72 years. That’s how long it took for women to win the right to vote, after suffragists first rallied at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. The battle was long, heart-felt, and sometimes bitter — with a surprising split over race issues after the Civil War ended. The 19th Amendment was finally ratified on August 18, 1920, in the wake of the Spanish Flu Pandemic. 100 years later, the war for equality is still being fought — making the history explored in this podcast more important than ever. Ellen DuBois, author of Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote, joins reporter Victoria Flexner to answer this question: How did getting the vote in 1920 change women’s ability to wield power in America?
Podcast episode originally published June 16.
Check out the entire 100 Years of Power project to learn more about women’s history, like you’ve never heard it.
More in this series
100 Years of Power, Part 2: Slow Burn of Progress
From Eleanor Roosevelt to Shirley Chisholm, women begin to win control over their lives and bodies. With historians Susan Ware and Gina Lauria Walker and advocate Nell Merlino.
100 Years of Power, Part 3: What the Future Holds
In 2020, six diverse women run for president, and Nancy Pelosi takes the House. With experts Molly Ball, Kelly Dittmar, Ronnee Schreiber and Glynda Carr.
MUSIC: Madame Gandhi, “The Future is Female”
COLLEEN: I'm Colleen DeBaise.
SUE: And I'm Sue Williams.
COLLEEN: Today, we're talking about a women's movement.
SUE: A big one — arguably the most influential one of all time.
PROTESTERS SOT: I resolve to make a difference!
COLLEEN: Activists, celebrities, ordinary women got involved...
SUE: ...and they made a lot of powerful men really uncomfortable.
COLLEEN: And all this as a global pandemic raged.
ANDREW CUOMO SOT: If you don't flatten that curve, the wave is a tsunami.
COLLEEN: So, we could be talking about the #MeToo movement here...
SUE: ...or the fall and incarceration of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein...
COLLEEN: ...the spread of coronavirus...
SUE: But no — we're going to go back 100 years.
ETTA JAMES MUSIC: Now you have heard of women's rights / and how we tried to reach new heights...
COLLEEN: In this special 3-part series, we will explore the battle for women's suffrage.
SUE: This is “100 Years of Power” from The Story Exchange. We’re going to look to history to understand how far women have come — and how far we still need to go.
COLLEEN: We begin in Part One with the struggle to get the vote.
SUE: It was as long, heartfelt — sometimes as bitter and divisive — as any in our history.
COLLEEN: And, amazingly enough, was finally won against the backdrop of the 1918 flu pandemic.
SUE: Stick around.
MUSIC: Madame Gandhi, “The Future is Female”
VICTORIA: I remember how it felt, the first time I ever voted.
COLLEEN: That's our producer Victoria Flexner.
VICTORIA: It was the 2008 presidential election. I was living in Scotland at the time so I had to vote by mail with a paper ballot.
COLLEEN: That's sometimes called an absentee or mail-in ballot.
VICTORIA: And funnily enough, it looks like we might be voting that way this fall. But it was quite an emotional moment. I remember so distinctly sitting in my living room and filling in that circle, and feeling powerful — like I had power, and a voice in this world.
COLLEEN: Victoria has a master's degree in history.
VICTORIA: I spent a good chunk of my last semester analyzing how women voted in the 2016 election.
COLLEEN: So we asked her to poke around and explore this question...
VICTORIA: How did getting the vote in 1920 change women’s ability to wield power in America?
COLLEEN: And here I'll jump in to say there might be times you feel super-frustrated listening to this podcast, especially if you are a woman.
ELLEN DUBOIS: Men were, at the very least, uncomfortable with women voting.
VICTORIA: That's Ellen DuBois.
DUBOIS: I taught for over 30 years at UCLA in the History department.
VICTORIA: She's retired now...
DUBOIS: ...which is how I could write this nice book called Suffrage: Women's Long Battle for the Vote, published a minute before the coronavirus in 2020.
