She is little known today, but her legacy and influence have persisted.
4. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
Born September 24, 1825, Harper was a poet, suffragist, abolitionist, and lecturer. In 1896, she co-founded the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and became the director of the American Association of Colored Youth. She published a short story, The Two Offers, which was about education for women. With this, she became the first African-American woman to have a short story published. She also published a novel called Iola Leroy that discussed women’s social issues such as voting, education, and abolition.
Harper’s focused mostly on fighting against slavery and for civil rights. She published poems and short stories, gave lectures across the country, and more. She also fought for women’s rights and gave her famous speech “We Are All Bound Up Together” at the National Women’s Rights Convention in 1866. It was about the issues and struggles African American women faced because of the intersectionality between gender and race. She argued that to fight for women’s rights, they also had to fight for African American rights. She worked toward equal rights for the rest of her life.
5. Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin
Born August 31, 1842, Ruffin was a civil rights leader, suffragist, editor, and publisher. She founded the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) in 1869 with Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone, was a leader in the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA), started a newspaper called The Woman’s Era from 1890 to 1897, and organized the Women’s Era Club in 1894. The Woman’s Era was published by African American women and included achievements of African American women.
Ruffin primarily worked to bring African American women together and fight and advocate for their rights. The right to vote was one of the most important rights. She and other African American suffragists were often snubbed or ignored by a majority of white women in the movements.
This influenced her to encourage African American people, especially African American women, to come together to change society. She showed this in 1895, when she organized and held the first National Conference of Colored Women. There, she gave a speech called “Address to the First National Conference of Colored Women.” The speech talked about their struggles and what they could do to change things. While Ruffin did not take on many leadership positions, she was undoubtedly a huge part of the suffrage movement.
These women and others have had a huge influence on women’s history and women’s rights. While they are no longer with us, we must remember their legacy. Women have come a long way, but we must continue until all of us are equal.
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