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72-year campaign culminated in the vote

By Lisa Hammer, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Lucretia Mott

Seventy-two years after the women's movement officially began, the 19th Amendment was signed into law Aug. 26, 1920, giving women full rights to vote.

``Suffrage Amendment Becomes Law'' read a headline in the Moline Daily Dispatch. The Rock Island Argus and Daily Union's front page was topped with the banner, ``Woman Suffrage Becomes Law in U.S.''

Both accounts said Alice Paul, chairman of the National Woman's Party, was among those disappointed the document was signed without witnesses or fanfare.

The amendment came 72 years after the historic Seneca Falls Convention organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. They had met at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, where, as women, they were forced to sit behind a curtain and forbidden to speak.

At Seneca Falls, N.Y., 300 delegates debated a document on women's rights which ultimately led to 100 signatures on the Declaration of Sentiments, written by Ms. Stanton. The declaration listed wrongs toward women in areas ranging from property laws, marriage vows and divorce laws to child custody and education.

Against the advice of her husband and Ms. Mott, Ms. Stanton included a resolution asking for the right to vote. It passed, and the suffrage movement was born.

Susan B. Anthony met Ms. Stanton three years after the Seneca Falls Convention, but she didn't join the woman's movement until she was denied permission to speak at a Sons of Temperance meeting.

She formed the Woman's State Temperance Society of New York. Then she and Ms. Stanton formed the National Women's Suffrage Association.

Ms. Anthony lectured for six years to pay debts after a man who offered to finance a woman's-movement publication withdrew his support.

Not finding anything in the Constitution that banned a woman from voting, Ms. Anthony cast a ballot in 1872 and was arrested. She refused to pay the fine. At her last speech, before she died at the age of 86 in 1906, she gave a message to younger women: ``Failure is impossible.''

Gradually, many states gave women limited voting rights, often allowing them to vote on local, school or bond issues. In 1913 Illinois gave women the right to vote in presidential and local elections.

Early women's leaders had died by the time the 19th Amendment was signed. Taking their place were women such as Anna Howard Shaw, Carrie Chapman Catt, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns.

Ms. Catt was head of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which merged with the National Woman's Suffrage Association and Lucy Stone's American Woman Suffrage Association. By keeping her maiden name after marriage, Ms. Stone gave birth to the term ``Lucy Stoner,'' referring to women who retain maiden names.

Midwesterners can claim Ms. Catt as their own. Born in 1859 and raised on a farm near Charles City, Iowa, she became superintendent of schools in Mason City, Iowa.

After her first husband died, she became involved in the suffrage movement, attending her first suffrage convention in 1890, the same year she married George Catt. Their marriage contract had a provision that allowed her to work for suffrage four months a year.

After her second husband's death in 1905, Ms. Catt helped form the International Woman Suffrage Alliance with Ms. Anthony.

At the start of World War I, she helped win President Woodrow Wilson's support for the women's cause. State victories for suffragists helped get the 19th Amendment passed soon after the war. Ms. Catt then helped form the League of Women Voters.

The woman who was to write the Equal Rights Amendment, Alice Paul, was forced to resign from the merged National American Women Suffrage Association because of her militant tactics.

She became leader of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, which later became the National Woman's Party. She led mass marches and hunger strikes, and in 1914 she singled out the party in power, the Democrats, as villains in the failure to work on suffrage.

Both houses of Congress considered women's suffrage soon afterwards.

In 1923, Ms. Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment, which the women's movement took up almost 50 years later.

The language was simple: ``Equality of rights under the law should not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.'' The arguments for and against it were complex.

Twenty-two states approved ratification within a year of congressional passage. However, after 34 states approved it, some attempted to retract their decision, and ratification never reached the required 38 states.

Those arguing against ratification said women might lose legal rights and exemptions dealing with employment, marriage, child support, alimony, rape, seduction, and the military draft, and that states were better equipped to handle women's rights.

Ms. Paul joined the rejuvenated ERA campaign in the 1960s, working from National Woman's Party headquarters in Washington, D.C. She was 92 when she died in 1977.

In 1966, the National Organization for Women, founded by Betty Friedan and other feminists, promoted child care for working mothers, the ERA and abortion rights.

Abortion became a big issue and helped to paint ERA proponents as radicals. In Roe vs. Wade in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a woman's right to first-trimester abortions.

The original American suffragists generally lived long lives, and they were deeply mourned by others in the movement when they died. Would others fill the void?

When Elizabeth Cady Stanton died in 1902 at the age of 86, Susan B. Anthony said at her funeral, ``Well, it is an awful hush.''

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.