The women’s suffrage movement was founded in the mid-19th century by women who had become politically active through their work in the abolitionist and temperance movements. In July 1848, 240 woman suffragists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, met in Seneca Falls, New York, to assert the right of women to vote. Female enfranchisement was still largely opposed by most Americans, and the distraction of the North-South conflict and subsequent Civil War precluded further discussion. During the Reconstruction Era, the 15th Amendment was adopted, granting African American men the right to vote, but the Republican-dominated Congress failed to expand its progressive radicalism into the sphere of gender.
In 1869, the National Woman Suffrage Association, led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was formed to push for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Another organization, the American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Lucy Stone, was organized in the same year to work through the state legislatures. In 1890, these two societies were united as the National American Woman Suffrage Association. That year, Wyoming became the first state to grant women the right to vote.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the role of women in American society was changing drastically; women were working more, receiving a better education, bearing fewer children, and several states had authorized female suffrage. In 1913, the National Woman’s party organized the voting power of these enfranchised women to elect congressional representatives who supported woman suffrage, and by 1916 both the Democratic and Republican parties openly endorsed female enfranchisement. In 1919, the 19th Amendment, which stated that “the rights 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,” passed both houses of Congress and was sent to the states for ratification. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, giving it the two-thirds majority of state ratification necessary to make it the law of the land. Eight days later, the 19th Amendment took effect.