VICTORIA: So I called up Professor DuBois — actually I Zoomed with her —
DUBOIS: Here, I'll show you what life looks like outside when you're in California, because it —
VICTORIA (FROM ZOOM): Oh, wow. It's sunny though. That's nice. At least it looks like you have a garden.
DUBOIS: I do.
VICTORIA (FROM ZOOM): That’s nice!
VICTORIA: Anyhow — when I began researching the history of the suffrage movement, I wanted to understand, first off, why men couldn't comprehend the concept of a woman voting.
COLLEEN: And you mean — setting aside the patriarchy — the simple notion of someone who might be their wife or mother or their daughter physically going to a polling site?
DUBOIS: We're used to voting in our pristine libraries and school rooms.
VICTORIA: It was a very different practice 150 years ago.
DUBOIS: I often say voting was a little bit, actually, like the Superbowl, only worse. I mean, this was just a male day. You did it in a saloon or a cigar shop or something like that, and you did it with other men. And it was a lot of male bonding.
VICTORIA (FROM ZOOM): It's very interesting.
DUBOIS: And it was just like going to the bar and getting drunk.
VICTORIA (FROM ZOOM): Yeah. Yeah. Because it was an exclusively male activity.
DUBOIS: Right. And a sort of raucous, exclusively male activity.
COLLEEN: It never occured to me that voting would have been so different.
VICTORIA: Yeah. You know, whenever you’re studying the past, it is really important to try and set aside your sort of modern conceptions of how things work, to be able to see an event in the context of its own time.
COLLEEN: So, speaking of that, let's talk about where suffrage got its start — which anyone who has ever picked up a history book knows that it had something to do with the Seneca Falls Convention.
VICTORIA: Well, that's a perfect example. When we hear “convention” today we think of superdomes and arenas filled with crowds and rousing speeches. This was a more subdued affair. It all began in 1848, one hot Sunday in July in the town of Seneca Falls in upstate New York, as seven women sat down to afternoon tea. Sitting round the table were Elizabeth Cady Stanton —
COLLEEN: A name you’re probably familiar with.
VICTORIA: — as well as Jane Hunt, Lucretia Mott and four other friends. Stanton would later write that she...
ACTRESS AS STANTON: “Poured out, that day, the torrent of my long-accumulating discontent, with such vehemence and indignation that I stirred myself, as well as the rest of the party, to do and dare anything.”
VICTORIA: Of course, what they dared to do, was to organize a convention to discuss the state of women in America. The convention would take place in Seneca Fall’s Wesleyan Chapel a few weeks later.
COLLEEN: They organized quickly!
VICTORIA: They really did. And about 300 people showed up, including some pretty big names like Frederick Douglass.
COLLEEN: The abolitionist who was born into slavery but became a famous activist and orator.
VICTORIA: But suffrage, or getting the right to vote, was not initially the main goal of Seneca Falls. So how did it become the issue?
DUBOIS: Now, this is such an important part of the story...
VICTORIA: Essentially, over the course of three days, the women of Seneca Falls realized that every one of their grievances — from not being able to own property, not being allowed to partake in any legal transaction, not being allowed to have any control over wages they might earn or even to devise their own wills — not to mention their complete lack of control over their own bodies and reproductive organs — all this could be changed for the better, if only they had the right to vote.
DUBOIS: And you know that the only way to remedy your own experience is to remedy the experience of all women.
MUSIC: Madame Gandhi, “The Future is Female”
VICTORIA: And so, suffrage, the right to vote, became their rallying cry. In addition to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two other women would help lead the suffrage movement in its early years.
COLLEEN: One was Susan B. Anthony...
VICTORIA: ...arguably the most famous figure of the movement. Shout out to Saint Lane for dropping her name.
MUSIC, SAINT LANE: Change my name to Susan B. ’cause everybody’s suing me…
COLLEEN: And then the other is a lesser-known woman Lucy Stone.
VICTORIA: Yes. And Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone were really this trifecta in the suffrage movement early on.
DUBOIS: Stanton was the visionary, and she was just an intellect of extraordinary proportions.
VICTORIA: Professor DuBois has a soft spot for her.
DUBOIS: Other historians, they accuse me of being overly attached to Stanton.
VICTORIA: Well she was pretty incredible. And sassy too! What’s that quote of hers about men?
ACTRESS AS STANTON: “Men, bless their innocence, are fond of representing themselves as beings of reason…”
DUBOIS: She had a deep appreciation for the power of law. And one can only say she was, in her bones — we'd have to use a word that wasn't used then — a feminist.
VICTORIA: And Anthony?
DUBOIS: Was a consummate organizer. She had unlimited energy for reaching out to and connecting with other women, unlimited energy. And Stanton said, “If it hadn't been for her I would have stayed home in my easy chair, gotten fat even before I did, and read, and also took care of my seven children.” Anthony taught her that her insights, born of her own experience of her hatred of being limited by virtue of her being a woman, could and should be extended from her to other women. And that's the essence of feminism, that you identify whatever experience you've had as a woman with that of other women.
VICTORIA: Mm. And Lucy Stone?
DUBOIS: Lucy Stone. Lucy stone was a brilliant — she was a beautiful woman, she was a brilliant speaker. She was an incredibly successful abolitionist speaker. She made tons of money.
VICTORIA: And Stone’s husband, Henry Blackwell, he was involved in the movement as well, correct?
DUBOIS: He was the major male supporter of suffrage for a long time, and then her daughter.
VICTORIA (FROM ZOOM): Alice Stone, right?
DUBOIS: Alice Stone Blackwell.
VICTORIA (FROM ZOOM): Yeah, yeah.
COLLEEN: So essentially these three women were the original suffragettes, the leaders of the movement, right?
VICTORIA: Well, yes, for a time — and I should note that really we should call them suffragists.
COLLEEN: Oh really?
VICTORIA: Professor DuBois can explain.
DUBOIS: The term suffragette was developed in the early 20th century in England as a put-down, as a diminutive, of women who fought for the right for suffrage. We don't any more talk about women who bring us our drinks in airplanes as stewardesses. We don't talk about women who write poems as poetesses, and suffragette had that same quality. And when we use that term we unconsciously continue the reduction of suffrage supporters.
VICTORIA: But back to Stone, Stanton and Anthony — their suffragist trifecta sadly did not last long.
COLLEEN: So...what happened?
VICTORIA: Well, women weren’t the only group in America seeking equality and the right to vote. After the break, we’ll look at how a clash between sexism and racism almost tore the suffrage movement apart.
COLLEEN: We'll be right back.
MUSIC: Madame Gandhi, “The Future is Female”
VOICE OF ALICE: This is Alice, from Bronx, New York. You're listening to The Story Exchange podcast. I voted for the first time in 1946, the year I graduated from high school. I felt very excited about voting and also such tremendous privilege. I still feel that way. I love it when you get those little stickers that say “I voted.” This is 100 Years of Power, from The Story Exchange.
MUSIC: Madame Gandhi, “The Future is Female”
COLLEEN: Welcome back — I'm Colleen DeBaise, talking with producer Victoria Flexner about the complicated story of women's suffrage.
VICTORIA: Complicated — and dramatic, too.
COLLEEN: Which makes me think...does Hollywood know about this?
VICTORIA: Ha — well, the closest “big screen” version we have is the 2015 film Suffragette — although that's really about the U.K. suffrage movement. Here's a clip from the trailer.
MERYL STREEP: We have been ridiculed, battered and ignored...
COLLEEN: That, of course, is Meryl Streep —
VICTORIA: So perfect.
COLLEEN: — playing Emmeline Pankhurst.
VICTORIA: Sort of the British Susan B. Anthony.
COLLEEN: Which is a good segway here. So, just as the women suffragists in the U.S. have formed this powerful group in the mid-1800s, things are about to get pretty dark.
