The Women Who Came Before Hillary–A Look at Leaders of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement

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American Women's Suffrage Movement

Source: ( REUTERS/Faith Ninivaggi )

Hillary Rodham Clinton cemented a firm place for herself in the pages of history by becoming the first presidential nominee of the US Democratic Party.  This is quite a feat, she has managed to achieve something a lot of women before her have set out to do but couldn’t make it all the way. The Center for American Women and Politics created a list of the most notable contenders past for the presidential and vice presidential post.

It is hard to imagine that some of the earliest of the women on the list were nominated at a time when women didn’t have the right to vote. Back then American women lived in a completely different reality, they has to struggle for decades for enfranchisement. Their struggles took on the form of a nation-wide movement commonly referred to as the Suffrage movement. The proponents of the movement were known as “suffragettes”.

Let’s turn back the clock and learn about the incredible women who made it possible for Hillary and all American women to stand tall.

The Fight For The Right To Vote

These women were at the forefront of the women’s suffrage movement, they were the heroes who fought the ultimate fight for rights and won in spite of tremendous odds.

The social dynamics of the American society during the 1800’s were vastly different. The general attitude towards women’s right to vote can be judged from this quote by Thomas Jefferson,

“Our good ladies, I trust, have been too wise to wrinkle their foreheads with politics. They are contented to soothe and calm the minds of their husbands returning ruffled from political debate.”

Women refused to be treated as second-class citizens and sought to change archaic traditions. Tales of their struggles and courage could fill entire volumes. Millions of women participated in the movement whose combined efforts made the movement successful.

Carrie Chapman Catt, the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, succinctly stated the entire movement as follows:

Here we mention just a few of the amazing women who spearheaded the struggle.

1. Victoria Woodhull

Victoria Woodhull

The first woman to run for president of the United States, unthinkable for a woman living during the 1870s, she faced the worst of odds.

She was a true visionary with intelligence and wit to charm anyone she met. Woodhull wanted equal rights for women and eventually decided that she would be the best leader and decided to run for office. She summed up her decision to run for president in the following words:

“I now announce myself as candidate for the Presidency. I anticipate criticism; but however unfavorable I trust that my sincerity will not be called into question”

This action and the subsequent campaign created a lot of controversy, Victoria actually spent election day in jail. She faced constant personal attacks and was referred to as “Wicked Woodhull”.

At that time equal rights for women was an alien concept, she faced opposition wherever she went. Ultimately the historic election campaign bankrupted her, she lost her business and was forced to flee to England.

2. Susan B. Anthony

Susan B Anthony

Susan Brownell Anthony was the leader of the largest national suffrage organization, National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She was one of the most famous activists of the women’s suffrage, she was also a teacher, lecturer and reformer.

Anthony founded the American Equal Rights Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association. The latter was a rival organization of the American Woman Suffrage Association. These later on merged to form the NAWSA.

She was arrested in when she (illegally) cast a vote in the presidential election of 1872. She defended her action in court by saying that according to the US constitution, women already had the right to vote.

3. Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a leader of the women’s rights movement and an abolitionist. Stanton worked closely with Susan B. Anthony to bring about revolutionary changes in women’s place in society.

Her eloquently written work, Declaration of Sentiments, is an important piece of feminist literature. Stanton also remained the president of the National Woman Suffrage Association for about 20 years. She was an outspoken and strong individual, addressing a wide spectrum of issues in her speeches. After the Civil War she spoke out against slavery but later concentrated her efforts on women’s suffrage. Stanton deserves a place among the truly remarkable women in history.

4. Belva Ann Lockwood

Belva Ann Lockwood

Belva Lockwood was a lawyer and a women’s rights activist. She was the first woman to argue a case in front of the US Supreme Court. One of her major achievements is the successful lobbying of a bill which guaranteed equal pay to female employees of the federal government.  

One of her most famous cases in the Supreme Court involved advocating that the US government pay off the debt owed to the native Cherokee Indians. She managed to secure an award of $5 million for the Cherokees.

Lockwood remained active in peace and women’s rights movements throughout her life. In her efforts to secure equal rights for women, she ran for president in the years 1884 and 1888. Knowing she wasn’t considered a serious contender for the post, she nonetheless managed to deliver her message of minority rights and women’s rights to a wider audience while campaigning.

She advocated peace and was staunchly against violence.

 “If nations could only depend upon fair and impartial judgments in a world court of law, they would abandon the senseless, savage practice of war.”

5. Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard

Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard

Frances Willard was a champion of women’s rights and suffrage. She was also and educator and played a major role in overall social reform. Willard became the president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1879, a post she held until her death. Under her leadership the WCTU brought about social reforms through education, publishing and lobbying.

Willard was a strong advocate of labor rights and prison reforms. Her ultimate goal was to see a global acceptance and guarantee of women’s rights.

The Achievements Of The Suffrage Movement

The success of the movement came in fits and starts over a period of several decades. The right to vote was secured in various localities and states. Eventually the main goal of the suffrage was achieved in the year 1920, when the all American women were granted the same voting rights as men. The Nineteenth Amendment became a part of the United States Constitution on August 26, 1920. It states the following:

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

The suffragettes faced enormous challenges at every turn and faced it all with grace and grit. Therein lies a lesson for the all the women of world.

“History Made”—Hillary Clinton’s Stunning Achievement

Hillary Clinton gained an epic victory for the women of America by becoming the first female presidential nominee of a major political party. This is a historic achievement which would have made the suffragettes proud. The decades of struggle for equality in all walks of life reached a crescendo when Clinton clinched the nomination. Her nomination has given the November showdown between Democrats and Republicans an interesting dimension, regardless of who wins, Clinton or Trump, Hillary has already stepped in the pages of history books.

She encouraged the future female leaders with the following words, “If there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say I may become the first woman president but one of you is next."

Hillary Clinton's

Source: ( Hillary Clinton/Twitter )

About The Author

Kelvin Stiles is a tech enthusiast and works as a marketing consultant at SurveyCrest – FREE online survey software and publishing tools for academic and business use. He is also an avid blogger and a comic book fanatic.