Suffrage History

From Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz -- Online Notes For The Book

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This Note contains descriptions of important works regarding the women's suffrage movement, including its connection to other reform movements and causes.


Legal Status of Women in Nineteenth Century

Women’s quest for full citizenship—to be voters, serve on juries, and enter the professions—has been of increasing interest to scholars in recent years. Feminists have challenged the use of legal discourses to maintain gendered social hierarchies and discrimination in all areas of life. See, e.g., SANDRA VAN BURKLEO, BELONGING TO THE WORLD: WOMEN'S RIGHTS AND AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL CULTURE (2001) (a comprehensive treatment of women’s changing legal status and legal feminist movements from the colonial period to the modern day); DEBORAH RHODE, JUSTICE AND GENDER: SEX DISCRIMINATION AND THE LAW (1989) (discussing the historical background to modern sex discrimination); JOAN HOFF, LAW, GENDER AND INJUSTICE: A LEGAL HISTORY OF U.S. WOMEN (1991) (covering over two hundred years of women’s legal history through the lens of radical feminism). Historian Linda Kerber examines the meaning of citizenship in light of women’s exclusion from obligations of citizenship, such as jury duty and military service. LINDA KERBER, NO CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO BE LADIES: WOMEN AND THE OBLIGATIONS OF CITIZENSHIP (1998).

In their respective writings, political scientists Judith Shklar and Gretchen Ritter focus on questions of citizenship, arguing that feminists’ struggle for legal rights has always been part of a broader quest for civic inclusion. JUDITH SKLAR, IN AMERICAN CITIZENSHIP: THE QUEST FOR INCLUSION (1991); GRETCHEN RITTER, THE CONSTITUTION AS SOCIAL DESIGN: GENDER AND CIVIC MEMBERSHIP IN THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL ORDER (2006). Legal relations and gendered discourses of citizenship across U.S. history are discussed in Rogers Smith, One United People: Second-Class Female Citizenship and the American Quest for Community, 1 YALE J.L. & HUMAN. 229 (1989); Nancy Cott, Marriage and Women’s Citizenship in the United States, 1830-1934, 103 AM. HIST. REV. 1440 (1998); Linda Kerber, The Paradox of Women’s Citizenship in the Early Republic: The Case of Martin v. Massachusetts, 97 AM. HIST. REV. 349 (1992); Linda Kerber, The Meanings of Citizenship, 84 J. AM. HIST. 833 (1997). For scholarly writings focusing on women’s contested claims to citizenship in the charged political climate of the post-Civil War era, see LAURA EDWARDS, GENDERED STRIFE AND CONFUSION: THE POLITICAL CULTURE OF RECONSTRUCTION (1997) and Norma Basch, Reconstructing Female Citizenship, in THE CONSTITUTION, LAW, AND AMERICAN LIFE (Donald Nieman ed., 1994).

The study of women and the law in the nineteenth century has focused extensively on the evolving rights of married women. Norma Basch discusses the tensions between republican ideology and the notion of marital unity embodied in the doctrine of coverture, and the influence of feminist movements in the gradual erosion of coverture through married women’s property laws in the mid-nineteenth century. NORMA BASCH, IN THE EYES OF THE LAW: WOMEN, MARRIAGE, AND PROPERTY IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY NEW YORK (1982). Basch has also studied the changing law of divorce and its impact on women. NORMA BASCH, FRAMING AMERICAN DIVORCE: FROM THE REVOLUTIONARY GENERATION TO THE VICTORIANS (2001); Norma Basch, Invisible Women: The Legal Fiction of Marital Unity in Nineteenth-Century America, 5 FEMINIST STUD. 346 (1979); Norma Basch, Relief in the Premises: Divorce as a Woman's Remedy in New York and Indiana, 1815-1870, 8 LAW & HIST. REV. 1 (1990); Norma Basch, The Emerging Legal History of Women in the United States: Property, Divorce, and the Constitution, 12 SIGNS 97 (1986). For summaries of nineteenth-century women’s legal status within marriage and the family, see MICHAEL GROSSBERG, GOVERNING THE HEARTH: LAW AND FAMILY IN NINETEENTH CENTURY AMERICA (1985); ELIZABETH BOWLES WARBASSE, THE CHANGING LEGAL RIGHTS OF MARRIED WOMEN, 1800-1861 (1987); PEGGY RABKIN, FATHERS TO DAUGHTERS: THE LEGAL FOUNDATIONS OF FEMALE EMANCIPATION (1980); Reva Siegel, Home As Work: The First Woman’s Rights Claims Concerning Wives’ Household Labor, 1850-1880, 103 YALE L.J. 1073 (1994); Reva Siegel, The Modernization of Marital Status Law: Adjudicating Wives' Rights to Earnings, 1860-1930, 82 GEO. L.J. 2127 (1995); Carole Shammas, Reassessing the Married Women’s Property Acts, 6 J. WOMEN’S HIST. 9 (1994). Ariela Dubler explores the historical impact of the normative framework of marriage on single women. Ariela Dubler, In the Shadow of Marriage: Single Women and the Legal Construction of the Family and the State, 112 YALE L.J. 1641 (2003).

