1995 marks the 75th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote. A resolution calling for woman suffrage was passed, after much debate, at The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. The Convention was convened by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott who demanded a wide range of changes. These changes were spelled out in The Declaration of Sentiments a document based upon the Declaration of Independence.
"What are we next to do?" asked Elizabeth Cady Stanton after the 1848 convention. The women of Seneca Falls had challenged America to social revolution with a list of demands that touched every aspect of life. Testing different approaches, the early women's rights leaders came to view the ballot as the best way to change the system, but they did not limit their efforts to one issue. Fifty years after the convention, women could claim progress in property rights, divorce and child custody laws, employment and educational opportunities, and increased social freedoms. By the early 20th century, a coalition of suffragists, temperance groups, reform-minded politicians, and women's social welfare organizations mustered a successful push for the vote.
Susan B. Anthony taught school in New Rochelle and Canajoharie, NY, and discovered that male teachers were paid several times her salary. She devoted her first reform efforts to antislavery and to temperance, the Campaign to surpress alcohol. But when she rose to speak in temperance convention, she was told, "The sisters were not invited here to speak!" Anthony promptly enlisted in the cause of women's rights.
In a lifelong partnership with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Anthony's organizational skill and selfless dedication built the women's rights movement. The ballot, she became increasingly to believe, was the necessary foundation for all other advances. When she and Stanton published a newspaper, they called it The Revolution. Its motto was "Men their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less." In order to press a test case of her belief that women, as citizens, could not be denied the ballot, Anthony voted. She was tried, convicted and fined for voting illegally.
For over thirty years she traveled the country almost ceaselessly working for women's rights. In 1906, her health failing, Anthony addressed her last women's suffrage convention. Although she sensed that the cause would not be won in her lifetime, she looked out across the assembled women and told them, "Failure is impossible."
Although Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton devoted 50 years to the woman's suffrage movement, neither lived to see women gain the right to vote. But their work and that of many other suffragists contributed to the ultimate passage of the 19th amendment in 1920.