The Women’s March on Washington in January coincides with the 100th anniversary of several notable women’s rights victories.By Zoe Gibson, NewseumED intern
Updated Jan. 21, 2017
The countdown to the 100-year anniversary in 1919 of the passage of the 19th Amendment is on!
The federal amendment granting women the right to vote is the most well-known accomplishment of the women’s suffrage movement. Still, the suffragists secured many victories on the state level and influenced public opinion in the years leading up its ratification in 1920. Centennial anniversaries of some of those milestones will be observed in 2017.
Buoyed by successes in the newer states in the West, the women’s suffrage movement gained momentum in the 1910s. By the end of 1917, 18 states and the territory of Alaska had granted women at least partial voting rights. Suffragists used the five freedoms of the First Amendment (speech, press, assembly, petition and religion) to change gender inequality across the nation and to secure the right to vote. Along the way, the women’s suffrage movement pioneered protest techniques that activists in later movements, including the civil rights, environmental and the LGBT, employed to great effect.
With the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21 attracting half a million people and Women’s History Month observed in March, the centennial anniversaries below are relevant to your students. Explore these resources on our NewseumED website to learn how the suffragists used the First Amendment to enact social change and continue to inspire activists today.
Celebrating 100 Years in 2017
- Mr. President, What Will You Do?: On Jan. 10, 1917, U.S. suffragists, led by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, petitioned outside President Woodrow Wilson’s White House holding signs asking, “Mr. President, What Will You Do for Woman Suffrage?” and “How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?” Known as the “Silent Sentinels,” these women were the first group of protesters to organize a picket line outside of the White House. The suffragists persevered for months, even after the United States entered World War I in April 1917. They insisted that it was hypocritical for the U.S. to fight for democracy abroad while denying some of its own citizens democracy at home. Public reception of the picketers, which had been favorable early on, began to sour as the months proceeded. Over the course of the protests, roughly 500 of the 2,000 total participants were arrested and 168 were jailed. Because of the horrendous conditions they were subject to, the suffragists staged a hunger strike in jail, which gained national attention and sympathy from the American public.
- A Woman’s Place is in the … Congress: In 1917, Jeannette Rankin began her term as a representative of Montana in the U.S. Congress. Rankin, a college graduate from Washington state who worked with the National American Women Suffrage Association on its campaigns in Washington and Montana, became the first woman elected to the U.S Congress (and the first woman elected to national office in the United States) on Nov. 7, 1916. As a representative of Montana, she vowed to fight for woman suffrage and social welfare. A pacifist, Rankin was the only representative to vote against both world wars. Rankin, who took office on April 2, 1917, paved the way for the 21 female senators and 83 female U.S. House representatives in the 115th Congress, which convened Jan. 3, 2017.
- The Movement Gains Ground: Prior to 1917, only one state east of the Mississippi River (Illinois, 1913) had passed voting rights for women. In contrast, partial woman suffrage was legal in the newer states in the West — Wyoming (1869), Colorado (1893), Utah (1896), Idaho (1896), Washington (1910), California (1911), Oregon (1912), Arizona (1912), Kansas (1912), Alaska (territory, 1913), Nevada (1914), and Montana (1914). However, woman suffrage gained significant ground in 1917, as Indiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Arkansas and New York passed laws that permitted partial voting rights for women. For the most part, states allowed women to vote in presidential and local elections, but not in state races. Though these partial victories were met with strong backlash from anti-suffragists, they nonetheless represented a shift in the national opinion on woman suffrage.
- The Empire State Stands for Suffrage: In 1917, New York (home to the infamous Seneca Falls Convention of 1848) became the most populous state to grant women voting rights. Two years earlier, New York voters had denied women the vote in a referendum, one of many defeats in an unsuccessful 1915 campaign to bring voting rights to Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. After the failed referendum, New York suffragists shifted their strategy and began highlighting women’s contributions to the wartime effort. Their renewed campaign involved thousands of meetings and millions of pamphlets, posters, badges and novelty items. On Nov. 6, 1917, New York’s women’s suffrage referendum passed with 54 percent of the vote. This marked a turning point in the fight for woman suffrage, a fact that suffrage lobbyist Maud Wood Park acknowledged in saying, “The carrying of New York was accepted by the politically wise as the handwriting on the wall.”
Want to Learn More?
With a digitized Newseum EDCollection that features searchable artifacts, videos and a historical timeline that spans 150 years, we have numerous resources for you to bring the women’s suffrage movement and the First Amendment into your classroom and/or enhance a visit to the Newseum. (To access some of these online resources, you must be signed into NewseumED; registration is free.)
- A searchable timeline (spanning from 1776 to 1923) featuring over 200 historical front pages, videos and photographs. Many entries cover major events in securing rights for women, including Myra Bradwell’s Fight for Employment, the First Female Presidential Candidate, the First Birth Control Clinic and the 19th Amendment.
- A media map exploring how the women’s suffrage movement and its critics tried to influence public opinion.
- Units with standards-aligned lesson plans, activities and worksheets supporting historical connections, media literacy, and civics and citizenship.
- “Miss Anthony Won’t Cooperate” video, with accompanying artifacts, highlights Susan B. Anthony’s use of free speech to demand equality.
- “The Freedom to Make a Change” lesson plan explores how suffragists embraced the First Amendment as a tool to help achieve passage of the 19th Amendment.
We also offer a free 90-minute “Their Rights and Nothing Else: The First Amendment and the Women’s Suffrage Movement” professional development workshop for teachers that explores how suffragists used the freedoms of press, assembly, speech, petition and religion. Attendees receive primary source materials from the Newseum’s online resources to spark connections to issues and causes that students care about today.
You can find additional information on all of our classes here and on how to schedule a field trip. If you have questions, please email the Newseum Education Department (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call 202/292-6650.