VICTORIA: Right. Because suffrage isn't — by any measure — the biggest thing going on. The Civil War was being fought.
COLLEEN: And that would lead to a surprising and bitter break amongst Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
VICTORIA: Because, just as no one political group is completely aligned on every single issue today, neither were these women back then. And differences of opinion ultimately drove them apart — mainly the arguments surrounding whether to support the passage of the 15th Amendment.
COLLEEN: And remind us what exactly the 15th Amendment did?
VICTORIA: Well, first, let’s actually zoom out a bit here. So after the Civil War ended in 1865, America entered the period of Reconstruction. And between 1865 and 1870 three Amendments were ratified to the Constitution.
DUBOIS: The 13th Amendment abolishes slavery. The 14th amendment establishes national citizenship for the first time.
VICTORIA: Meaning, if you’re born on United States soil, you are by right of birth a citizen of this country.
DUBOIS: It's the most important part of the constitution; I would say arguably the most important.
COLLEEN: And the 15th?
VICTORIA: Right, the 15th. The 15th Amendment gave African American men the right to vote.
COLLEEN: No mention of women.
VICTORIA: No. And that of course was the problem. In the years leading up to the passage of the 15th Amendment, suffragists saw this window — this moment, where they too might gain the right to vote. For — if men who had been slaves only years earlier were to be given suffrage — surely this was also their moment.
COLLEEN: But it wasn’t their moment.
VICTORIA: No, sadly, it was not. And because the 15th Amendment did not include women, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton opposed it.
COLLEEN: As in, they opposed African American men getting the right to vote?
VICTORIA: Before they as white women could vote? Yes.
VICTORIA: Yeah. But not all suffragists viewed the situation the same way — and this is where the division begins. Lucy Stone and her activist husband Henry Blackwell saw the 15th Amendment as more of a stepping stone to advance their own cause. They were horrified by Anthony and Stanton’s arguments against it, which, let’s be honest, were just plain racist.
COLLEEN: Doesn't this completely change the way we think about Stanton and Anthony, two icons of voting rights in this country?
VICTORIA: It does. It poses some really difficult questions. And it gets worse.There were also some white suffragists who didn’t believe African American women should even be included in quote unquote “female suffrage.” The activist Sojourner Truth, who was born a slave, railed against that in a famous speech called “Ain't I a Woman” — here's a clip of actress Alfre Woodard reading from that speech, at a 2014 Human Rights First event.
ALFRE WOODARD AS TRUTH: “Ain’t I a woman? They talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it?” (audience member whispers, “Intellect”) “That's it, honey. That’s it. They talk about ‘intellect.’ What's that got to do with women's rights? What’s that got to do with negroes' rights?”
VICTORIA (FROM ZOOM): Would you — and it's probably a bit more of a nuance to answer — but would you categorize Stanton and Anthony's arguments against the 15th Amendment as racist?
DUBOIS: Oh my God, I'm always asked this question. I think rhetorically there's no question. Particularly Stanton just let fly. And her rhetoric was very racist, even by the standards of the time, not to mention our own standards. I don't — I guess I do not believe that the decision to oppose the 15th Amendment was racist. I think it was a difficult political decision.
VICTORIA (FROM ZOOM): In what ways?
DUBOIS: Because what was at stake was really the independence and integrity of the women's rights, or, as we would call it, feminist tradition.
VICTORIA (FROM ZOOM): That if it didn't happen now, it wasn't going to happen.
DUBOIS: Well it's what they were committed to. And yes, right. And I don't think for either of them, the right to vote was their sole goal. I know it wasn't. Anthony was always dedicated to questions of economic independence for women and Stanton, as you know, had a kind of vision of reproductive and one might even say, sexual freedom for women. Also religious freedom for women. So in different ways they both saw the question of freedom for women as a broader question, much broader. They understood that the right to vote was crucial to everything, but it was not the lone dimension of freedom for women.