Seneca Falls

More than a hundred years after publication of its first volume, THE HISTORY OF WOMAN SUFFRAGE (published in its entirety in six volumes covering the years 1848-192) remains a major source on the nineteenth century efforts for women's rights and especially Seneca Falls. 1 HWS, at 70-71 describes the Seneca Falls convention and reproduces the Declaration of Sentiments and list of resolutions, along with discussion of the “spheres” arguments. The Seneca Falls meeting is analyzed in SALLY MCMILLEN, SENECA FALLS AND THE ORIGINS OF THE WOMEN’S RIGHTS MOVEMENT (2008); JUDITH WELLMAN, THE ROAD TO SENECA FALLS: ELIZABETH CADY STANTON AND THE FIRST WOMAN'S RIGHTS CONVENTION (2004); Ellen Carol DuBois, Seneca Falls Goes Public, 21 THE PUB. HISTORIAN, 41-47 (1999).


The classic early works on suffrage are ELEANOR FLEXNER, CENTURY OF STRUGGLE: THE WOMAN’S RIGHTS MOVEMENT IN THE UNITED STATES (1959) (new enlarged edition with ELLEN FITZPATRICK (1996)) and AILEEN KRADITOR, THE IDEAS OF THE WOMAN SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT 1890-1920 (1965). Kraditor’s thesis was that American suffragism declined from its early years of “justice-based” arguments to a politics of expediency that used the traditional rhetoric of separate spheres and appeals to racism and nativism. This “declension” argument has provided the backdrop for numerous scholarly writings. During the two decades after Flexner’s and Kraditor’s pathbreaking studies, the suffrage movement fell into disfavor as a subject of academic inquiry; many women’s historians saw it variously as a limited, repetitive, boring, racist, and elitist movement.

Notable exceptions include WILLIAM O’NEILL, EVERYONE WAS BRAVE: THE RISE AND FALL OF FEMINISM IN AMERICA (1975); GERDA LERNER, THE MAJORITY FINDS ITS PAST: PLACING WOMEN IN HISTORY (1979); DUBOIS, FEMINISM AND SUFFRAGE: THE EMERGENCE OF AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN’S MOVEMENT IN AMERICA, 1848-1869 (1978) (exploring the significance of the emerging woman’s rights movement in the 1860s and its ties to abolitionism). DuBois’ article, The Radicalism of the Woman Suffrage Movement: Notes Toward the Reconstruction of Nineteenth Century Feminism, in WOMEN, LAW AND THE CONSTITUTION (Kermit Hall ed., 1987) was especially enlightening to me in understanding Clara Foltz’s movement activities. DuBois is the main proponent of the argument that the split in the women’s movement after the Civil War did not significantly weaken the suffrage movement but propelled it into political independence. Some of her best essays are collected with new chapters on historiography in WOMAN SUFFRAGE AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS (1998). In HARRIOT STANTON BLATCH AND THE WINNING OF WOMAN SUFFRAGE (1997), Dubois brings her understanding of the movement history to bear on its final stages.

