100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage : Brief History and Fascinating, Free Resources

This month FFF is honoring 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which was ratified and then certified as an amendment on Aug. 26, 1920 in the United States. This post will cover American women, but if you’re curious about other countries for comparison, this site dates Europe’s suffrage timeline and offers a global suffrage timeline.

Of course, the history of American women’s suffrage is much more complex than this date alone. For one thing, many women voted before they were legally able to, like the three women below in 1917. Some were infamously arrested, like Susan B. Anthony, but others, like Mary Ann Shadd Cary (below), were successful.

African American educator, writer, abolitionist, and lawyer. She was the first African American newspaper editor in North America and successfully voted before 1920. 1800s, National Archive of Canada, Unknown author / Public Domain

For another, there are so many stories that have yet to be widely told from the movement and there were so many additional struggles for suffragettes of minority groups. Fortunately, there are great resources that bring history to life,  offer images of the suffragettes from that time period, highlight suffragettes of color, and present opportunities to see a historic movement through a modern lens.

FFF will highlight some of these great (and free) resources that showcase the important movement in history! The road to equality didn’t end with the ratification, but it did became an important achievement and a big step in the women’s right movement.

Setting the Scene in 1920:

Women of all classes, races, and backgrounds participated, though some (wealthier white, upper-class women) had more access and clout than others. Through the images in this post and in the resources mentioned, I hope to achieve a more well-rounded picture of the movement and the varied modes of dress of the suffragettes from that period.

Suffragettes Picketing the White House in January 1917. photograph, Unknown author / Public domain

What does the ratification mean?:

The 19th Amendment to the Unites States Constitution  says that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” [1] This was certainly a step forward in obtaining legal rights for women, but The Washington Post published a great article on the politics within the suffragette movement that largely ignored Native American and African American women who had been instrumental in obtaining the women’s vote, and how the majority of women of color were still prevented from voting by legal loopholes.

mrs Marie L. Baldwin
Activist, Lawyer, and Chippewa Native American, Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin. The first Native American to graduate from the Washington College of Law in 1914. // Source: Flickr Commons project, 2011, Bain News Service photograph collection, Library of Congress

Individual states were still able to impose a poll tax or literacy test that was largely aimed at preventing non-whites from voting, not to mention other means of violent deterrents from individuals or groups within the states. You can read more specifics from this article here.

Nannie Helen Burroughs, an African American educator, orator, religious leader, and business women holding a Woman’s National Baptist Convention banner. ca. 1910. // Library of Congress, Unknown author / Public domain.

Language barriers, not just writing, were also problematic for many Latino voters. Maria Guadalupe Evangelina de Lopez, a high school teacher in Los Angeles, was instrumental in translating the message of suffrage into Spanish for the Latino community in California.

Maria Guadalupe Evangelina de Lopez, ca. 1910 // In article by Shawn Gilbert, League of Women Voters of Diablo Valley

The Amendment was brought to Congress in 1878, but it wasn’t passed by the House of Representatives until May 21, 1919. On June 4, 1919 it was passed by the Senate, and finally the long ratification process began…

…The amendment only needed one more state to pass and was rejected by several, until finally, Tennessee became the 36th state and joined the three quarters of the states needed to pass the amendment on August 18, 1920! Tennessee held a special session that day to vote on the issue. Those in favor wore yellow roses and those against wore red, and luckily there were more yellow than red. The amendment was now ready to be certified! The proclamation was certified as the 19th Amendment to the Constitute on Aug. 26, 1920. For a detailed timeline on this complicated process you can visit the National Parks Service website here.

To celebrate the centennial of this event, many resources have been offered online, and I’ve included my favorites below:

Free History Resources

1. New York Times Live Play

The New York Times offered a live, digital performance based on a virtual adaptation by Ming Peiffer of Veronica Chambers’ book, Finish the Fight!: The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote.

The performance is still able to be viewed on the NY Times website and on YouTube.  Actresses, Chelsea Rendon, Q’orianka Kilcher, Zora Howard, Leah Lewis, and Hariett D. Foy, highlight underrepresented voices of color from our past: Jovita Idár, Zitkála-šá, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, and Mary Mcleod Bethune. 

It’s an interesting modern day take on the road to women’s equality and suffrage. I think this is great to watch in order to learn more about these amazing American women and for anyone missing live theater performances!

Screenshot_2020-08-30 Finish the Fight The Story Behind the Story
Performance released on Aug. 18, 2020, https://timesevents.nytimes.com/finishthefight

2. New York Public Library Search Engines

The New York Public Library has multiple resources that facilitate women’s rights history and provide images and literature on suffragettes and activists. One of my favorites is Research Guide: An Introduction to Black Feminism. This search engine focuses on related works credited to or written about black female activists and feminists within the Schomburg Center’s collection and throughout the New York Public Library.

Home Page of the NYPL’s Black Feminism Research Guide https://libguides.nypl.org/blackfeminism

Another resource from the New York Public Library is How to Find Your Suffragist/Suffragette Ancestors. Thanks to the Library’s Milstein Division of United States History, you can trace your genealogy or find locations that were important to the movement you might have come across. The New York Public Library also mentions:

This guide features a variety of resources to help you trace personal and local connections to the suffrage movement, while expanding upon traditional narratives and highlighting the experiences of suffragists whose contributions have often been overlooked by history, including African American, immigrant, and working class suffragists.


3. The Smithsonian Institute’s Suffragette Image Collection

The Smithsonian has some great material as well! You can check out their article, Counting Down to the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment with #19SuffrageStories, which includes stories, stickers, gifs, and other images that can be downloaded and used on your own social media to celebrate the centennial. An example below shows a gif inspired by co-founder of the Alpha Suffrage Club, journalist, and activist, Ida B. Wells.

Ida B. Wells
A portrait of Ida B. Wells in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery inspired this sticker, via GIPHY

The Smithsonian also has a wonderful collection of suffrage related objects, on their Votes for Women page, like the cape worn to a suffrage parade below. “This cape was worn by Jennie Griswold as a member of a cavalry unit during the 1913 suffrage march in Washington, D.C.” You’ll find a variety of photos, objects, and paper materials related to the women’s rights movement as well as anti-suffrage propaganda. You can also view the Smithsonian’s article, #19SuffrageStories Countdown: Stories 3 to 1, to find out why American suffragettes used gold along with purple and white, instead of green like the British suffragettes.

1913, flannelette and cambric, PL.014951, National Museum of American History


4. The Smithsonian’s, Women’s Voting History You May Not Know

Once again, thanks to the Smithsonian, this video series on Youtube gives insight into the fight for voting rights, especially by minority American women. Clear dates, photographs, and wonderful illustrations provide thoughtful historical data and imagery.

Video Series
Updated Aug. 21, 2020, Smithsonian Institute, https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLL71NEDhCwbG-s5kKD0izopfgj2zWpztO

The history of women’s voting rights in the United States is complicated and there are still so many suffragettes deserving of the limelight that have yet to be acknowledged. Hopefully these resources will offer some thoughtful ways to learn more and provide a broader view of what a suffragette in the early 1900s may have looked like and the layered politics surrounding the movement.

-Danielle Morrin

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like these other posts: Accessories of Suffrage: Political Brooches and Unifying Colors, Inez Milholland: Socialite, Suffragette, Icon, and The Red Lip Controversy: A Glimpse of Lipstick History.

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