VICTORIA: The damage had been done though. We actually have a clip here from the early 1970s of the famous suffragist Alice Paul recalling racism in the movement all those years ago.
ALICE PAUL: It was lack of support by the white women...What they were worried about was being personally associated in any way with these colored women. On that ground they left us—they never finally left but that they threatened to leave.
VICTORIA: Three months after the passing of the 15th Amendment, in May of 1869 Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and their followers formed the National Woman Suffrage Association. From this point forward they believed that the best path to getting the right to vote would be through a federal constitutional amendment.
COLLEEN: And Stone and the others?
VICTORIA: Well, then in November of that same year, Stone and Blackwell actually began a rival faction, the American Woman Suffrage Association, with the belief that it would be easier to obtain the right to vote through state-by-state campaigns. Perhaps not surprisingly, suffragists of color like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass sided with their work, which I suppose we could say was more “intersectional.”
VICTORIA: Well, Black women were facing race discrimination from one direction, then they’ve got gender discrimination coming from another and the two are intersecting in ways that white women didn’t really understand. Which is ultimately why an entire Black Suffragist Movement also emerged — led by women like Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell.
COLLEEN: Right. Why would we assume that all women from different races, religions, socio-economic backgrounds, will approach women’s issues from the same perspective?
VICTORIA: Yeah. All we have to do is look to modern politics in this country to see that not all women agree on everything.
COLLEEN: Yeah. Like how 47%% of white women voted for Donald Trump.
VICTORIA: Exactly. And even the movement which emerged in response to his election — the Women’s March — is now divided into different factions.
COLLEEN: There have been accusations of anti-semitism against leaders within the movement — here's CBS News.
CBS NEWS: Now the sense of this unity that was created by the March in 2017 is now being tested, as Jewish women and other diverse groups of people debate whether they should even come out for Saturday’s March.
COLLEEN: And accusations of racism...
CBS THIS MORNING (LINDA SARSOUR SPEAKING): We will not allow hate, anti-semitism, anti-black racism, Xenophobia, Islamophobia in our movement.
CROWD SOT: This is what democracy looks like!
VICTORIA: Quite simply, division within seemingly united political movements is nothing new. Susan B. Anthony herself said after the suffrage movement split into two that...
ACTRESS AS ANTHONY: “Division is a healthy sign. These independent and separate movements show that we are alive.” (Suffrage, DuBois, p. 80.)
VICTORIA (FROM ZOOM): Do you think that these divisions in the suffrage movement hindered its advance?
DUBOIS: I think what slowed suffrage down was the political environment in the last quarter of the 19th century, or until the 1890s. Very conservative. It's reactionary. When we started to go through the Trump years, I thought of this. The country had done the incredible thing — abolish slavery, you know, getting rid of the largest category of property wealth in the country and enfranchising people who had just been slaves. It was too much.
VICTORIA: Too much change for society to handle?
DUBOIS: I'm not saying it shouldn't have happened, although a very, very prominent and powerful historian of abolition, David Brian Davis, argued that if they hadn't enfranchised black men, the reaction leading to Jim Crow might not have been so bad.
DUBOIS: But it's that. And then, you know, by that time Stanton has moved on and Anthony has begun to be superseded by younger women, her proteges, and they have a very different attitude. They didn't grow up in the antislavery environment. And really the thing to say is that suffrage only gets its chance in the next period of progressive politics, which are what we call the progressive era. So between the construction years and progressive era, chances for national political gains are mild or non-existent.
COLLEEN: We'll be back after a short break.
MUSIC: Madame Gandhi, “The Future is Female”
VOICE OF HELEN DRAKE MUIRHEAD: My name is Helen Drake Muirhead. I’m 84. I’m originally from Chicago. My great-aunt, Marion Drake, ran for office in Chicago in 1914. She was the first president of the Cook County Suffrage Alliance. My first vote was for Adlai Stevenson. Like my great-aunt, I wanted a scrupulously honest candidate. You are listening to The Story Exchange podcast.
