The Epic Struggle for Women's Right to Vote

by Susan L. Poulson


Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote, in 1869—51 years before it became U.S. law in 1920.

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Cover image for Suffrage

September 2019


Pages 290
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics American History/Politics
  Women's Studies/Politics and Law

Four generations of women fought for the right to vote. This book shows how their grand reform effort overcame resistance from traditionalists fearing social decay, religious leaders citing scriptural prohibitions, and a stodgy political establishment reluctant to share power.

What was it like to be among the founders of the women's movement in the middle of the nineteenth century, with no script to follow and self-doubt dogging their every move? This book not only reminds us of the laws that conspired against women's equality in the post-Civil War United States, but it also illustrates—through the eyes of the suffragists themselves—the cultural and religious norms that had held women in second-class status for centuries. Early suffragists grappled with isolation and outright hostility as they lectured around the nation, even as they tried to reassure the public that politicized women would still serve the family. Others espoused outrage by organizing public protests.

This book shows how lasting political change comes about through a combination of working from within the system and outside of it, and deftly illustrates the tensions within the movement. Although the vote was finally won in 1920, it was not without tremendous sacrifice. The book lays bare the strategies that led to the single-minded focus on the vote and the consequences of postponing action on so many other issues that remained for later generations to address, including reproductive freedom, labor rights, and equal pay.


  • Shows how women's rights came about not only because suffragists organized—they had been organized for decades to no avail—but also because the concept of womanhood expanded to accommodate a role for women outside the home and church
  • Explains why suffrage came first and most easily in the West, which wanted to attract women settlers and valued their strength and independence, and most reluctantly in the South, where many feared that suffrage would undermine white supremacy
  • Provides a finely nuanced view of sexism within the abolitionist movement and racism within the women's movement
  • Addresses the challenges that early suffragists faced in getting women themselves to think that they deserved the vote
Author Info

Susan L. Poulson is professor of U.S. history at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, where she teaches courses in women's history and 20th century U.S. history. She is coeditor of Challenged by Coeducation: Women's Colleges Since the 1960s and Going Coed in the Twentieth Century: Women's Experiences in Formerly Men's Colleges as well as author of several chapters and scholarly articles.

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