The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Women's suffrage

The international movement for women's suffrage, led by suffragists (commonly called suffragettes), was a social, economic and political reform movement aimed at extending the suffrage (i.e. the right to vote) to women, advocating equal suffrage (abolition of graded votes) rather than universal suffrage (abolition of discrimination due to, for instance, race), which was considered too radical. A catch phrase was "one man, one vote!"

In 1869 the Wyoming Territory in the United States became the first modern polity where equal suffrage was extended to women. The earliest country extending that right was Pitcairn Islands in 1838. In 1893, New Zealand was the first country to introduce universal suffrage, following a movement led by Kate Sheppard.



Women's suffrage has been granted (and been revoked) at various times in various countries throughout the world. In many countries women's suffrage was granted before universal suffrage, so women (and men) from certain races were still unable to vote.

The timeline below lists years when women's suffrage was enacted in various places. In many cases the first voting took place in a subsequent year.

Disclaimer: This timeline reflects a vast amount of information from the women's suffrage movement throughout the globe. In many cases, countries passed various laws which progressively gave women the right to vote. Many countries may appear on the list more than once due to the fact that restrictions on suffrage were only lifted slowly.

American women earned the right to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution
American women earned the right to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution

In the United States

In the United States it is notable that New Jersey, on becoming a member of the Federal family of States after the Revolution, placed only one restriction on the general suffrage, which was the possession of less than $250 in cash or property, the election laws referring to the voters as "he or she." In 1790 the law was revised to specifically include women, but so obnoxious did they become to the professional politicians that in 1807 the law was again revised to exclude them, obviously an unconstitutional act, since the State constitution specifically made any such change dependent on the general suffrage.

During the early part of the century, however, agitation for equal suffrage was carried on by only a few individuals. The first of these was Frances Wright, a Scottish woman who came to the country in 1826 and advocated woman suffrage in an extensive series of lectures. In 1836 Ernestine Rose, a Polish woman, came to the country and carried on a similar campaign, so effectively that she obtained a personal hearing before the New York Legislature, though her petition bore only five signatures. She was shortly afterward joined in her propaganda by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis . At about the same time, in 1840, Lydia Mott and Mary Fuller became active in Boston, the latter being the author of the book The Great Lawsuit; Man vs. Woman.

During the Civil War and immediately after little was heard of the movement, but in 1869 the National Woman Suffrage Association was formed, with the object of securing an amendment to the Constitution in favor of woman suffrage. Another organization, the American Woman Suffrage Association was also formed at this time by those who believed that suffrage should be brought about by constitutional amendments within the various States. In 1890 these two bodies united into one national organization, known as the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

In 1900 regular national headquarters were established in New York City, under the direction of the president, Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt. Three years later headquarters were removed to Warren, Ohio, but were brought back to New York shortly afterward and opened there on a much bigger scale. The organization obtained a hearing before every Congress, from 1869 to 1919.

Meanwhile local experiments in woman suffrage had already been made. The first Territorial legislature of Wyoming granted woman suffrage in 1869, Utah doing likewise in the following year. In 1890 Wyoming came into the Union as the first woman suffrage State. In 1893 voters of Colorado made that State the second of the woman suffrage States. In 1895 Utah adopted a constitution in which woman suffrage was provided for. One after another, western states granted the right of voting to their women citizens, the only opposition being presented by the liquor interests and the machine politicians. The procession was brought up with New York State, that old battle ground for suffrage, in 1917.

Meanwhile efforts to obtain an amendment to the Constitution had not abated. Finally, on January 12, 1915, a bill to this effect was brought before the House of Representatives, but was lost by a vote of 174 against 204. Again a bill was brought before the House, on January 10, 1918. On the evening before President Wilson made a strong and widely published appeal to the House to pass the bill. It was passed with one more vote than was needed to make the necessary two-thirds majority. The fight was now carried into the Senate. Again President Wilson made an appeal, and on September 30, 1918, the question was put to the vote, but two votes were lacking to make the two-thirds majority. On February 10, 1919, it was again voted upon, and then it was lost by only one vote.

There was now considerable anxiety among politicians of both parties to have the amendment passed and made effective before the general elections of 1920, so the President called a special session of Congress, and a bill introducing the amendment was brought before the House again. On May 21, 1919, it was passed, 42 votes more than necessary being obtained. On June 4, 1919, it was brought before the Senate, and after a long discussion it was passed, with 56 ayes and 25 noes. It only remained now that the necessary number of States should ratify the action of Congress. Within a few days Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, their legislatures being then in session, passed the ratifications. One after another the other States followed their examples, Tennessee being the last of the needed 36 States to ratify, in the summer of 1920. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution was now an accomplished fact and the Presidential election of November, 1920, was therefore the first occasion on which all American women were allowed to exercise their right of suffrage.

This had the effect of overriding local laws which confined the right to vote to males only. However, even now some of those laws are still on the statute book: the Alabama Constitution, for instance, still mandates that only "male citizen[s] of this state" may vote, although in practice the 19th Amendment has rendered this moot.

Countries without women's suffrage

Some countries do not extend suffrage to women, or extend it differently from that extended to men (this list does not include countries where neither men nor women have suffrage):

  • Bhutan -- One vote per family in village-level elections
  • Kuwait -- Female suffrage at the municipal level only.
  • Lebanon -- Proof of education required for women, not required for men. Voting compulsory for men, optional for women.
  • Oman -- limited to 175,000 people chosen by the government, mostly male
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Vatican City -- Voting restricted to all-male College of Cardinals.

Suffragists and suffragettes

Suffragists and suffragettes in fiction and popular culture