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Civil Resistance 101: From Protest to Progress in Women’s Suffrage


Civil resistance exists as a pivotal catalyst, effecting transformation within oppressive regimes and confronting unjust policies that impede civil liberties. Civil resistance’s impact has changed the course of cultural and historical identities throughout history. The study of civil resistance has shed light on the intricate power dynamics present in governance; moreover, it has illuminated a pathway of discourse that empowers nonviolent actions to pursue justice and equitable change. The narratives of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Nelson Mandela, among others, attest to the potential of civil resistance to dismantle the seemingly insurmountable walls of injustice. It is through these 101 series of civil resistance that the reader will unearth the subtle intricacies of power dynamics within governance structures. This series exposes how resolute people are. Civil resistance, in its essence, is a testament to the resilient human spirit, forging a pathway of discourse that transcends the realm of violence. This series focuses on the foundational principles of democracy, equity, and human rights. Moreover, civil resistance is a testament to the perseverance of humanity to shape its own destiny, fight oppression, and create a trajectory towards a more just and equitable world.

In the context of an international relations and history degree curriculum, this multifaceted study of civil resistance is vital for understanding philosophies, theories, and historical movements, enabling those to analyze, interpret, and actively pave the way for a humanistic, ethical, and peaceful future. This series of articles will embark on a journey through a comprehensive exploration of civil resistance. It will weave together threads of international relations theories, and conflict resolution approaches, and discuss historical movements to provide insightful and indispensable knowledge to the reader. The series aims to provide the reader with a thorough understanding of civil resistance’s impact on societies and how it has left an enduring mark on society today.

This series is divided into the following chapters:

2. Civil Resistance 101: From Protest to Progress in Women’s Suffrage

3. Civil Resistance 101: India’s Quest for Independence

4. Civil Resistance 101: South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Struggle

5. Civil Resistance 101: Achieving Equality through the Civil Rights Movement

6. Civil Resistance 101: Unmasking the Berlin Wall’s Liberation

7. Civil Resistance 101: Unearthing the Power of Civil Resistance for the Future

Civil Resistance 101: From Protest to Progress in Women’s Suffrage

Oppositional Forces to Women's Right to Vote

In the 19th century, the perception of women was one that was confined to traditional domestic roles, often limiting their opportunities for education and professional pursuits (McCammon, 2003, p. 790). There was a clear dichotomy known as the “separate-spheres ideology” that beheld that women were synonymous with life inside the home, whereas men were synonymous with living life in public (McCammon, 2003, p. 790). In order for women to change this narrative, it required them to gain access to public life (McCammon, 2003, p. 793). Simultaneously, slavery remained legal until the end of the Civil War, when the abolition of slavery in the United States occurred in 1865 (Beck et al., 2003, p. 17). The women’s suffrage movement drew inspiration from the abolition of slavery, as it underscored the urgent need for justice, equality, and civil rights for all individuals (Beck et al., 2003, p. 28). This pivotal moment in American history provided a powerful example of social change achieved through collective action and further fueled the determination of women's suffrage advocates to secure their own rights and recognition as equal citizens.

Throughout the arduous journey of the suffrage movement, spanning from the inaugural Seneca Falls convention in 1848 to the momentous ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, the persistent challenge of opposition cast a long shadow (Miller, 2015, p. 438). From 1866 until 1919, twenty-nine states granted voting rights to women (McCammon et al., 2001, p. 49). However, the definition of suffrage varied in each state across the United States. In the latter part of the 19th century, only Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Washington allowed full suffrage rights for women (McCammon et al., 2001, p. 52). Moving into the early twentieth century, before the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, states including Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wisconsin granted presidential suffrage, yet they often imposed different levels of restrictions or qualifications on women voters (McCammon et al., 2001, p. 52). Notably, Arkansas and Texas initially granted only primary suffrage rights until the passage of the 19th Amendment (McCammon et al., 2001, p. 52). This distinction is significant, as it was the result of political decisions made by men in each state, either within the legislative branch alone or through a combination of the legislative branch and the electorate, that ultimately determined suffrage rights (McCammon et al., 2001, pp. 52-53).

Figure 1: Suffragists gathered together at the Seneca Falls Convention, in 1848 (Unknown Author, League of Women Voters of Sacramento County, 2023).