COLLEEN: Welcome back.
VICTORIA: Now here's something people probably don’t know, as we talk about women’s battle to get the vote. In some states, decades before 1920, women could actually vote!
COLLEEN: Wait, what?
VICTORIA: Yeah, I know! I was pretty shocked to learn this as well.
COLLEEN: So where could women vote?
VICTORIA: Wyoming actually gave women the vote way back in 1869, then Colorado 26 years later in 1895. Then a whole bunch of Western states followed suit all before 1914 — Idaho, Utah, Washington, California, Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, Illinois, Alaska and finally Montana and Nevada.
COLLEEN: Huh. It’s funny — we always think of the battle for suffrage as being this very East Coast thing. Maybe it’s because Seneca Falls is so ingrained into the narrative.
VICTORIA: Totally. But actually, the East Coast was way behind the West on this one.
COLLEEN: Why was that?
VICTORIA: I think it’s because the political situation out West was just very different from the East. Life out there was newer, freer. Perhaps it was an attempt to attract more women to move out West. And also the political parties there weren’t as rigid and entrenched in corruption as those back East. But I decided to double check all this with Professor DuBois.
DUBOIS: That's what I would say. That's what I would say. If we go up to about 1914, something like four million women have the right to vote because of actions of their states.
VICTORIA: But it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing getting suffrage passed in Western states either.
MUSIC: “Near Light” by Ólafur Arnalds
VICTORIA (FROM ZOOM): So in your book you write about the California constitutional amendment to implement universal female suffrage, and how it was defeated by a margin 55 to 45 in 1896. And you then provide this really powerful description of the night that they lost.
COLLEEN: This is the part that I found...infuriating.
VICTORIA: Infuriating and heartbreaking. That night Anthony...
VICTORIA (FROM ZOOM): “...went down the street, peering into the windows of the rough little booths where the judges and clerks of the election were counting votes. The room was black with tobacco smoke, and in one they saw a man fall off his chair too drunk to finish the count. They listened to the odes and jeers as the votes were announced against the suffrage amendment, to which they had given almost their lives. Then in the darkness, they crept silently home more than fully realizing that women must wait for another and better generation of men to give them a longed-for freedom.”
VICTORIA (FROM ZOOM): It's such a powerful scene, and I think that one that probably resonates for any female who's been politically active in any sense in her life. But I think it's easy for us now to kind of look back and see the suffrage movement as a success because eventually women did get the right to vote. But what do you think that this moment specifically kind of symbolizes in the many decades-long struggle for women to get the right to vote?
DUBOIS: Nevertheless, they persisted. Okay?
VICTORIA (FROM ZOOM): Nice.
DUBOIS: It's amazing. I mean, Anthony's already 76 years old.
VICTORIA: Anthony’s been fighting for suffrage for most of her life.
COLLEEN: I can only imagine those losses must have gotten tougher and tougher over time.
VICTORIA: Well, it wasn’t just men they had to convince.
VICTORIA (FROM ZOOM): Why do you think some women were against suffrage? Who were these American women who didn't want the right to vote?
DUBOIS: Okay. I would give two answers to that. I'll give three, I guess. One is, I think it was nothing inherent in being a woman that made you recognize the importance of this. You had to be organized, you had to be taught. If you want to know why women have become a more powerful phenomenon in American politics since 1980, particularly on the Democratic side of things, all you have to look to is the fact that there's a feminist movement that's teaching them that. Actually, I'm going to read you a quote here. This is from Frederick Douglass. This is towards the end of his life and he's remembering the role he played in supporting women suffrage at Seneca Falls.
COLLEEN: Remember, Frederick Douglass attended the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. He was the only African American man to attend.
