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Woman Suffrage

"The new demand of women for political enfranchisement comes at a time when unsatisfactory and degraded social conditions are held responsible for so much wretchedness and when the fate of all the unfortunate, the suffering, and the criminal, is daily forced upon woman's attention in painful and intimate ways. At the same moment, governments all over the world are insisting that it is their function, and theirs alone, so to regulate social and industrial conditions that a desirable citizenship may be secured." Jane Addams, "The Larger Aspects of the Woman's Movement," November, 1914.

Suffrage was a battle for women long before Jane Addams, but Addams helped champion these efforts into the 20th century.  While it took decades of struggle to achieve national suffrage, women were able to secure this right at local, county, and state levels across the country. In order to convince those who were against woman suffrage that it was necessary, one of the major arguments made by suffragists was how women could use the vote to help protect the private sphere. With the vote, women could influence politics in effort to protect children, health services, education, and other aspects related to what was considered a woman’s role in society.

In an effort to spread the spirit of civic duty and suffrage, Addams lectured at several colleges, including Mount Holyoke and Rockford College. College educated women were important to building the suffrage movement because their education gave them the respectability and authority to take a stance on topics like public service, education, and health services. College educated women were a voice of reason and respectability within their communities, so they had some power, even without the vote. In Addams’ opinion, it was especially important that working women gain the ballot because they lacked the power of college educated women. Working women deserved to have power over the conditions they lived in, the conditions they worked in, and the future that the country held for their children. Without the vote, working women lacked power in all of these areas.

Suffragists had different approaches to how they were going to get the vote, which lead to conflicts within the suffrage movement. The conflict would also affect Addams’ involvement with the Progressive Party. Some people, including NAWSA officers like Anna Howard Shaw, did not believe that Addams should support the Progressive Party because the suffrage plank was perceived as ingenuine. Within the press, Ida Hasted Harper was critical of the suffrage plank and believed that Addams and other Progressive supporters were “tricked into” supporting Roosevelt. Addams’ involvement with the Progressive Party was also an issue because she was breaking the long-standing tradition of non-partisan activism. As a supporter of the Progressive Party, Addams made campaign speeches, which often focused on the importance of the suffrage plank and the role women could play in the future. The Progressive Party claimed that it was the first party to include the suffrage plank, which the Socialist Party disputed. The Socialist Party had included a suffrage plank for several years and believed that reformers, like Addams, should support their party instead of the Progressive Party. By including suffrage in the Progressive Party platform, there was a national conservation on the topic and women hoped that a Progressive Party win would result in federal woman suffrage.

Women would eventually win the right to vote on August 18, 1920.

Recommended primary sources:

Addams, Jane, “Why Women Should Vote, January 1910,” Jane Addams Digital Edition

Addams, Jane, “Testimony before the U. S. House Committee on the Judiciary, March 13, 1912,” Jane Addams Digital Edition

Additional resources:

National American Woman Suffrage Association Records

From the Local to the Global: America's Newspapers Chronicle the Struggle for Women's Rights

National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection

Woman Suffrage - Social Welfare History Project

Suggested Subjects:

Addams, Jane, and woman suffrage

suffrage movement

woman's movement

woman's political culture

women, equality for

People associated with woman suffrage

Organizations associated with woman suffrage

Events associated with woman suffrage

Photo credit

Chicago Daily News, Jane Addams sitting with other women in an automobile in front of the Coliseum, Chicago History Museum.