A Very Brief History of the Global Movement for Women's Suffrage

And the notable stories of which it is comprised

It has been 100 years since the 19th Amendment was ratified in the United States, barring discrimination in voting on the basis of sex. Today we celebrate this as a 100-Year Anti-Anniversary, because not all women, not all people were awarded this right in our country. We believe what was stated by Fannie Lou Hamer, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” 

It wasn’t until the 1965 Voting Rights Act that our government attempted to remedy the racism and discrimination millions of citizens faced when trying to exercise their rights. It wasn’t until 1975 that our government acknowledged language discrimination by passing an amendment that would require all voting forms to be provided in other languages aside from English. Still, with these legislative victories, our nation continues to fall short of equal universal suffrage. 

We celebrate this Anti-Anniversary by sharing the stories of women’s suffrage. We aim to hone in on the building blocks, the challenges, the achievements and the shortcomings of the global women’s suffrage movement. We aim to provide a platform on which we can learn, grow and be inspired to continue the fight for equality. 

From now until the election on November 3rd, we will be sharing stories of suffrage. Check back weekly to be able to read more about the women listed under Notable Stories. If at any point you see some inaccuracies, please don’t hesitate to make us aware. We welcome constructive feedback. We are here not to be right, but to get it right. 


The Uprising of Suffragists 

The Women’s Suffrage movement was born from the revolutions of the world. Throughout the age of revolutions, women witnessed and joined men fighting for “liberty” and freedom for all; but as the dust settled, they were left wondering, “what about us?”

They also wondered, “What about slaves?” The rise of the women’s suffrage movement is intrinsically linked to abolitionist movements around the world. Frederick Douglass wrote,  “When the true history of the anti-slavery cause shall be written, women will occupy a large space in its pages; for the cause of the slave has been peculiarly woman’s cause.” Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (Hartford, CT: Park Publishing, 1883). 


The Seneca Falls Convention

In 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, two vocal abolitionists, were barred from attending the World’s Anti-slavery convention in London. Stanton and Mott vowed to have a women’s convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton drafted the “Sentiments of Women” and together they hosted the first women's rights convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. This gathering of 200 women over two days, and 40 men on the second day, established the foundation for the women’s rights movement in terms of objectives and advocacy. It is important to note, the only African American present at this convention was Frederick Douglas.

Notable Stories: 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton 

Lucretia Mott 

Sojourner Truth

The Transatlantic Movement

Out of this newfound organization and mobilization, women’s advocacy groups began to form. Many American women, like Mott and Stanton as mentioned above, as well as Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, traveled frequently to Britain and participated in women’s groups and protests. Stanton and Susan B. Anthony went on to found the International Council of Women (ICW) while Paul and Burns founded the National Woman’s Party. This group organized the first picketing protests outside the White House with signs that read, “We, the Women of America, tell you that America is not a democracy. Twenty million American Women are denied the right to vote. President Wilson is the chief opponent of their national enfranchisement.”

Of all the groups, the most effective in terms of gaining ground on policy changes was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). This group, led by Frances Willard, heavily advocated for prohibition and became a group with immense political force. Kate Sheppard, who moved to New Zealand from Scotland with her family at a young age, took on the leadership role for WCTU there. Together they were responsible for women’s suffrage in New Zealand in 1893 and in Australia in 1902. As these movements gained steamed, racism and marginalization of WOC splintered the groups, staining the legacy of first wave feminist movements. 

Notable Stories:

Kate Sheppard (New Zealand)

Frances Willard

Alice Paul

Susan B. Anthony


The Splinter Between White and Black Suffragists

Alpha Suffrage Club

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a foundational advocate of abolition, civil and women’s rights among the likes of Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas and William Still, spoke at the ICW founding convention and coordinated the formation of “colored” WCTU groups. Ida B. Wells, who brought attention to the lynching of black men as investigative reporter and later became the founder of the Alpha Suffrage Club, a Chicago based black suffrage group, was a pointed critic of Frances Willard’s lack of advocacy on behalf of African Americans. She refused to heed the requests of the organizers’ of the 1913 March on Washington to stay in the back -- instead marching to the front to join the rest of the Chicago coalition. 

Mary Church Terrell was another key player in advocacy for Black women. She gave a speech in fluent German at the 1904 ICW meeting in Berlin, demanding that a global agenda must address the inequality that Black women face. She went on to establish the National Association of Colored Women. 

Notable Stories:

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Mary Church Terrell

Ida B. Wells


The Galvanization of the Women’s Movement and the Nineteenth Amendment

The swell of working class, socialist movements, fanned the flames in the fight for women’s rights. The original unity between human rights, universal suffrage and women’s rights was brought back to life throughout Europe and the Americas by pivotal movers and shakers like Puerto Rican, Luisa Capetillo and Mexican-American, Teresa Villarreal. 

