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National American Women's Suffrage Association

Group of women standing in front of The Woman Citizen banner, National American Woman Suffrage Association, ca. 1917-1919, WRC-619af-1, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute
Group of women standing in front of "The Woman Citizen" banner, National American Woman Suffrage Association, ca. 1917-1919, WRC-619af-1, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute.

In 1869, the women's suffrage movement split over the 15th Amendment, which granted the vote to black men, but not to women. Some women, like Lucy Stone, thought that any increase in the franchise was a step in the right direction; others, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony thought that an amendment allowing black men to vote without granting women's suffrage was dangerous. In 1890, with Reconstruction over, and the fight over the 15th Amendment long past, the two camps reconciled and founded the National American Women's Suffrage Association (NAWSA).

The founding of NAWSA marked an important step in the national fight for the right to vote, but most of the work was done on a local level. In the absence of an amendment to the national constitution, it was the states that controlled the "time, place, and manner" of elections, and that included whether or not women could participate. In addition, state legislatures would ultimately have to ratify any amendment that Congress passed. Starting with Wyoming, suffragists had a string of successes in the west, where the fight was made easier because of the absence of the social divisions present in the east.

By 1910, the battle for women's suffrage had become a mass movement, and in 1916, NAWSA found itself on the conservative side of the movement. Alice Paul, the founder of the rival National Women's Party (NWP), used confrontational methods based on the tactics of the British suffragists. The NWP demonstrated in front of the White House even as the country entered World War I, risking vilification at a time of increased jingoism. In contrast, NAWSA presented itself as patriotic, demanding democracy at home while the country was fighting for democracy abroad. By 1919, suffragists mobilized to win passage of the 19th Amendment.

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