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The Portrait Monument, U.S. Capitol
The Portrait Monument, U.S. Capitol

Analyze the goals and effect of the Antebellum Women’s Suffrage movement.


Focus Question: What were the goals and accomplishments of the women's suffrage movement in the years before the Civil War?


The image to the left represents three women involved in the Women's Suffrage Movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott. It was the work of Adelaide Johnson, circa 1920


Topics on this page

A. Background

B. Key Figures

  • Fanny Wright
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton
    • Solitude of Self Speech
  • Lucretia Mott
  • Susan B. Anthony
  • Sojourner Truth
  • Mary Wollstonecraft
    • African American Suffragists

C. Seneca Falls Convention, 1848

D. Effects of the Movement

E. Women's Rights Groups


The goal of the women's suffrage movement was for women to obtain the same rights as men.
  • This included the right to vote, to keep property and wages, to a complete education, and other rights as detailed in the Declaration of Sentiments.
  • Though suffrage was not obtained completely until 1920, great strides were made before the Civil War.
  • A number of important books by female writers encouraged the philosophical dialogue and inspired famous leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
  • The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 organized suffragists and set goals for the movement. Women in New York and Massachusetts gained property rights, and women in the Kansas and Wyoming Territories gained some voting rights. A number of women's rights groups formed, creating an organized force.
  • Alliances between suffragists and abolitionists formed, strengthening the general belief in equality. These accomplishments helped improve the social standing of women at the time, and produced momentum which allowed it to gain strength after the civil war.
external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline2_rus.svg.pngTimeline: A History of American Suffragist Movement

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline2_rus.svg.pngThe Women's Suffrage Timeline includes links to key primary sources.

Female_Rose.pngLiberty Rhetoric and 19th Century American Women, a website maintained by Catherine Lavender, College of Staten Island, includes sections on liberty rhetoric during the revolutionary period, during the textile mill strikes by women during 1834 and 1836, and during the formulation of the Declaration of Sentiments in 1848.

Female_Rose.pngPBS American Experience about antebellum women's rights.

Women Working, 1800 to 1930 explores women's impact on the economic life of the United States between 1800 and the Great Depression.

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  • Women's suffrage was an issue that was also closely tied to the abolitionist movement in pre-Civil War America. Many abolitionists were also suffragists who believed in equality for all Americans. The creation of the Equal Rights Association reflecting this common goal.

  • Organizations such as the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) were concerned with several issues other than obtaining the right to vote such as the abolition of slavery, less strict divorce laws, and better birth control options for women.

  • Other organizations, such as the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) were less aggressive, and solely concerned with obtaining the right for women to vote and were not focused on other issues. Though these groups differed in strategy, their ultimate goal of the suffrage was the same.

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Female_Rose.pngMore resources from PBS and here are more related to the documentary

For more on changing roles for women, read The Cult of Domesticity and True Womanhood.from Professor Catherine Lavender's course at the College of Staten Island.

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  • Click here for The Cult of Domesticity, links to 8 different primary sources related to women's roles . Includes writing and speeches from Catherine Beecher, Harriet Jacobs, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, among others.
  • Sarah Grimke Argues for Women's; Rights by Sarah Grimke (1837), excerpts from her collection of Letters on the Equality of the Sexes.
multicultural.pngNational Women's History Museum's exhibit on Suffrage and its link to abolition.

Key Figures

Fanny Wright

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The suffragist movement intensified in the 1820s when Fanny Wright wrote two books on the subject.

Although her books received little public attention, her ideas motivated several other key players to mobilize and begin working on suffragist movements. She became an established social reformer in the United States, where she argued for suffrage, emancipation of slaves, and free education.

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Click here to read Fanny Wright's biography and resources for teaching.

Click here for a free google e-book version of one of Wright's 1820s publications.




Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth_Stanton.jpg
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton began her career as a human rights activist with her husband as an abolitionist. Like many other suffragists, her dedication to universal human rights prompted her to pursue several issues outside of suffrage.

In 1848, Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. There, a resolution was drawn up that stated the specific rights that the women wished to obtain.

Quill_and_ink.pngClick here and here to read more about Stanton.
Multimedia.pngVideo biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Click here to read Stanton's obituary from the New York Times.

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15 Empowering Quotes from Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Lucretia Mott

Painting of Lucretia Mott, Joseph Kyle, 1842
Painting of Lucretia Mott, Joseph Kyle, 1842

Lucretia Mott was a women's rights pioneer and anti-slavery advocate. She became the first president of the American Equal Rights Association, where she fought for suffrage, education and aid for both women and blacks.

Mott was famous for her oratorical skill, which was featured prominently at the Seneca Falls Convention.
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Click her to read an excerpt from her Discourse on Woman (1849).

Click here to read Lucretia Mott's biography.





Susan B. Anthony

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Susan B. Anthony


Susan B. Anthony began as a temperance crusader but after meeting Stanton in 1851 she threw herself into the women's rights movement. She worked closely with Stanton throughout the 1860s.

Together, they wrote the weekly newspaper, The Revolution, and organized the National Women's Suffrage Association.

For more on Susan B. Anthony, see USII.9.

multicultural.pngLearn more about Susan B. Anthony and other important women from the Susan B. Anthony Museum and House website.


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Video Biography of Susan B. Anthony.

podcast icon.pngThis podcast on Susan B. Anthony discusses some of the controversy attributed to her, and her narrow-focused view of the women's suffrage movement.

primary_sources.PNGClick here to read a speech given by Anthony in 1875, called "Social Purity."