The 1990s saw a renaissance in suffrage studies, with women’s historians, political scientists, sociologists, and legal scholars using new sources and multidisciplinary approaches to analyze the historical and political significance of the women’s suffrage movement, regional differences in the suffrage campaign, suffragists’ ties with other political and social movements, the participation of women of color, and suffragists’ complex relationships to issues of class and race. SUZANNE MARILLEY, WOMAN SUFFRAGE AND THE ORIGINS OF LIBERAL FEMINISM IN THE UNITED STATES, 1820-1920 (1996) revises the Kraditor thesis, arguing that although the movement’s strategic and rhetorical tactics may have changed over time, feminists never lost their fundamental liberal commitment to equal rights. Essay collections from this period include: ONE WOMAN, ONE VOTE: REDISCOVERING THE WOMAN SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT (Marjorie Spruill Wheeler ed., 1995) (featuring nineteen essays from prominent scholars on the impact of women’s suffrage movements from the early national period to the post suffrage era); AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN AND THE VOTE, 1837-1965 (Ann D. Gordon & Bettye Collier-Thomas eds., 1997) (discussing black women in the suffrage movement); VISIBLE WOMEN: NEW ESSAYS ON AMERICAN ACTIVISM (Nancy A. Hewitt & Suzanne Lebsock eds., 1993) (including essays on suffrage, notably Lebsock’s, Woman Suffrage and White Supremacy: A Virginia Case Study). A useful collection of primary source documents is KATHRYN KISH SKLAR, WOMEN’S RIGHTS EMERGES WITHIN THE ANTI-SLAVERY MOVEMENT, 1830-1870: A BRIEF HISTORY WITH DOCUMENTS (2000); AMERICAN FEMINISM: KEY SOURCE DOCUMENTS, 1848-1920 (Janet Beer, Anne-Marie Ford, & Katherine Joslin eds., 2003). Ann D. Gordon’s comprehensive collection of papers, with outstanding organization and ordering, is in the THE SELECTED PAPERS OF ELIZABETH CADY STANTON AND SUSAN B. ANTHONY, VOLS. 1-5 (1997-2006) (a sixth volume is projected). Patricia G. Holland joined Gordon in editing the papers for online presentation from 45 microfilm reels.

The attempts by women to use the Civil War Amendments to secure their own rights is described in Ellen DuBois, Taking the Law into Our Own Hands: Bradwell, Minor, & Suffrage Militance in the 1870s, in VISIBLE WOMEN and DuBois, Outgrowing the Compact of the Fathers: Equal Rights, Woman Suffrage, and the United States Constitution, 1820-1878, 74 J. AM. HIST. 836 (1987). In recent years, legal scholars have been interested in the widespread use of the tactic named “the new departure.” See Jack Balkin, How Social Movements Change the Constitution: The Case of the New Departure, 39 SUFFOLK U. L. REV. 27 (2005); Jules Lobel, Losers, Fools & Prophets: Justice as Struggle, 80 CORNELL L. REV. 1331, 1364-75 (1995); Adam Winkler, A Revolution Too Soon: Woman Suffragists and the Living Constitution, 76 N.Y.U.L. REV. 1456 (2001).

In recent years, there has also been new interest in the western women’s movement and growing recognition of its significance. GAYLE GULLETT, BECOMING CITIZENS, THE EMERGENCE AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE CALIFORNIA WOMEN’S MOVEMENT, 1880-1911 (2000) [hereafter GULLETT, BECOMING CITIZENS] has been especially useful to me because it examines many events in which Foltz was involved and is well-researched and written. Another important work on suffrage campaigns in the western states is REBECCA MEAD, HOW THE VOTE WAS WON: WOMAN SUFFRAGE IN THE WESTERN UNITED STATES 1868-1914 (2004). Mead argues that the Western suffrage campaigns profoundly shaped the national suffrage movement by developing tactics that were later used by activists in eastern states. She also shows how the suffragists mobilized cross-class coalitions, mass media, and direct action tactics to create an ambitious modern campaign. Foltz is mentioned many times. I summarize the western suffrage history in Babcock, First Woman, at nn. 6-54. Beverly Beeton, WOMEN VOTE IN THE WEST: THE WOMAN SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT, 1869-1896 (1986) addresses the question of why women suffrage came to the West before other parts of the country. A similar question is considered from a sociological perspective in Holly J. McCammon & Karen E. Campbell, Winning the Vote in the West: The Political Successes of the Women's Suffrage Movements, 1866-1919, 15 GENDER & SOC’Y 55 (2001). See also Rebecca Edwards, Pioneers at the Polls: Woman Suffrage in the West, in VOTES FOR WOMEN: THE STRUGGLE FOR SUFFRAGE REVISITED (Jean H. Baker ed., 2002); T.A. Larson, Dolls, Vassals & Drudges – Pioneer Women in the West, 3 W. HIST. Q. 5 (1972) (discussing the winning of suffrage in Wyoming, Utah, and Washington); 3 HWS, at 767-88; G. THOMAS EDWARDS, SOWING GOOD SEEDS: THE NORTHWEST SUFFRAGE CAMPAIGNS OF SUSAN B. ANTHONY (1990).

