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What is the 19th Amendment? - Definition, Summary & Date Ratified

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  • 0:00 Defining the 19th Amendment
  • 1:13 Historical Background
  • 3:42 A New Century, A New Momentum
  • 6:22 Ratification at Last
  • 6:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Cote

Katie teaches high school social studies and has a master's degree in history from Providence College.

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees all women the right to vote. Let's take a look at the lengthy and arduous path traveled by women seeking not only the right to vote, but also acknowledgment of citizenship.

Defining the 19th Amendment

Women aren't as intelligent as men.

Women should maintain their positions inside the home and leave the politics to men.

Women are more delicate than men and therefore not equal.

These statements might seem ridiculous to us now, but are all examples of reasons that both men and women once used to keep women from being allowed to vote in the United States. It wasn't until August of 1920 that women were officially granted the right to vote in the form of an amendment to the Constitution.

The 19th Amendment was the result of decades of efforts from women from all walks of life. It states:

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.

Although many people take the right to vote for granted, it is important to understand why the right to vote is such a symbolic right in a democracy. History shows that reformers went through many heroic efforts to achieve this right and to create a society in which democracy was not just mere rhetoric, but a valued and practiced principle.

Women protesting for the right to vote
Women Picketers

Historical Background

The Women's Suffrage Movement was the fight for women to have the right to vote in the United States. The right to vote is not just the ability to choose leaders. The right to vote is the symbol that you, as an individual, matter in your nation. It gives you a voice in the matters that affect your life; it is the recognition of you as a citizen. So, when women were denied this basic civil right in early America, it was really only a matter of time before they organized to fight this inequality.

The fight on the national stage began in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention. The Seneca Falls Convention was the name of the first meeting to make woman suffrage into a national issue. The meeting was put together by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her friend Lucretia Mott. Stanton led a group of delegates to create a 'Declaration of Sentiments', modeled off of the Declaration of Independence, which declared equality for women and, more specifically, that women should have the right to vote. Though the idea was mocked by many at first, women's conferences continued to grow and others joined the cause, such as activist Susan B. Anthony.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
Stanton and Anthony

With the start of the Civil War, many women chose to put the movement on hold while they turned their attention to the division of the country. Following the war, many women were torn about their support for the 15th Amendment. This amendment would grant black men the right to vote.

In the past, the black community and the woman suffrage movement had supported each other. But when this amendment failed to extend voting rights to women of any skin color, Stanton and other leaders of the women's suffrage movement withdrew their support. The 15th amendment was ratified in 1870.

In the face of this setback, Stanton and Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. The goal was to create a national amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote. That same year, the American Woman Suffrage Association, another woman suffrage group, was formed. The goal for this group was to gain the right to vote for women by ratifying individual state constitutions.

By 1878, the suffrage movement had gained enough support to put an amendment on the Congress floor for debate. Though the amendment was struck down by the Senate, the suffrage movement did gain a victory in 1869 when Wyoming Territory granted women the right to vote.

A New Century, A New Momentum

Following the congressional defeat, the two suffrage groups merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association, or NAWSA. The goal of the newly formed group was to fight for woman suffrage on a state-by-state basis. In 1900, as Stanton and Anthony had aged, a new leader in the fight for woman suffrage emerged, Carrie Chapman Catt.

A photograph of Carrie Chapman Catt and one of her inspirational quotes
Catt Quote

Following the deaths of Stanton and Anthony in 1902 and 1906 respectively, NAWSA met with some challenges but overcame them with smashing success between 1910 and 1918, as more than 15 states extended voting rights to women.

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