1920–Women’s Suffrage and the Campaign
From COMM 458 student Josh Birch:
One of the most unique things about the 1920 election was that for the first time, women had the ability to vote. The process leading to the ability to vote had been a long and stressful one for women who sought after equal rights. Although the process wasn’t easy, in the months leading up to the 1920 election, women finally got their rightful ability to vote in the election.
On a timeline displaying events in women suffrage, I found a few dates to be incredibly interesting. The first of which occurred in 1776 when Abigail Adams asked her husband, John Adams, to remember women when ratifying new laws in America. For the next several decades, women had to put their concerns in the hands of men, whom they hoped would look after their best interest.
In 1848, the First Women’s Rights convention took place in Seneca Falls, New York. In it, Elizabeth Cady Stanton proposed equal suffrage to be extended to women. However, when their demands of gaining voting rights were ignored, women took matters in their own hand. For example, in 1870 the Grimke sisters led 42 other women in Massachusetts to vote, only to find out that their ballots would be completely ignored. In 1872, Susan B. Anthony and several other women were actually arrested for voting, casting even more attention on the issue.
Finally, on August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. The piece of rhetoric I choose to represent this milestone was a cartoon that appeared in the St. Louis Star. The cartoon depicts a woman wearing a dress intended to represent the national suffrage movement. On the back of the dress, it says national suffrage, and in her left hand she is holding what appears to be a purse saying ratification. Having the national suffrage movement, represented by the dress, and the ratification process, represented by the purse, so close to each other showed that women were on the brink of gaining the right to vote. The woman is struggling to button the last few buttons of the dress, representing how close women were to gaining voting rights, but how difficult the final push was going to be. This great difficulty is expressed in the cartoon as the woman’s face is scrunched and there is sweat pouring off her because of the work she was exerting. The cartoon states, “the last few buttons are always the hardest.” Each of the buttons that were already fastened represented the steps that previous women had taken to gain the right to vote. In fact, the amendment itself was named the Susan B. Anthony amendment because of the hard work she put in to make it possible.
Historically, this cartoon depicts the defining moment that made all of the hard work that women had done to gain the right to vote worth it. The timeline discussed earlier shows just how long it took women to gain this right, and that it was just over night or in one year that this change occurred. Traces of the issue can be seen dating all the way back to the 1700s. This amendment, in some ways, socially put women on the same level as men as now they both had a vote in an election which could define future policy. Therefore, this wasn’t just a historical matter, but a social and cultural one, as for the first time, women were recognized as equal to men, even if just by having the same right to vote.
However, possibly the most important impact of women voting came in a political sense. No longer could men running for office ignore the rights or the needs of women. They now had to listen to the concerns of women, and address them in a manner in which could win them votes. In reality, the number of women who now had the right to vote could swing a close election from one candidate to the other. Therefore, politicians had to make an effort to reach out to women to ensure that they would satisfied with the policy issues and stances they were running on.
It isn’t often that an event in an election year outshines the election itself. However, in 1920, this is exactly what happened. Giving the right to vote to women would have lasting impacts even to this day. This event was a historic, cultural, social, and political one. It was because of this that so much attention was given to it, and political cartoons like the one I picked were created.
Denny, David Anthony. “Historian Stresses Importance of Women’s Suffrage.” America.gov Archive. 27 March 2007. http://www.america.gov/st/peopleplace-english/2007/March/20070315164953adynned0.5906488.html.
“Timeline of Women’s Suffrage in the United States.” 20 November 2008. http://dpsinfo.com/women/history/timeline.html.