Wherever suffragists waged their campaigns, they encountered opposition from fellow women and men who were organized to obstruct their progress (Miller, 2015, p. 438). 1848 was the year the Women’s Suffrage Movement (WSM) emerged in the United States (Beck et al., 2003, p. 33). It was at the Seneca Falls Convention that women including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Carrie Chapman Catt began to voice their opinions on women’s rights (Beck et al., 2003, p. 33). At the convention, the focus was on changing the role of women in the community (Beck et al., 2003, p. 4). The convention yearned to change women’s lower position in society regarding their roles within the family and obtaining access to education; furthermore, the convention focused on hoping to create equality in all aspects of daily life, including ownership of property, participation in voting, the idea of seeking divorce, and having custody over children (Beck et al., 2003, p.14).

Disputing a proclamation found in textbooks that the Seneca Falls pioneers spoke for all American women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton forthrightly confronted the disdainful sentiments harbored by certain women towards the movement (Miller, 2015, p. 438). She wrote about how other individuals opposed to the movement responded in sneers, scornful smirks, and utterances of mockery and revulsion (Miller, 2015, p. 438). In 1869, Anthony and Stanton established the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) headquartered in New York (Miller, 2015, p. 438). Simultaneously, Lucy Stone, William Lloyd Garrison, and other suffragists founded the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) in Boston, advocating for the same goals (Miller, 2015, p. 438). In response, anti-suffrage women coalesced, forming organizations like the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women and the New York State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, among others (Miller, 2015, p. 438). These dissenting voices, or "antis" as they would come to be known, testified before legislatures and propagated their opposition (Miller, 2015, p. 438).

Figure 2: Woman Suffrage and Politics (1923), written by leading suffragist, Carrie Chapman Catt (WCSU Archives, 2019).

While support for women's suffrage did see a gradual upswing across the nation, even during the climactic triumph of 1920, suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt argued that only about one-third of women were unequivocally in favor, another third stood in opposition, and the remaining stayed silent (Miller, 2015, p. 438). Yet, Catt also proclaimed her longstanding stance of suffragists, that they commanded the allegiance of the majority, or all, of women (Miller, 2015, p. 438). In her piece, "Woman Suffrage and Politics", Catt (1923) wrote about the popular demand for their cause while omitting her discernment that only a small majority of women cared about their voting rights (Miller, 2015, p. 438). Likewise, another notable suffragist, Abigail Scott Duniway wrote about the terrain of women's support, arguing that the silent majority of women were in favor, all while conceding that suffragists did not wield substantial numerical sway to change public opinion (Miller, 2015, p. 438).

19th Century Efforts

In 1872, the monumental event that heightened the determination and motivation of the suffrage movement was the arrest of Susan B. Anthony (Richards, 2007, p. 190). In response to the national election of 1872, Susan B. Anthony decided to vote in Rochester, New York. Arriving at the polls with fourteen other women, where it was illegal at the time for women to vote, they insisted on casting their ballots, firmly believing in the importance of women's political participation (Richards, 2007, p. 193). This act of civil disobedience led to their arrest and trial (Richards, 2007, p. 193). However, only Susan B. Anthony showed up on her trial date (Richards, 2007, p. 193).

Before her trial, in January 1873, there was a meeting of the National Woman Suffrage Association, where Anthony spoke about how she committed no crime regarding voting (Richards, 2007, p. 194). She explained the legalities of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence, emphasizing how they symbolize freedom; furthermore, she asserted that the rights associated with those documents were meant to protect women's right to vote (Richards, 2007, p. 194). She maintained that as a U.S. citizen, she deserved the rights allotted to her under the Constitution, regardless of her gender (Richards, 2007, p. 194).

Figure 3: Portrait of Susan B. Anthony (Natanson, 2019).

In June of 1873, Anthony showed up to court for her trial; as a strong and persuasive speaker, she was able to garner public opinion in favor of the suffrage cause (Richards, 2007, p. 194-195). Anthony utilized “legal precedence” to explain how American democracy protects all citizens regarding voting (Richards, 2007, p. 195). She urged the public to “unify American political practice, precepts, and law” and come together to grant women the right to vote (Richards, 2007, p. 195). In response to this, Anthony was forced to pay a fee of $100, which she never paid (Richards, 2007, p. 201). Rather, she tried to vote for a second time in November 1873 but was blocked from entering the polls (Richards, 2007, p.201).

After the convention, the suffrage movement was instigated through “consciousness-raising efforts” that focused on campaigning for suffrage; utilizing “annual conventions, petition campaigns and speaking tours,” the leaders of the suffrage movement including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were able to mobilize a growing community of advocates and garner support for their cause in the United States (Beck et al., 2003, p.17).

