History was made 93 years ago yesterday on June 4th 1919, when the United States Congress passed the 19th Amendment granting American women the right to vote. This milestone victory in American women’s rights was the result of decades of feminist action and organizing, and it was an achievement that marked the 1st wave of the feminist movement.
The first wave of feminism was focused on gaining civil equality for women, primarily suffrage. Early feminist leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott fought for women’s legal and civil autonomy through protests, petitions, civil disobedience, and written manifestos. The Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 is regarded as the earliest organized call to action for women’s suffrage, and resulted in the Declaration of Sentiments which demanded that women be recognized as voting citizens by the United States Constitution.
The goals and strategies of suffragists varied from conservative and reformist to radical and revolutionary. While some suffragists fought for a federal amendment for voting rights, others demanded voting rights on a state-by-state basis. Some feminists realized that equality for women would not end with suffrage and worked to change the social position of women, while others believed it would be more attainable for women to gain voting rights first. There were further splits in the movement on the basis of race, since the first wave was exclusive to white women of middle- to upper-class status. Many white women excluded black women in fear that their inclusion would be an obstacle in the path to suffrage and as a result many women of color did not gain full voting rights until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These issues and concerns did not disappear with the ratification of the 19th amendment, but persisted to fuel the feminist movement’s pursuit for equality.
Today, the accomplishments and efforts of the first wave feminists should not be forgotten. Your vote is crucial to ensuring that every individual’s voice is heard by the government. The women’s rights movement is far from over and the feminist movement is still fighting for basic human rights to be granted to people of all genders, sexual identities, races, and ethnicities.
In remembering and honoring those who came before us who fought for the right to vote be sure that you and other register to vote and vote in all elections. The Feminist Majority Foundation’s Choices Campus Leadership Program conducts a Get Out Her Vote (GOHV) campaign and if you would like to get involved in registering and mobilizing students on your campus to vote, please contact the National Campus Organizer for your region.