On the 1896 California suffrage campaign, the indispensable article is Susan Schreiber Edelman, “A Red Hot Suffrage Campaign:” The Woman Suffrage Cause in California, 1896, CAL. SUP. CT. HIST. SOC’Y YEARBOOK (2d volume 1995). On the successful 1911 California campaign, see MAE SILVER AND SUE CAZALY, THE SIXTH STAR: IMAGES AND MEMORABILIA OF CALIFORNIA WOMEN’S POLITICAL HISTORY 1868-1915 (2000) and Ronald Schaffer, The Problem of Consciousness in the Woman’s Suffrage Movement: A California Perspective, 45 PAC. HIST. REV., Nov. 1976, at 469-93, reprinted in 19 HISTORY OF WOMEN IN THE UNITED STATES 367, 382-91 (Nancy F. Cott ed., 1994) (discussing the tactics developed to win suffrage after the 1896 defeat and using biographical data to illustrate the range of views and experiences among the suffragists). A contemporary account can be found in SELINA SOLOMONS, HOW WE WON THE VOTE IN CALIFORNIA: A TRUE STORY OF THE CAMPAIGN OF 1911 (1912). Foltz is specifically mentioned at pp. 38 and 66; the Votes for Women Club is mentioned throughout. See On-Line Bibliographic Note: Victory in California-1911, at WLH Website for many other sources.

One of the most interesting aspects of women’s legal status in the nineteenth century is that they were able to have considerable political influence long before they had the vote. Recent years have seen a surge of interest in this phenomenon. REBECCA EDWARDS, ANGELS IN THE MACHINERY: GENDER IN AMERICAN PARTY POLITICS FROM THE CIVIL WAR TO THE PROGRESSIVE ERA (1997); JO FREEMAN, WE WILL BE HEARD: WOMEN’S STRUGGLES FOR POLITICAL POWER IN THE UNITED STATES (2008); FREEMAN, A ROOM AT A TIME: HOW WOMEN ENTERED PARTY POLITICS (2000); WE HAVE COME TO STAY: AMERICAN WOMEN AND POLITICAL PARTIES, 1880-1960 (Melanie Gustafson, Kristie Miller & Elisabeth I. Perry eds., 1999); MELANIE GUSTAFSON, WOMEN AND THE REPUBLICAN PARTY 1854-1924 ( 2001); ROBERT J. DINKEN, BEFORE EQUAL SUFFRAGE, WOMEN IN PARTISAN POLITICS FROM COLONIAL TIMES TO 1920 (1995). See also ALANA S. JEYDEL, POLITICAL WOMEN: THE WOMEN'S MOVEMENT, POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS, THE BATTLE FOR WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE AND THE ERA (2004).

Relationship with Other Movements and Causes

The women's suffrage movement was connected with many other causes and reforms. In the most basic sense, such reforms were seen as those women would seek through the use of the franchise. But there were philosphical and strategic bonds as well between suffrage and other social reform movements including, of course, the broader women's rights movement, the black civil rights movement, and the temperance and prohibition movements. See also, Note; The Women's Movement, Free Love and Spiritualism (Chapter One) and Woman Suffrage and Public Defense Chapter Seven).

Suffrage and Other Women's Rights

On the connection between reform movements and women’s rights, MARY JO BUHLE, WOMEN AND AMERICAN SOCIALISM, 1870-1920 (1981) is a classic work. On the interconnection of suffragism with earlier nineteenth century social reform movements (other than abolitionism), see KEITH MELDER, BEGINNINGS OF SISTERHOOD: THE AMERICAN WOMAN’S RIGHTS MOVEMENT, 1800-1850 (1997). REBECCA EDWARDS, ANGELS IN THE MACHINERY: GENDER IN AMERICAN PARTY POLITICS FROM THE CIVIL WAR TO THE PROGRESSIVE ERA (1997) explains the involvement of women in many reform movements and in party politics long before they had the vote. Edwards also connects women’s suffrage with other populist reforms in the west--which she suggests was a staging ground for national reform--in Pioneers at the Polls: Woman Suffrage in the West, in VOTES FOR WOMEN: THE STRUGGLE FOR SUFFRAGE REVISITED 90, 90-91 (Jean H. Baker ed., 2002). See also PEGGY PASCOE, RELATIONS OF RESCUE: THE SEARCH FOR FEMALE MORAL AUTHORITY IN THE AMERICAN WEST, 1874-1939 (1990) (highlighting women’s part in reforms devoted to rescuing other women). MEREDITH TAX, THE RISING OF THE WOMEN: FEMINIST SOLIDARITY AND CLASS CONFLICT 1880-1917 (1981) delineates the connection of the suffragists with various labor movements and with socialism. Sherry J. Katz discusses the impact of socialism on California women’s suffrage in Redefining ‘The Political’: Socialist Women and Party Politics in California, 1900-1920, in WE HAVE COME TO STAY, AMERICAN WOMEN AND POLITICAL PARTIES, 1886-1960 (Melanie Gustafson, Kristie Miller & Elisabeth I. Perry eds., 1999). See also Sherry Katz, Frances Nacke Noel and "Sister Movements": Socialism, Feminism, and Trade Unionism in Los Angeles, 1909-1916, 67 CAL. HIST. 180, 181-89 (1988).

