The Nation Votes

The 19th Amendment was introduced in 1878 as the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, allowing women the right to vote, by California Senator Aaron Sargent. His wife, Ellen Clark Sargent, was a leading voting rights advocate and a friend of many suffrage leaders such as Susan B. Anthony.

The bill calling for the amendment would be introduced unsuccessfully each session of Congress for the next forty years.

It was only voted on twice before passing in 1918; in 1887 when there were 16 for and 34 against and in 1914 with 36 for, 34 against, and 26 not voting.

Ellen continued to fight for equal suffrage and in 1896, the year that California voters would reject the proposition, she was President of the State Women’s Suffrage Association which held a two day Women’s Suffrage Convention in Santa Cruz in May of that year.

After women in Washington and California won the right to vote, suffragists believed that these victories would give a boost to the movement and would be influential in the next presidential campaign. In 1912, the largest suffrage parade in the history of the country took place in New York with 20,000 participating including 1,000 men from Harvard, Yale, and Columbia universities. Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon all granted women the right to vote that year. Then in 1914, Montana and Nevada followed suit.

In 1915, Sara Bard Field (Santa Cruz councilwoman and former mayor Cynthia Mathews' great-grandmother) undertook a cross-country journey to Washington DC, in an open top automobile, with a petition signed by half a million people. The journey took nearly three months. President Wilson received the petition, though he was opposed to any federal action. In the 1916 presidential campaign, suffragists targeted Wilson asking people not to vote for him as he opposed national woman suffrage. However, he was re-elected.

In early 1917, Wilson told the suffragists that he would receive no more delegations and, what leading suffragist Alice Paul called a "perpetual delegation," began the next day. Each day, except Sunday, suffragists picketed silently outside the White House.

America entered World War I on April 6, 1917. Suffragists were divided. Being viewed as anti-government seemed to some to be anti-patriotic.

The National American Woman's Suffrage Association announced a war-time policy of supporting the government during this crisis; the National Women's Party, however, continued to picket the White House. The picketing suffragists were viewed as militants, and violence and arrests ensued.

The arrest and imprisonment of the suffragists kept suffrage upfront in the press even with a war raging. Their harsh sentences and brutal treatment did not deter them. Alice Paul was jailed for "obstructing traffic." In prison, the suffragists would endure torture and forced feeding. Eventually, their unjust sentences were commuted.

Their Stories:

Ellen Sargent



Women's Suffrage in the US by State - Reuters University

Winning the Vote by Robert P. J. Cooney, Jr.

Winning the Vote by Robert Cooney

Replica Jailed for Freedom Pin

The imprisoned suffragists were awarded small silver "jailed for freedom" pins. This pin representing a prison door with a heart-shaped lock is a replica of the pin designed by Nina Allender.

Alice Paul's "Jailed for Freedom" pin at the Smithsonian

Santa Cruz's Influence

Perhaps the most influential act that the people of Santa Cruz participated in to help the National cause was to be extras in a movie. In 1916, Every Woman's Problem was filmed in Santa Cruz. A cast of 500 locals appeared in the movie. Released as Mothers of Men, the film is considered to be the first suffrage movie and its release in New York in 1917 had a significant influence on the upcoming vote for the women's right to vote there - it passed.

"Mothers of Men" Silent Movie

According to the film's restoration site, it was "commended by the National Woman’s Party and the Woman Suffrage Party and would continue to pick up endorsements through 1921 from the League of Women Voters, the Business and Professional Women’s Association, and The Women’s Club."

Watch the Mothers of Men Trailer

After Winning in New York and the End of the War

During the war, women were asked to fulfill the roles that the enlisted men had left behind; farmers, mechanics, munitions workers, miners, telegraphers, ambulance drivers - the list goes on.  It seemed only right that women should been seen as equals.

There were more protests, more activism, and a tour of the country by the women who had been imprisoned sharing heir horrific ordeals.  Finally, Votes for Women gained national appeal with politicians now eager to show their support. The amendment passed in both the Senate and the House and was sent to the states for ratification.

War of the Roses

By 1919, 35 states had ratified the 19th Amendment, but 36 states were needed. Four, Connecticut, Vermont, North Carolina and Florida, would not consider it that year, all the rest but Tennessee had voted against. Tennessee decided to act. Suffragists for the amendment wore yellow roses, those against wore red.

The vote would be tight. One representative, Banks Turner, switched sides leaving the vote deadlocked. Then another, Harry Burn, wearing a red rose, surprised everyone by voting "aye." In his pocket was a seven-page letter from his mother. In the letter she wrote: "Hurrah and vote for Suffrage ..."

Harry inserted a personal statement in the House Journal, explaining his decision: “I knew that a mother’s advice is always safest for a boy to follow and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification... I appreciated the fact that an opportunity such as [this] seldom comes to a mortal man to free seventeen million women from political slavery was mine.”

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