While white male land-owners have enjoyed the right to vote since the formation of the United States, American women protested and campaigned for the right to vote—a movement called suffrage.
In 1792, English writer Mary Wollstonecraft posited that women should have this right in her book A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Despite her passionate argument for suffrage, little action was taken on this front. More than 50 years later, in 1848, hundreds of women met in Seneca Falls, New York to discuss the international issue of women's suffrage. Activists Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton led the inaugural meeting, which spurred other public meetings that drew fierce disapproval from members of the public.
Other notable suffragettes, or women who fought for their suffrage, include Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, both of whom were born slaves. Because of such advocacy like theirs, the suffrage movement gained popularity and momentum in the U.S. through the latter half of the nineteenth century. In 1890, Wyoming officially became the first state to allow women to vote.
American women were not the only ones fighting for their rights, however. In 1893, New Zealand became the first nation to allow women to vote. Soon after, many other countries followed suit, including Australia in 1902, Finland in 1906, and Russia in 1917.
Inspired by the victories for suffrage in the U.S. and New Zealand, British women formed groups to advocate for themselves, including the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. WSPU held public demonstrations, attacked property, and went on hunger strikes to raise awareness around the treatment of women. Its members were frequently arrested and sent to prison. One member, Emily Davison, killed herself in the act of protest when she threw herself under one of the King's horses in 1913.
In 1914, World War I broke out, at which time WSPU's members stopped their regular demonstrations to take on jobs left by men fighting in the war. These women proved themselves to be just as capable as men. Because of their efforts, the United Kingdom passed suffrage for women over the age of 30, which was perhaps an incomplete victory since male citizens above the age of 21 were permitted the vote at the time.
Still other countries followed suit: Canada in 1918, Germany in 1919, Austria in 1919, Poland in 1919, and Czechoslovakia in 1919. All American women were awarded the right to vote in 1920. And eight years later, the UK lowered the voting age requirement for women to 21. French women did not receive the right to vote until 1944.
The actions of individuals like Mott, Stanton, Truth, Tubman, and countless other courageous heroines have reverberated throughout history. Like the organizers of today, these women took steps to force legislative change. They stood up for their beliefs and achieved their goals through protest. Ultimately, their hard work and struggle in the face of adversity led to an important and essential accomplishment for women's rights—suffrage.
[Source: World History Encyclopedia ]