20th Century Efforts

An aggressive shift occurred on the cusp of the 20th century for suffragists in the United States. From 1910-1919, suffragists worked harder than ever to win support for the federal amendment (McCammon, 2003, p. 791). Public audiences were the key to garnering attention to their movement, and suffragists began to hold speeches in the streets of cities including but not limited to New York City, Oakland, and Washington D.C. (McCammon, 2003, p. 791). In 1908, speeches in cities turned into parades that brought thousands of pro-suffragists and onlookers into the movement (McCammon, 2003, p. 791). The parade strategy bolstered the suffragist's perception of the public as their goals became associated with legitimacy since they were able to garner so many onlookers (McCammon, 2003, p. 791). These types of parades were written about in the press due to the outcomes produced, which positively impacted the suffragist’s goals of gaining public access/attraction to the movement (McCammon, 2003, p. 791).

Figure 4: Famous suffrage parade, Washington D.C. (1913) (Manesse, 2020).

The suffrage parades created a ripple effect across the United States. In 1913, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) held a suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., where over 5,000 supporters and spectators came to witness it (McCammon, 2003, p. 801). Known as the Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington D.C., 5,000 people marched for the movement (Codur & King, 2015, pp. 412-413). The publicity from the march was so profound that The New York Times featured it in the newspaper adding that it was “one of the most impressively beautiful spectacles ever staged in this country” (Codur & King, 2015, p. 412). The media coverage of this projected the suffragists into a new stage of winning national support for the movement (Codur & King, 2015, p. 412).

Several publications and outlets incited public attention to this parade, and as a result, other states across the USA hosted parades simultaneously on the first Saturday of May in 1914 (McCammon, 2003, p. 801). Furthermore, in 1915, the suffragists brought 25,000 onto the streets of New York City, with “57 marching bands, 74 women riding horseback, and 145 decorated automobiles” (McCammon, 2003, p. 791). These were pivotal years for the suffrage movement as these "state movements" marked a significant escalation of the cause on a national scale (McCammon, 2003, p. 801). The synchronized parades showcased national support that occurred through communities, urging more individuals to rally behind the fight for women's suffrage. Additionally, suffragists reached out to those in the political sector in the 20th century to win support for the movement (McCammon, 2003, p. 798). When political actors wanted to win re-elections, they recognized the massive nature of suffragists and often concurred to be their allies in times of need (McCammon, 2003, p. 799).

Figure 5: President Woodrow Wilson acquiesced to the issue of suffrage (POTUS Geeks, 2012).

President Woodrow Wilson believed that the issue of suffrage was a state-by-state issue (Tichenor, 1999, p. 16). When he won the 1912 presidential election, Wilson was confronted by suffragists who demanded that he take a more active stance in obtaining a federal amendment for women's suffrage (Tichenor, 1999, p. 16). Despite their earnest appeals, Wilson maintained his belief in the sovereignty of states on this matter. This stance created tension between the suffragists and the President, highlighting the complexities surrounding the suffrage movement during his administration (Tichenor, 1999, p. 16). Leaders of the suffrage movement, including Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt urged Wilson to rethink his beliefs and demanded that suffrage should be an inalienable right; during the time of U.S. entrance into World War I, suffragists were able to address their issues of voting as “war measures” intended to create a “world safer for democracy” (Tichenor, 1999, p. 18). The discourse of suffrage transformed from a basic political issue to one that became a fundamental matter of achieving justice and democracy to prevent war from occurring in the future (Tichenor, 1999, p. 18). It was this shift of discussing suffrage as a means of achieving global safety that changed Wilson’s perception of suffrage (Tichenor, 1999, p. 18). In 1918, Wilson urged those in the legislature that suffrage was “vital to winning the war” and “of preparation and of battle” (Tichenor, 1999, p. 18).

Furthermore, this strategic outreach not only demonstrated the astuteness of suffragists in leveraging political alliances but also underscored the undeniable influence they held over the electoral landscape. It's evident that suffragists played a pivotal role in shaping political dynamics, and their ability to sway re-election-seeking politicians speaks volumes about the magnitude of their cause.

Figure 6: Suffragists standing outside the White House "picketing" for voting rights (Bloch, 2013).

Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, two famous suffragists, incited responses from the government and police when they created the “first-ever picket” on the grounds surrounding the White House, held every single day from January 10, 1917, until June 1919 (Codur & King, 2015, p. 413). Over 1,000 women carried banners and urged onlookers to support the cause (Codur & King, 2015, p. 413). In response to this, several women were sentenced to prison at Occoquan Workhouse (Codur & King, 2015, p. 413). However, due to the publicity of the movement, stories began to emerge about the horrible treatment occurring by the prison guards towards the women at the prison (Codur & King, 2015, p. 413). This abetted the suffragist's cause as public opinion towards the government started to shift from one of approval to disdain, adding empathy for the suffrage movement (Codur & King, 2015, p. 413).

Collective Action Efforts: College Equal Suffrage League & Donations

The women’s suffrage movement contained important collective action components that bolstered its success. From the onset of the movement in the 19th century until the ratification of the 19th Amendment in the early 20th century, suffragists employed a multitude of strategies to appeal to “politicians and the public” (McCammon, 2003, p. 790).

Financial resources played a pivotal role in bolstering the effectiveness of suffragists' efforts (Johnson, 2015, p. 62). Throughout the 1860s, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton recognized that wealthy women could be the key indicators in inciting public support and awareness of the movement (Johnson, 2015, p. 65). It was women of the most elite status who were able to advocate for dramatic changes in the Women's suffrage movement (Johnson, 2015, p. 63). Given the diverse suffrage rules across states, donors emerged as crucial figures capable of strategically allocating funds to states they deemed pivotal (Johnson, 2015, p. 63). Suffragists knew that achieving voting rights necessitated winning support in every state; moreover, this involved not only garnering the backing of local political figures but also securing the endorsement of local governments, recognizing their instrumental role in achieving their goals (Johnson, 2015, p. 65). This was through financial donations through donors. The wealthy donors paid for two specific elements that they knew would help win the movement: “travelling organizers in the states” and “the campaign to change public sentiment” (Johnson, 2015, p. 80).

Figure 7: Mrs. Frank Leslie, famous socialite and donor of the women's suffrage movement (Unknown, 2021).

These donors held esteemed positions in society since their resources were so vast; suffragists focused their efforts on wealthy women who had “class privilege” to maximize their impact (Johnson, 2015, p. 64). One specific donor, Mrs. Frank Leslie, was a wealthy socialite who took over her widow’s publishing business after his death; she played a prominent role in donating financial resources towards the women’s suffrage movement (Johnson, 2015, p. 68). In 1915, Leslie passed away and her estate was donated to the women’s suffrage movement at $1.7 million (Johnson, 2015, p. 68). This sort of funding led Carrie Chapman Catt to create a national strategy for obtaining voting rights for women in the Americas (Johnson, 2015, p. 68). Essentially, all work became directed at working on obtaining the federal amendment to women’s suffrage rather than just focusing on state efforts (Johnson, 2015, p. 68). This also proved pivotal since women were able to openly lobby Congress in a monetized fashion that was possible due to the vast donation (Johnson, 2015, p. 69). Due to Leslie’s donation, the lobbyists were able to spend $20,000 each year towards federal amendment lobbying to Congress, establishing legitimacy and credibility for the women’s suffrage movement (Johnson, 2015, p. 68) Furthermore, as a result of Leslie’s donation, NAWSA was able to create a house in Washington D.C., deemed the “Suffrage House,” that served as the home base for a team of lobbyists (Johnson, 2015, p. 69).

Women’s suffrage efforts became heavily dominated throughout universities in the United States during 1905-1920 (Marino, 2021, p. 370). This was spurred by many female activists who came together during the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) convention in 1900 (Marino, 2021, p. 370). Leaders of the suffrage movement, including Carrie Chapman Catt, Inez Haynes Gillmore, and Maud Wood Park transformed the women’s suffrage movement by inciting activism in younger individuals in the United States (Marino, 2021, p. 372). They did this through creating the College Equal Suffrage League (CESL) (Marino, 2021, p. 371). It became a branch of the NAWSA and became positively perceived at universities including Radcliff College (female campus of Harvard University), Harvard University, Newcomb College, Tulane University, and UC-Berkely (Marino, 2021, p. 371). Those involved on the campuses were able to utilize “grassroots” and “small-scale nature” efforts that contributed to growing support and adding to the community of suffragists in the USA (Marino, 2021, p. 371). The president of the NAWSA, Carrie Chapman Catt, first aimed to garner support from any university alumnus who worked as “lawyers, doctors, educators, social reformers, and scientists” so that their roles could be easily associated as esteemed individuals in the community (Marino, 2021, p. 373). It was part of her approach to gain elite Americans to the cause of women’s suffrage as it would gain credibility and legitimacy (Marino, 2021, p. 373). By 1908, the CESL expanded to become a “national body” and activism on campuses began to include efforts centred around education and awareness (Marino, 2021, p. 375-376). Tournaments were held on campuses that focused on debating, writing, and research (Marino, 2021, p. 376). Winners of tournaments and speeches were included in university periodicals and city journals (Marino, 2021, p. 376).

