The Once & Only 19th Amendment Centennial Course: A 2020 Blog: The Campaign for the 19th Amendment

Week 7

And finally, in week 7 of the course, we focus on the campaign for the 19th Amendment. By now it should be clear that a crucial story of the 19th Amendment is how much of the 19th-century story of the struggle for gender equality in citizenship was only indirectly related to the amendment itself.  And a substantial part of ending gender discrimination in the franchise was accomplished by states, individually. Of course, a substantial part of the story of the ratification of the 19th Amendment is also a story about state-by-state action, and that is partly what we discussed this week.

There are many ways we could have covered the final campaign for the Amendment. I chose to continue the theme of this campaign as an example of struggle for and resistance to the expansion of democracy, and to use the frameworks we explored in the first week of the course, looking especially at alternative storytelling, the significance of intersectionality, and understanding resistance. We also carried forward the theme from the previous week, on state-by-state campaigns, and the alternative explanations highlighted by Corrine McConnaughy’s research.

For these reasons I did not ask the students to prepare by reading a common book. Instead, they had their choice of one of four possibilities:

  • Dawn Teele’s Forging the Franchise: The Political Origins of the Women’s Vote (2018). This is a very original comparative study of the U.S., France, and the U.S. to understand how political strategies and tactics of women’s movements provided incentives to politicians in competitive environments to win the vote. How does the story look when we use a comparative politics framework? What do we learn about the U.S. by not just looking only at the U.S.?
  • Rosalyn Terborg-Penn’s African American Women and the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920 (1988).  Although the entire course is based on an intersectional understanding of gender, this book offers students an opportunity to read the story through a lens that puts African American women at the center. Although many of our readings incorporate both African American and white women (as well as other social groups) into the analysis, it is important for the students to learn from an approach that is centered on African American women and the whole African American community.
  • Susan Ware’s Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote (2019). This offers the story of the national woman suffrage movement through vignettes focusing on 19 very diverse individuals and groups involved in the struggle. These vignettes shift the center across social groups, locations, and personalities. The writing often looks over its shoulder to the present time, which has benefits and drawbacks. But above all it gives students and opportunity to think about the range of specific people who were engaged – what opportunities and constraints they faced, and what they chose to do. It is impossible to read this and conclude that the movement was a monolithic group of a particular type of womab.
  • Elaine Weiss’ The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote (2018). This is a nail-biter story of the ratification fight in Tennessee, the state that put the 19th Amendment over the top. This is not just the story of Tennessee, however, but about one of the many state-level campaigns in which those not allowed to vote sought to secure the vote from those who could. It also makes clear that this is a deeply political story, involving partisan struggles and the linkage to many interests and interest groups.

When I arrange for the students to do different readings, I clarify to them how this works pedagogically. We are studying a problem – the campaigns for and against the passage of the 19th Amendment. The story – and the class discussion – must encompass a wide range of forces and their interaction. By reading different works they bring to the classroom expertise in different aspects of the story and analysis, and the class discussion is devoted to bringing these together to create a higher-level understanding.

We began with an image-motivated discussion of resistance to woman suffrage. It is important for the students to understand how deeply misogynist the culture surrounding the woman suffrage movement was, and how profoundly inappropriate large segments of the population – perhaps a majority – found the idea of women voting. For this I turn to material culture, offering them a long series of slides depicting anti-suffrage caricatures found in postcards, political materials, sheet music, etc., and then some showing the images used by suffragists.

I drive home the point that the tropes found in the caricatures are instantly recognizable to them – the idea that politically engaged women have been rejected by men or should be are ugly, unloved, ignore their children and “henpeck” their husbands; and of course men themselves who support suffrage are not masculine. The pro-suffrage images offer classic depictions of liberty, justice, and women warriors.

We then turned to a third iteration of the timelines I have been using in class. Although we are not focusing primarily on chronology, chronology is important. We walked through a Late Suffrage Timeline to reach conclusions about different phases of the historical run up to the ratification. What were the paths the campaign took? What were the impacts of surrounding major events (like recessions, war, immigration) and changes in political and partisan leadership?

Finally, we discussed the students readings of their various books, giving them a chance to share the insights they gained on the 19th Amendment campaign from the particular stories they read, and trying to create a bigger story from their different readings.

Slides here: PO50519thNationalCampaign

Late suffrage timeline here: Late Suffrage Timeline detailed

The full set of blogs for this course are available at