Suffrage and Black Civil Rights Movement

On suffrage and and the black civil rights movement, see BLANCHE GLASSMAN HERSH, THE SLAVERY OF SEX: FEMINIST ABOLITIONISTS IN AMERICA (1978); JEAN FAGAN YELLIN, WOMEN & SISTERS: THE ANTISLAVERY FEMINISTS IN AMERICAN CULTURE (1998). Louise Michele Newman suggests that despite its emergence from the abolitionist movement, feminism’s understanding of citizenship was racist at the root. LOUISE MICHELLE NEWMAN, WHITE WOMEN’S RIGHTS: THE RACIAL ORIGINS OF FEMINISM IN THE UNITED STATES (1999). In her biography of Stanton, Lori Ginzburg shows how her positions on race harmed the women’s movement historically and the bad effects of racists arguments continue to this day. She pins the main blame for the National Association’s use of racist arguments on Stanton, though others used them widely in the seventies and eighties. LORI GINZBURG, ELIZABETH CADY STANTON: AN AMERICAN LIFE 129-31 (2009). A more balanced view of where the "ascriptive" (ascribing traits and arguments for rights on shared traits of gender, race, etc.) of the suffragists, and Stanton in particular fit into the women's rights ideology is SUE DAVIS, THE POLITICAL THOUGHT OF ELIZABETH CADY STANTON; WOMEN'S RIGHTS AND THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION (2008).

For black suffragists, winning the vote was only part of a larger struggle for racial justice. On black women’s involvement in suffrage movements, see ROSALYN TERBORG-PENN, AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN IN THE STRUGGLE FOR THE VOTE, 1850-1920 (1998); MARTHA S. JONES, ALL BOUND UP TOGETHER: THE WOMAN QUESTION IN AFRICAN AMERICAN PUBLIC CULTURE, 1830-1900 (2007).

Suffrage and Temperance and Prohibition

The temperance and prohibition movements were particularly appealing to women because of the effect of excessive alcohol drinking on family and work life and were thought by many to be a more appropriate reform activity than the fight for suffrage. Susan Anthony and other suffrage leaders moved to ally with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in the early 1890s, and events in California mirrored the national scene—as described in Chapter Six. See RUTH BORDIN, FRANCES WILLARD: A BIOGRAPHY (1986); RUTH BORDIN, WOMEN AND TEMPERANCE: THE QUEST FOR POWER AND LIBERTY, 1873-1900, at 7 (1981); MORTON KELLER, AFFAIRS OF STATE: PUBLIC LIFE IN LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY AMERICA 122-36 (1977) (describing the post-war quest for the good society, free of vice and intemperance); SUZANNE M. MARILLEY, WOMAN SUFFRAGE AND THE ORIGINS OF LIBERAL FEMINISM IN THE UNITED STATES 1820-1920, at 118-129 (1996). There is a rich literature on the arguments and campaigns of the two movements. See BARBARA LEE EPSTEIN, THE POLITICS OF DOMESTICITY: WOMEN, EVANGELISM, AND TEMPERANCE IN NINETEENTH CENTURY AMERICA 102 (1981) (discussing temperance crusaders' arguments about victimization of women by men who drank); JOSEPH R. GUSFELD, SYMBOLIC CRUSADE, STATUS POLITICS AND THE AMERICAN TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT 91-105 (1963) (including many references to suffrage); CAROL MATTINGLY, WELL-TEMPERED WOMEN: NINETEENTH CENTURY TEMPERANCE RHETORIC 144 (1998); CATHERINE GILBERT MURDOCK, DOMESTICATING DRINK: WOMEN, MEN AND ALCOHOL (1998); THOMAS R. PEGRAM, BATTLING DEMON RUM: THE STRUGGLE FOR A DRY AMERICA 1800-1933, at 73 (1998).

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