It took activists and reformers of the women’s suffrage movement more than 70 years to earn the right to vote. On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified, and on August 26, it was officially declared in effect. Due to racial inequality, however, many women of color in the United States were not granted the right to vote until 1965. Black women, who played a key role in the suffrage movement but have mostly been overlooked through history, are finally getting their due.
Here's a look back at the 72-year fight to achieve the right to vote for women.
Suffragists began their organized fight for women’s equality in 1848 when they demanded the right to vote during the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. For the next 72 years, women leaders lobbied, marched, picketed, and protested for the right to the ballot.
The U.S. House of Representatives finally approved the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, on May 21, 1919. The U.S. Senate followed two weeks later, and the 19th Amendment went to the states, where it had to be ratified by three-fourths of the-then-48 states to be added to the Constitution.
By a vote of 50-47, Tennessee became the last state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby issued a proclamation on August 26, 1920 declaring the 19th Amendment ratified and part of the US Constitution, forever protecting American women’s right to vote.
Today, more than 68 million women vote in elections because of the courageous suffragists who never gave up the fight for equality.
Various memorabilia and artifacts were produced during the suffrage movement — many of which were manufactured between 1908 and 1917 — that are highly collectible today including banners, ribbons, buttons, postcards, pamphlets, figurines and jewelry.
Kenneth Florey, a long-time specialist in suffrage memorabilia and author of Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated History, said that memorabilia, whether preserved at home, sent through the mail, displayed at conventions, or worn at marches and demonstration, tells us something about the basic character of the suffragists themselves and of the organizations that manufactured and distributed these objects.
“The eagerness to buy, display, and collect specific memorabilia indicates that many suffrage sympathizers wanted to have it become part of them in a tangible way that was not otherwise possible through campaign literature and speeches alone,” he said.
Florey noted that suffrage memorabilia was particularly popular at the beginning of the 20th century prior to World War I. That time period featured an explosion in the production of collectibles, as innovative developments in both printing and manufacturing resulted in the appearance of many new types of memorabilia during a period when suffragists were gathering strength and achieving results.
For example, the celluloid button or badge, which was employed extensively for the first time in advertising the 1896 presidential campaign between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan, and postcards, whose golden age (1902-1915) coincided with the “final push for woman suffrage,” were used to promote the suffragist cause. Other popular suffrage objects were pennants, china and ceramics, Cinderella (non-philatelic) and poster stamps, art posters, playing cards, toys and games, balloons, blotters, pencils and pens, writing paper and letterheads, ribbons, and umbrellas. Florey noted that these collectibles were “meaningful to many suffragists who produced them, wrote about them, and were overjoyed by the enthusiastic response of the public when they gave them away.”
To learn more about suffrage memorabilia, visit Florey’s website at womansuffragememorabilia.com/.
The following suffrage items have recently sold at auction: