Yesterday, August 18th, marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th amendment. Cayuga County was at the center of the women’s rights movement and many of its citizens played a part in the fight, leading New York to allow women to vote three years before the 19th amendment was ratified.
The fight for suffrage began in earnest in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention. Organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Martha Coffin Wright, Mary Ann M’Clintock, and Jane Hunt, the convention marked the beginning of the formal women’s suffrage movement.
Women’s suffrage supporters worked rigorously, using parades, marches, political art, and lobbying to win their cause. Using new technologies such as motion pictures to spread their message, women were able to raise money and supporters quickly, giving them leverage to apply political pressure. These women were also savvy at marketing.
The late 1800s and early 1900s saw a growth in mass production of products, allowing suffragists to design pins, dolls, clothing, fans, and more of the like to spread their message while also funding the movement. Suffrage songs and plays, as well as massive amounts of political printings helped women permeate popular culture with their message.
Marches and theatrical parades were another popular tool of the suffrage movement. The first national march in Washington D.C. was a suffrage march. Planned by Alice Paul, the founder of the National Woman’s Party, it was held on March 3, 1913, the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration and was meant to put the Democratic Party on notice that women would not be ceasing the fight.
The first constitutional amendment for women’s suffrage introduced in 1878 failed, but because of the tireless efforts of suffrage supporters, the 1919 amendment passed both the House and Senate with the states ratifying it in 1920.
The 19th amendment did not give voting rights to all women however. Native American women were not considered U.S. citizens until 1924 and therefore could not vote and African American women, particularly in the south where a majority still lived, faced Jim Crow laws that prevented them from exercising their right to vote.
Because not all women enjoyed the right to vote, and because all women were still subject to discrimination based on their sex, suffragists kept fighting for equality after the 19th amendment was passed. Alice Paul and other members of the National Woman’s Party drafted the Equal Rights Amendment that would guarantee legal gender equality. It has yet to be ratified to the Constitution.
Cayuga County women were on the forefront of the suffrage movement. Sisters Martha Coffin Wright and Lucretia Coffin Mott helped organize the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. Martha’s daughter Eliza Wright Osborne continued her mother’s fight for women’s rights, with the Osborne family becoming one of the biggest financial supporters of the suffrage movement. Emily Howland and the female physicians of the county joined in the movement, organizing the Cayuga County Political Equality Club and gathering signatures supporting suffrage. Other well known Cayuga County families such as the Sewards were supporters of the movement, as well as hundreds of other men and women in the county.
While travel is limited and many museums remain closed, you can still find exhibits celebrating the Suffrage Movement online (click the institution name to explore):
And check out the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of places where women made history: