The women who demanded the vote

Today’s women can run major corporations, serve in the military and hold public office. But they owe these opportunities to predecessors who fought to secure an education, earn equal pay for equal work and, most importantly, secure the right to vote. The first National Women’s Rights Convention, held on October 23, 1850, in Worcester, Massachusetts, demonstrated that the cause of women’s rights could support a national movement.

Among the speakers were the abolitionist Sojourner Truth, the suffragist Lucy Stone and the physician Harriet Hunt, who had been denied admission to Harvard Medical School because of her gender. The delegates adopted a resolution demanding “political, legal, and social equality with man.”

Women sewing stars on flag (Library of Congress)
Women sew stars on a suffrage flag. (Library of Congress)

Within 20 years, the Wyoming territory extended the right to vote to its women — all 1,000 of them. On September 6, 1870, Louisa Ann Swain from Laramie stopped off at a polling place on her way to buy a bucket of yeast and became the first woman to vote in a general election in the United States.

By the turn of the 20th century, many states, mostly in the western U.S., allowed women to vote in municipal elections. In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extended the ballot to all American women of voting age.

Alice Paul, one of the leading woman suffrage champions, explained the movement’s success: “I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end.”