DUBOIS: Okay, so here's what he says. I think it's 1888. “I've been thinking more or less of this scene presented 40 years ago in the little Methodist church at Seneca Falls, the manger of which this organized suffrage movement was born. It was a very small thing then. It was not then big enough to be abused or loud enough to make itself heard outside. And only a few of those who saw it had any notion that the little thing would live. I have been thinking too of the strong conviction, the noble courage, the sublime faith in God and man it required at that time to set this suffrage ball in motion.” And here's the sentence that I want to read to you.
ACTOR AS DOUGLASS: “War, temperance and slavery are undisguised palpable evils...The best feelings of human nature revolt with them, but no such advantage was found in the beginning of the cause of suffrage for women. On the contrary, everything in her condition was supposed to be lovely, just as it should be. She had no rights denied, no wrongs to redress. She herself had no suspicion, but that all was going well with her. She floated along on the tide of life as her mother and grandmother had done before her as in a dream of paradise. Her wrongs, if she had any, were too occult to be seen and too light to be felt. It required a daring voice and a determined hand to wake her from this delightful dream and call the nation to account for the rights and opportunities of which it was depriving her.”
VICTORIA: I think what Professor DuBois is getting at — or rather, what Frederick Douglass is getting at is — is that convincing the majority of America that women deserved the right to vote was an enormous undertaking. It meant Americans had to re-evaluate their notions of equality, human rights and perhaps even the very definition of what it means to be a human being in this world. Since time immemorial, the notion of inequality between the sexes has been so established and regimented in every facet of life — from religious teachings, to marriage, to education, to law, to medicine, to who could perform which tasks, jobs and positions — that to begin to suggest that the sexes were somehow equal was to challenge every aspect of existence as people had known it. This is change that burns slowly, over years and decades and generations. A generation born before universal voting rights existed will have to be convinced that this a right that should belong to all members of society. Just as a younger generation, born today, into an America where gay marriage is legal, will view any past restrictions as regressive.
VICTORIA: After that devastating loss in California in 1896 —
COLLEEN: Again, that's when the drunk guy counting the votes fell off his stool.
VICTORIA: — it would be another 24 years before the 19th Amendment was passed.
COLLEEN: Twenty-four more years of grueling, door to door, grassroots activism to win the right to vote.
VICTORIA: Neither Susan B. Anthony nor Lucy Stone — nor Elizabeth Cady Stanton — would be alive to see the day that universal female suffrage was finally passed...
COLLEEN: ...after having dedicated their lives to it.
VICTORIA: I know. Though they did all live to see some old wounds repaired — around 1890, the two factions of the suffrage movement actually made a kind of truce.
COLLEEN: Did they begin working together again?
VICTORIA: Yeah, they actually formed a new coalition, the National American Woman Suffrage Association. But the movement was changing. The original suffragists were getting old; many of them were dying and a younger generation was kind of taking over the movement.
COLLEEN: The baton was being passed.
VICTORIA: Right, and just as the Civil War had defined the earlier years of the movement, now in the 20th century we begin to see a whole new host of social, political and cultural events.
COLLEEN: Well, World War I —
VICTORIA: — the 1918 flu pandemic —
COLLEEN: — the second wave of the Industrial Revolution —
VICTORIA: — massive societal changes.
COLLEEN: And this new generation of suffragists — how were they different from the old guard?
VICTORIA: Well, they were definitely...feistier? They understood how to manipulate the media more; how to create scenes and get attention to their cause.
COLLEEN: Ha — like a younger, social media savvy generation?
VICTORIA: Kind of! For the first time in American history, people — well, women — began protesting outside of the White House every day. The movement reached a kind of crescendo during Woodrow Wilson’s administration.
COLLEEN: He was president from 1913 to 1921.
VICTORIA: They made huge banners directed towards Wilson that said things like, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”
COLLEEN: And did the protests work?
VICTORIA: Well, they certainly got the President’s attention.
JESSE HAVER BUTLER: He became very irritated about this.
