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In honor of the millions of women who have struggled for equal rights, Progressive Liberty looks at the sacrifices of suffragettes and solutions achieved by women warriors. 

By the end of 1919, more than 70 years after the first national woman’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, Congress finally passed a federal women’s suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But the fate of the 19th Amendment all came down to Tennessee.

In the summer of 1920, women’s suffragists and their opponents met in sweltering Nashville, Tennessee, for the climactic clash in a decades-long fight over the American woman’s right to vote. After a dramatic showdown in the state legislature, the Tennessee House voted by the narrowest of margins to pass the amendment on August 18. On August 26—now celebrated as Women’s Equality Day—the 19th Amendment officially became part of the Constitution. By this time, women in New Zealand, Australia, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Austria, Germany, Poland, Russia and the Netherlands had already gained the right to vote, while 15 states around the country (particularly in the West) had changed their constitutions to give women voting rights. But the 19th Amendment changed the federal laws of the land.

American women lacked not only suffrage, but many other basic rights.
By the early 19th century American women lacked not only suffrage, but many other basic rights. A married woman could not own property or sign a contract; she had no right to her wages if she worked, and she had no custodial rights to her own children.

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“These women see their place in society as being oppressed," Elaine Weiss, author of The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote, says of Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the other earliest pioneers of the women’s rights movement. Many of them were Quakers, who believed all humans had divine rights, and they began their activist careers as abolitionists, fighting for the liberation of an even more oppressed minority: slaves.

When Mott and Stanton organized the first women’s rights conference at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, Stanton included a suffrage resolution in her now-famous Declaration of Sentiments, based on the Declaration of Independence. Though most people at the conference thought it was too radical, the resolution passed by a slim margin (in part thanks to the eloquent support of Frederick Douglass) and the demand for the vote would eventually become the central goal of the women’s rights movement.

We thank author Sarah Pruitt for her research and eloquence.