Figure 8: College Equal Suffrage League (CESL) Banner (Wikipedia, 2023).

The CESL went even further and held debating competitions between competing universities, like that of UC Berkeley vs. Stanford (Marino, 2021, p. 376). By 1911, CESL activists at UC Berkeley and Tulane University held theatre performances and pageants that focused on educating audiences about the history and movement of women’s suffrage (Marino, 2021, p. 376). To bolster the credibility of the women’s suffrage movement, CESL began to invite speakers to come to campuses that were elite members of the community who were also “seasoned suffragists” (Marino, 2021, p. 377). These speakers spoke to audiences on topics like gender, history, science, religion, and even slavery (Marino, 2021, p. 378). The speakers tried to enlighten students by crafting the narrative that the women’s suffrage movement was not individualized just to women but to a “larger, preexisting” conquest for equality of “all oppressed people” globally (Marino, 2021, p. 378). Furthermore, they addressed that the right for women to vote would then buttress other human rights campaigns in a society like that of “child labor” and “unjust working conditions” (Marino, 2021, p. 378).

In 1917, the CESL was dissolved as World War I emerged during the time and CESL activism efforts started to shift to war efforts (Marino, 2021, p. 383). A transformation occurred when the women’s suffrage movement, the 19th amendment, became synonymous with a “war measure” and “unavoidable cause” (Marino, 2021, p. 383). It became a political effort for students they began to write letters to Congress and obtain signatures to give to the government for passing the 19th Amendment (Marino, 2021, p. 383). Those involved with CESL saw their efforts come to light; their determination began to pay off as their endeavors in “civic education work, political lobbying, and campus activism” resulted in the 19th Amendment’s approval, and on August 18, 1920, it was officially ratified (Marino, 2021, p. 385).

The aftermath of achieving women's suffrage stands as a pivotal moment in the history of civil resistance as well as social and political activism. The fervent dedication of suffragists, students, and a diverse array of donors and political figures joined together to create a new era based on inclusivity, empowerment, and justice. Through collective action, change occurred that spurred a legacy of progress and paved the way for future generations to continue the fight for equality and justice globally.

Bibliographical References

Beck, E., Dorsey, E., & Stutters, A. (2004). The Women’s Suffrage Movement. Journal of Community Practice, 11(3), 13–33. DOI:10.1300/J125v11n03_02

Codur, A. M., & King, M. E. (2015). “Women in Civil Resistance”. In M. M. Kurtz & L. R. Kurtz (Eds.), Women, War and Violence: Typography, Resistance and Hope (Vol. 2, pp. 401–446). Santa Barbara: Praeger.

Johnson, J. M. (2015). FOLLOWING THE MONEY: Wealthy Women, Feminism, and the American Suffrage Movement. Journal of Women's History, 27(4), 62-87.

Marino, K. (2021). Students, Suffrage, and Political Change: The College Equal Suffrage League and Campus Campaigns for Women’s Right to Vote, 1905–1920. The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 20(3), 370–391.

McCammon, H. J. (2003). "Out of the parlors and into the streets": The changing tactic repertoire of the U.S. women's suffrage movements. Social Forces, 81(3), 787-818.

McCammon, H. J., Campbell, K. E., Granberg, E. M., & Mowery, C. (2001). How movements win: Gendered opportunity structures and U.S. women's suffrage movements, 1866 to 1919. American Sociological Review, 66(1), 49-70.

Miller, J. C. (2015). Never A Fight of Woman Against Man: What Textbooks Don’t Say about Women’s Suffrage. The History Teacher, 48(3), 437–482.

Richards, C.K. (2007). Susan B. Anthony. “Is it a Crime for a U.S. Citizen to Vote? (3 April 1873).” Voices of Democracy, 2, 189-209.

Tichenor, D. J. (1999). The Presidency, Social Movements, and Contentious Change: Lessons from the Woman’s Suffrage and Labor Movements. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 29(1), 14–25.

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