Sojourner Truth

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Sojourner Truth


Freed from slavery in 1827, Sojourner Truth became an eloquent speaker not only for abolition, but for women's rights as well. A version of her speech at the 1851 Women's rights convention in Akron, Ohio became a cornerstone of the women's movement. Known as the "Ain't I A Women" speech, this version is believed to be a rewriting of the Truth's actual remarks.

Multimedia.pngClick here to see Alfre Woodard reading Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I A Woman?" speech.

primary_sources.PNGSojourner Truth Speeches and Commentary


Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft was a British writer, philosopher and political theorist best known for her book Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).

The Rights of Women argued that men were not naturally superior to women, but it appeared so because men had greater access to education. She argued that women deserve the same rights as men and should be treated as companion to men, not property of them.

The book was influential to women suffragists in the antebellum period.

primary_sources.PNGVindication of the Right of Women online, including a searchable index.



African American Suffragists


There were many more notable women associated with the suffrage movement, but unfortunatively, many of their legacies were either overlooked or omitted from historical accounts, such as History of Woman Suffrage.
  • Most significantly were African-American suffragists
    • This list provides photos and backgrounds of some of these forgotten revolutionaries.




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Seneca Falls Convention - 1848


The Seneca Falls Convention was the first women's rights convention ever to be assembled in the Western world.
  • It was organized in western New York by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and a collection of Mott's fellow Quakers.
    • The convention lasted six days and was attended by 300 people.
  • At the convention, Stanton unveiled a seminal work in American history, the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions.
    • The Declaration was modeled after the Declaration of Independence, with a list of the grievances caused by men and inequality, which paralleled those caused by the King of England.
    • It was followed by a list of resolutions which detailed the demands for female equality at home, in the workplace, in education, and elsewhere.
    • It also included a demand for suffrage which was strange and unusual at the time, and thus caused controversy.
    • Even Mott initially recommended the removal of the demand, fearing it was too radical for the early movement.
  • Famed orator Frederick Douglass attended the convention and spoke on behalf of the Declaration and the inclusion of the suffrage resolution.
    • After the discussion, its inclusion was accepted, and the document was signed by 100 people, mostly women.
    • The Seneca Falls Convention and the conventions that followed were often ridiculed at the time. Today, it is considered the starting point of the women's suffrage movement.

primary_sources.PNGRead the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions.

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multicultural.pngClick here to read about the movement from the History Channel.


Effects of the Movement

Political Cartoon Opposing Women's Rights, 1849, George Cruikshank, Comic Alamanck
Political Cartoon Opposing Women's Rights, 1849, George Cruikshank, Comic Alamanck

Though universal suffrage would not be obtained in the lifetime of these famous suffragists, the beginnings of the women's rights movement began to lead to a sea change in thought. The moral regard for equality started to become commonplace, and abolitionists and suffragists alike made great gains.

  • In the territory of Wyoming gave women the right to vote in 1869, and in the Kansas territory, women were allowed to vote in some municipal elections.
  • Conventions like the Seneca Falls Convention and the creation of a number of women's rights group gave the movement a stronger presence and established an organized front.
  • Women began entering into fields previously dominated by men, becoming more vocal in social in political issues.
  • Oberlin College opened its doors in 1833, becoming the first college to admit both African-Americans and women.
  • The National Labor Union backed equal pay for equal work, and Congress passed a law in 1872 granting such.
  • Women also gained property rights in Massachusetts and New York during this time, which allowed women to keep ownership of property in their name upon marriage, and to obtain land during marriage without the inclusion of husbands.

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While this isn't necessarily an effect of the suffrage movement, the pivotal role the bicycle played in the women's movement shouldn't be overlooked. Bicycles provided women with independence for the first time, and Susan B. Anthony even said that the advent of the bicycle "has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world." To watch a short video and read a brief article about this, click here.

Women's Rights Groups


During the movement, there were two rival women's rights groups who differed in strategy.
  • The National Women's Suffrage Association (NWSA), led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, promoted suffrage via a constitutional amendment.
    • They also refused to endorse the 15th amendment unless it included women. This was considered a radical approach, and the NWSA was often considered to be more aggressive and militant.
  • The American Women's Suffrage Association (AWSA) was led by staunch abolitionists who supported the 15th amendment, and believed suffrage was more likely is introduced on a state-by-state basis.
    • It was led by Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe.In 1890, the NWSA and AWSA decided that it would be more efficient to combine forces and form the new suffragist movement group called the National American Women Suffrage Association.
    • Together, the group wrote and spoke to state legislature, strengthening the movement and becoming a major force.

multicultural.pngClick here for the Library of Congress collection of 167 primary sources from the members of the NAWSA.

primary_sources.PNGOn August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was passed in the U.S. Constitution that granted women the right to vote. In gaining the right to vote, women and men began to be seen more an equals in political and social spheres. The women's suffrage movement evolved to tackle other women's social issues, and it continues today.

external image Red_apple.jpgAn overview of Antebellum Reform from the College Board AP program, including lesson plans.
Multimedia.pngClick here to watch a crash course on the movement.
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  • This link has information specifically about African American Women during the Women's Suffrage Movement.
  • This link is from Wesleyan University on the connections between the Civil Rights Movement and the Women's Suffrage Movement.


Works Cited

American Experience. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/lincolns/wworld/es_antebellum.html

Fanny Wright. Retrieved April 19, 2007, from Spartacus Schoolnet Web site: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/REwright.htm

Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Retrieved April 19, 2007, from Spartacus Schoolnet Web site: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAWstanton.htm

Women's Suffrage. Retrieved April 19, 2007, from Spartacus Schoolnet Web site: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAsuffrage.htm

American Experience http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/lincolns/wworld/es_antebellum.html

See also, The Antebellum Women's Rights Movement: A Brief History by Diane Eickhoff