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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.

The suffrage fight began long before Jane Addams entered the movement, but Addams was one of its most prominent champions in the 20th century. While it took decades of struggle to achieve national suffrage, women secured the vote at local, county, and state levels across the country. In order to convince those who were against woman suffrage that it was necessary, suffragists argued that women could use the vote to protect the home and domestic sphere. A woman voter could protect children, health services, education, and other issues related to the home and family sphere.

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 that political power. Working women deserved the same say over their living and working conditions and the future that the country held for their children. 

Arguing for the vote out of sense of fairness and equality was not enough. To prove that women needed the vote, Addams and other suffragists spoke extensively on the many social issues that could be resolved if women had a voice in government. Women were advocates in the temperance, anti-child labor, education, and juvenile court movements long before they were able to vote. While they were able to make significant impacts through private activism, they could not pressure politicians effectively without the threat of the ballot. Legislators also passed legislation that affected the private sphere without understanding how it truly affected women and children. Allowing women to come to the table and have a voice in legislation meant better legislation for women and children.

Suffragists had different approaches to how they were going to get the vote, which lead to conflicts within the movement. One segment of the suffrage movement was more militant -- with brazen actions that sparked national conversation, but sometimes led them to prison where they faced terrible conditions. Others, like Addams, were more moderate, preferring to lobby for political change, despite the long time that it might take before it would succeed.

Women were eventually granted the right to vote on August 18, 1920.

Suggested 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:

Mary Downs and Leah Weinryb Grohsgal, From the Local to the Global: America's Newspapers Chronicle the Struggle for Women's Rights  National Endowment for the Humanities 

National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection Library of Congress

US Suffrage Movement Timeline, 1792 to present University of Rochester, Susan B. Anthony Center.

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.