The Long & Winding Road to Women’s Rights
Updated February, 2021
As Women’s History Month returns in March, 2021, students can celebrate the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. They can also look back to the preceding struggle, including the march by thousands of suffragists down Pennsylvania Avenue on March 3, 1913 (24 photos). Many of the 500,000 spectators were not supportive of the nonviolent protest, injuring 200 marchers and sending 100 of them to the hospital.
During March 2013 thousands gathered in Washington, DC to commemorate those marchers who took the struggle for women’s right to vote from the states to the federal government, rallying for a constitutional amendment.
Winning the Right to Vote
For a succinct treatment of the suffrage struggle with options for student research as well as an infographic (at left) showing the states which voted to allow women to vote before the 19th Amendment, see iCivics.
The History Channel outlines the pre-1920 efforts of women’s organizations including Alice Paul and the other suffragists who picketed the White House and were imprisoned (and at times force-fed during hunger strikes) in the years following the 1913 march.
History.com also provides a photo of the imprisonment of suffrage leader Lucy Burns and notes that “Burns served more jail time during her six sentences than any other suffrage prisoner, and she helped instigate hunger strikes to protest the suffragists’ treatment.” The Library of Congress quotes another suffragist on forced feeding: “The drums of the ears seem to be bursting and there is a horrible pain in the throat and breast. The tube is pushed down twenty inches; [it] must go below the breastbone.”
News of the women’s treatment as well as changing tactics in following years helped lead to ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. For example,
The year 1915 marked a whole new level of activism for the suffrage movement in the U.S. Suffragist used new strategies like casting the Women’s Liberty Bell, creating the torch of Freedom, and launching a flotilla of woman suffrage boats in New York Harbor. Still, male voters in all four prominent eastern states (Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) rejected the idea of women having the right to vote. It is inspiring to note however, that just two years later, in 1917, New Yorkers launched yet another battle that succeeded. It was a victory that gave momentum to the national amendment just three years later.” …from The National Women’s History Alliance’s 2015 Gazette
The National Women’s History Alliance presents themes each year as the group recognizes women leaders. In 2021 the theme is Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silenced, a continuation of the 2020 theme. The annual gazette offers biographical sketches of women on the front lines of issues of race, national origin, disability, gender identity, homelessness, socioeconomic status and others.
Among the NWHA’s other helpful resources are Honor a Suffragist Near You, a clickable monthly calendar of women’s history including short bios of many activists, and an essay outlining the effort to establish Women’s History month. The site also links to annual gazettes featuring trailblazing women in such areas as labor and business, public service and government, and the arts.
On August 18, 1920 Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to vote for the 19th Amendment, reaching the required number of states for ratification. U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby proclaimed the passage of the Amendment on August 26, now celebrated as Women’s Equality Day. To see when other states ratified (as late as 1984), visit Wikipedia’s post on the the 19th Amendment.
A 2019 NYT article, Early Feminists Issued a Declaration of Independence. Where Is It Now? by Liz Robbins and Sam Roberts, not only reviews the history around the writing of the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments, but also reveals how current historians interact.
More History Centered Resources
Students who want to understand the place of women in military endeavors can start with Women Warriors from 3500 BC to the 20th Century, a website by Nicky Saunders. The brief descriptions Saunders has gathered by century not only give a very wide overview of women fighters but also can serve as a jumping off point for further study.
In the NYT article, The Many Roles of Women in War: Sniper, Pilot, Death Camp Guard by Navy veteran Andrea N. Goldstein, students can discover how women in and out of service, in the US and beyond, responded to WW II.
Elsewhere, the Library of Congress hosts Women’s History Month for Teachers, with links to several federal agencies. as well as an American Memory collection of primary resources. In the Census Bureau’s 2020 Women’s History Month “Facts for Features” students will find overall stats on employment, education, businesses, and more, including links to more detailed information. For students who want a sense of place to amplify their image of historical women in America, the National Park Service provides a 2018 website on women’s history in America as well as a detailed park-related webpage.
The White House hosts First Ladies’ biographies. The US House of Representatives offers detailed essays on the four waves of women elected to the body and on individuals members. The US Senate includes a collection of brief biographies of the 51 women who have served in the Senate along with a few essays, one focusing on Margaret Chase Smith who was the first woman to serve in both houses.
A Look at Women in the Arts
To integrate the arts into literacy, visit the National Museum of Women in the Arts which opened in Washington, DC, in 1987. In addition to the See for Yourself cards featuring images and general questions (including a collection of Madonnas), take a look at ABC – arts, books, creativity. That curriculum for fourth and fifth graders offers a series of detailed lessons, each featuring a medium, which together can result in students creating their own art books. The curriculum could be a project to plan during a break or over the summer.
To celebrate Women’s History Month in 2021, middle grades teacher Kasey Short offers a list of nonfiction and fiction books representing a wide range of girl’s and women’s voices and experiences. She notes all students benefit from reading about smart, brave women who make positive impacts.
Women Scientists through History
AAAS’s Science NetLinks hosts a Women’s History Month collection which highlights women in science as well as puts women in the context of science. Look down to “Tools” for most of the middle grades resources, including 4000 years of women scientists and mathematicians in brief sketches from the University of Alabama’s Department of Physics & Astronomy and 20 recent women leaders from NASA.
The Biography Channel provides sketches of varying length on well-known women scientists, many of them American and some with videos.
Time Magazine Recognizes 100 Women of the Year
“In 1999, Man of the Year gave way to Person of the Year. While the name rightly changed, too often the choice was the same. With this 100 Women of the Year project, we’re spotlighting influential women who were often overshadowed….”
The project adds 89 women to the 11 who were named Persons of the Year in recent years. The covers capture the changing magazine designs since 1920. Online each cover is linked to a biographical essay. Time also describes the month’s long project’s background. Lilly Ledbetter, pictured below, is featured on the 2007 cover.
Women’s history on social media
To find Women’s History Month on Twitter, follow #wmnhist, #STEMfem. Also, @Feministory. Students may be gleaning some history and current events ideas @teenvogue shared by the magazine. Among the Pinterest collections is one from the Smithsonian.
Front page: A suffragist wearing costume of “Columbia” in front of the Treasury Building, March 3, 1913, Washington, D.C, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-70382
24 photos: 100 Years Ago, The 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade by Alan Taylor, The Atlantic, March 1, 2013.
Sally Ride, Photo from NASA
President Obama Signing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act in 2009. White House video.