Civic engagement, by definition, is “individual and collective actions designed to
identify and address issues of public concern.” Whether it is through voting, activism, or
volunteer work, it is a significant factor in today’s society and has always been
Out of the countless historical events involving civic engagement,
the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the US serves as an exemplar. Simply stated, the
goal of the Women’s Suffrage Movement was to gain the right to vote for women. For
nearly a century, activists fought for a woman’s right to vote through peaceful means of
activism, such as parading, lobbying, and petitioning.
Prior to the Women’s Suffrage Movement, women were denied basic rights. From
voting rights to property rights and even access to higher education, women held very
little power in society. Most of them were expected to cook, clean, and do housework for
the family rather than work so much so that women could not enter careers relating to
law or medicine.
From 1848 to the end of the movement in 1920, an innumerable number of
activists fought for women’s voting rights. Some of the most
significant figures included Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Born in 1820, Anthony was raised as a Quaker. Her father was a farmer while her
mother came from a family that fought in the American Revolution. Inspired by the
Quaker belief that everyone is equal under God, she possessed a passion for activism.
She often traveled around the country to deliver speeches, demanding
equal voting rights for women. She risked being arrested in order to share her ideas and
was eventually fined $100 in 1872. Fortunately, this arrest instigated public outrage,
bringing much attention to the suffrage movement.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, however, was born in 1815 under affluent parents.
Stanton was a knowledgeable woman whose father was a prominent lawyer. Organizing
the first Women’s Rights movement at Seneca Falls, she created petitions to fight for the
movement as well.
These two leaders met in 1851, soon becoming great friends. They worked
together for over 50 years advocating for the Women’s suffrage movement. In 1866,
Anthony and Stanton co-founded the American Equal Rights Association, an
organization that strived to “secure Equal Rights to all American citizens, especially the
right of suffrage, irrespective of race, color, or sex.”
After 72 years of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, women were finally given the
right to vote in 1920. Through the ratification on August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment
granted the right for women to vote, encouraging civic engagement in forms of voting
regardless of sex.
Today, numerous historical sites pay homage to this movement. The Women’s
Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York (the location of the first
Women’s Rights movement), for example, tells the story of the first Women’s Rights
movement arranged by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The impacts of the Women’s Suffrage
Movement are still prevalent in today’s society, as this pivotal movement drastically
shifted the future of women’s rights in the US through civic engagement in forms of
A lot of the time we talk about women’s suffrage. We discuss the heroes who
worked to grant women the right to vote. However, nobody talks about the hidden
history of the women who worked against the right to vote.
These women were called the anti-suffragists. They believed that women should
not vote for a multitude of reasons. Some believed that women did not have the mental
capacity to vote. Others believed that women were already so burdened by household
tasks that they could not possibly take on the added responsibility of understanding
political matters and voting. Others still argued that women did not want the right to
vote and were content within the status quo.
The belief that women should not have the right to vote was so profound that in
1911, the National Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage (NAOWS) was founded.
NAOWS held events, created pamphlets and distributed publications against women’s
Even though NAOWS claimed that women being involved in political matters
would be bad for the nation at large, NAOWS was founded and run by women who were
well-off, members of society who were privileged beyond measure and held political
power in their own right. These were philanthropists and activists, women with the
power to create change. Yet these women did not stop to consider the plight of those
without that same level of privilege. They didn’t think about the common women who
couldn’t pay huge sums of money to a charity or take time away from their lives to
volunteer. They could not understand that the women’s suffrage movement was made
with the intent to have the voices of all women heard, whether they be privileged or not.
In 1920 NAOWS was disbanded after the Nineteenth Amendment passed, giving
women the right to vote.
When most people think of women’s suffrage, they don’t stop to think about the
women who were against it. To many, it is implausible that women would be against the
right to women’s suffrage. Yet, an entire organization was built by women advocating
for the idea that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote. It shows that there are always
many different sides to the same story and we should never take what we have for
When we think of the fight for the right to vote, we see things like the civil rights
movement and women’s suffrage. There is so much more to a story than meets the eye.
After the civil rights movement newly freed African Americans still did not have
the right to vote. They were denied the most basic American freedom to vote. Racism
and discrimination were also still greatly practiced in the south. Organizations like the
Klu Klux Klan (KKK) continue to intimidate, kill, and oppress these new American
citizens. Finally, after a lot of protesting, the Fifteenth Amendment was passed. It said that a state could not discriminate against race. This right of course
did not extend to women, especially not women of color who would still have to fight for
years to get their own amendment.
Not all states took to this new amendment well. New laws such as Jim Crow,
named after a racist character played by a white male in black face, separated different
races from each other. In order to keep their own vote secured and African American
voices suppressed, southern states made it particularly hard for people of color to vote.
Things like white primaries gave certain candidates a leg up over candidates new voters
liked. It was also hard to register to vote because of things like poll taxes and literacy
tests. Poll taxes served as a problem, because of how poor most African Americans in
the US were. Literacy tests were never fair; sometimes questions would be extremely
difficult. Often if you got these questions right they would still tell you you failed. The
hardest part was the physical aggression. Sometimes you were met by KKK members
and sometimes police. If you voted you could get fired from your job, or killed, along with your family.
While this all changed with the civil rights movement many Americans are still
not voting. Is this right? How do we get more voices in the way our country is governed?