VICTORIA: That’s Jesse Haver Butler, speaking along with Ernestine Hara Kettler. They were young suffragists at the time who protested outside the White House.
JESSE HAVER BUTLER: There was a law at that time that they could not picket in front of the White House.
VICTORIA: This is from a California State University oral history project they contributed to in the 1970s.
ERNESTINE HARA KETTLER: I said, “If it hadn’t been for the activists in Washington, we would never have got the vote.”
VICTORIA: But I think it was also the end of World War I that really pushed the movement forward.
COLLEEN: In what ways?
VICTORIA: After President Wilson delivered his famous Fourteen Points Speech in January 1918, the very next day he summoned a group of House Democrats to the White House to ask them to vote for a federal constitutional woman suffrage amendment.
COLLEEN: What changed?
VICTORIA: Well, America had taken on this new role after World War I, at least from Wilson’s perspective. The country was going to “lead the world to democracy.”
COLLEEN: So the U.S.'s position on the world stage had changed.
VICTORIA: Precisely. And how does it look if this country that’s “leading the world to democracy” doesn’t even allow half its population to vote?
COLLEEN: Yeah, it’s not really a good look is it?
VICTORIA: Ha, it really isn’t. And listen, whether or not Wilson really truly believed in women’s suffrage, he still gave a rather rousing speech to the Senate Chambers the day they took to the floor to vote in 1918.
ACTOR AS PRESIDENT WILSON: “Democracy means that women shall play their part in affairs alongside men and upon equal footing with them...Shall we admit them only to partnership of sacrifice and suffering and toil and not to partnership of privilege and right?”
VICTORIA: The Senate voted in favor of women's suffrage that day in 1918. And two years later, on August 18th of 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, finally giving the women of America the right to vote — 72 long years after Seneca Falls.
SUE: You know, when we started this project, I knew there were going to be parallels between then and now. But I didn’t realize how many parallels there were going to be.
COLLEEN: I didn’t either. I certainly didn’t think that we'd also be dealing with a global pandemic!
VICTORIA: Right? They had the Spanish Flu pandemic raging in the background. And after we began producing this podcast, the Black Lives Matter protests are shedding even more light on how far we still need to go in terms of equality in this country.
SUE: And of course, 1920 was not only the year women got the right to vote; it was also an election year.
VICTORIA: Yeah, and how is our election year going to play out now, with a potential second wave of Covid in the fall?
COLLEEN: And protests over police brutality forcing Americans to confront our complicated and ugly history?
VICTORIA: Perhaps we are realizing how much inequality has to do with power — who holds it and who does not.
VICTORIA: And as we move into next week’s episode, we’re going to see what women actually did with their newfound power.
SUE: Women had won the vote, but we’d soon learn that the war for equality still had to be fought. There’d be many more battles ahead.
COLLEEN: Join us next week for Part 2 of 100 Years of Power, as we look at the slow burn to create the laws that would improve women’s lives.
MUSIC: Madame Ghandi, “The Future is Female”
OUTRO: This has been a special project from The Story Exchange, a nonprofit media company that provides inspiration and information for women entrepreneurs. If you liked this podcast, please share on social media or post a review on iTunes. It helps other people find the show. And visit our website at TheStoryExchange.org, where you’ll find news, videos and tips for women business owners. And we’d love to hear from you! Drop us a line at [email protected] — or find us on Facebook. I'm Colleen DeBaise. This episode was produced and reported by Victoria Flexner. Sound editing provided by Nusha Balyan and Christina Kelly. Archival research done by Noël Flego. Special thanks to our voice over talent: Kathleen Murphy, Kyron Rogers, and Jed Orlemann. Our mixer is Pat Donohue at String & Can. Executive producers are Sue Williams and Victoria Wang. Our thanks to Madame Gandhi for so generously allowing us to use “The Future is Female” as our theme song. The song “Near Light,” performed by Ólafur Arnalds, is courtesy of Erased Tapes Records and Kobalt Songs Music Publishing.