National American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Women's Party

Two rival suffrage organizations, The National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association merged as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1890. The first, founded by lifelong friends, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and the latter, formed by Lucy Stone and Henry Ward Blackwell, had become rivals over the years. [1] Even though some hard win victories had been won, only four states had granted full voting rights to women after nearly 50 years of campaigning, all west of the Mississippi.[2] The groups hoped that a new approach would prove fruitful.

In 1848, the two most recognizable names in the women’s suffrage movement in the United States, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, along with other like-minded people, met at Seneca Falls, New York. They spoke out against the condition of woman as second class citizens, who seized to exist legally once married, were prevented from owning property and had no rights with regards to children or in cases of divorce.[3] Lucy Stone and Sojourner Truth joined the cause, as the abolitionist and suffrage movements were linked in the beginning. However, the Civil War diverted their plans. It was decided that when the War was over, the fight for women’s suffrage would continue.

Stone, Stanton and Anthony split over this very issue. Lucy Stone supported the vote for blacks, while Stanton and Anthony, held that women should be enfranchised before blacks. Later, right before the turn of the century, these two groups merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and another era in the fight for women’s suffrage had begun. Susan B. Anthony retired and Carrie Chapman Catt took over in 1900.[4] The women had become exhausted trying to convince men to support their cause on a state-by-state basis, so “shifted their focus back to a federal constitutional amendment.”[5]

When Catt’s successor proved unwilling to shift resources away from state chapters to focus energies on the federal level, two young women, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, took up the cause of campaigning on a national stage in 1913.[6] There efforts received some attention and the cause gained momentum. Paul and Burns realized that women in western states who already had the vote could be convinced to put pressure on national leaders. Some members of NAWSA formed the National Woman’s Party (NWP) and activists spread throughout the west urging female voters to withhold their votes from the Democratic party until President Wilson pledged to back the cause for women’s suffrage.[7] Some members of the NAWSA were put off by these “combative methods,” but this proved to be just what the movement needed to achieve results. Members of the two organizations never reconciled, but historians have recognized that their efforts were complementary. The NWP took a more radical approach which relied on political pressure, while the NAWSA relied on a softer approach with involved negotiating with congressmen. Although delayed by the first World War, both were necessary to achieve results.

DuBois, Ellen Carol and Lynn Dumenil. Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016.

One Woman, One Vote Documentary.

[1] Ellen Carol DuBois and Lynn Dumenil, Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016) 423.

[2] DuBois, Through Women’s Eyes, 423.

[3] One Woman, One Vote, American Experience, 2005.

[4] DuBois, Through Women’s Eyes, 423.

[5] Ibid, 423.

[6] Ibid, 425.

[7] Ibid, 427.