In Britain, a militant-style feminist movement led by Emmeline Pankhurst (pictured left being dragged away from Buckingham Palace) inspired suffrage activism around the world and helped further the cause. In 1906, the Social Democratic Party passed Europe’s first woman suffrage law in Finland. The movement was building steam and by 1914, universal suffrage swept across Europe. U.S. Suffragists pressured Wilson at the onset of World War I and in 1918 he formally backed the measure. It took two more years for states to fully ratify the 19th amendment, ending with Tennessee on August 18th, 1920. A century later, we’re still fighting to ensure equal access to our constitutional rights. 

Notable Stories:

Luisa Capetillo (Puerto Rico)

Teresa Villarreal (Mexican-American)

Emmeline Pankhurst (England)

Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee / United States) 

Margaret Tucker (Yorta Yorta / Australia)

The Pan American Movement

In 1922, African American women collaborated with African, Caribbean and other women around the world in forming the International Council of Women of the Darker Races. They advocated for antiracism and anticolonialism. In 1928, US and Cuban feminists created the first intergovernmental organization in the world, the Inter-American Commision of Women. After achieving an international treaty for women’s civil and political rights within the League of Nations, Latin American feminists moved to form their own Pan-Hispanic movement that focused on anti-imperialism, anti-fascisim and human rights. 

Ecuador was the first to approve women’s suffrage in 1929 with Brazil and Uruguay joining in 1932. Chilean women could vote in municipal elections in 1931. In 1945, during the formation of the United Nations, Brazilian feminist, Bertha Lutz, and a cohort of Latin American delegates pushed for women’s rights to be included in the UN Charter and formed the basis of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. In the aftermath of this, women’s suffrage legislation swept across Latin America. Venezuela passed the measure in 1946, Argentina in 1947, Chile in national elections in 1949, Bolivia in 1953, Mexico joined the majority in 1953 with Colombia and Honduras to follow in 1954, Nicaragua and Peru in 1955 and Paraguay passed the measure in 1961.

As was the case in the US and across Europe, there were still many restrictions to voting for women of color and indigenous populations in these nations. Literacy tests were commonplace in Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Argentina -- a skill often limited to wealthy, white women. To this day, Latin American women, especially BIWOC, continue to face immense challenges socially and economically as a result of the lingering effects of racism and brutal dictatorships, the majority of which were supported by the US. 

Notable Stories:

Ofelia Rodríguez Acosta (Cuba)

Bertha Lutz (Brazil)

Rigoberta Menchú (Guatemala) 


Suffrage in Africa 

African nations were influenced by this global movement, as well. Due to the immense influence of colonization and imperialism, many African women did not earn the right to vote until the 1960’s and up through the 1980’s, during the second wave of feminism. The resulting oppression and racism played a huge part in the barriers to universal suffrage in African countries. There was first a fight for independence and then a struggle to free themselves from the western paradigm and power structures that perpetuates societies to this day. This is illustrated starkly in South Africa where white men and women could vote as early as 1930, but black men and women could not vote until after the Apartheid in 1994. 

Notable Stories: 

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti (Nigeria)

Charlotte Maxeke (South Africa)


Suffrage Across AsiaSeito Women of Japan, founders of the Bluestocking Feminist Magazine

The suffrage movements throughout Asia are as varied as the region is vast. Many countries were swept up with the women’s rights and socialists movements throughout the globe and with this came universal suffrage. Such was the case with Russia (1918) and countries surrounding what soon became the USSR. These countries passed suffrage within the following decade: Estonia, Ukraine, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Albania, Czechoslovakia, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Turkmenistan and Romania. A majority of Middle Eastern countries followed suit in a similar fashion as Africa and South America in the 1940’s through the 1960’s. China, Japan and India earned the right to vote in 1945 and 1950 respectively. Thailand is an outlier in this region, having granted universal suffrage in 1932. 

Notable Stories:

Ichikawa Fusae (Japan)

Techeng Yu-hsui (China)

Bibi Khānoom Astarābādi (Iran)


100 Year Anti-Anniversary

The history of the women’s suffrage movement is riddled with many triumphs and setbacks. It is stained with racism and classism. It is a reminder that humanity is not black and white, that we are complex and imperfect and so is the wake of history we leave behind. Movements are only as great as we are. When we fall short, so do they.

While it has been 100 years since the 19th amendment passed in the United States, granting women the right to vote, we celebrate this Anti-Anniversary because the fight for equal access to voting rights still continues in 2020.  

Let us celebrate by learning from the giants before us. Let us celebrate by becoming the change we want to see in the world.

Stay Tuned for Weekly Updates on Notable Stories!

Don't see a story you'd like to know more about? See something inaccurate? Send us your feedback and suggestions at stories@WeAreVicentia.com.








Annotations (much of the information was compiled from the following sources):














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