“Votes for Women”
- Movement Slogan 


From 1895 to 1929, women’s activism focused on obtaining voting rights, improving working conditions, and fighting racism. African American and working-class people sought the vote as a means to seek social justice and protections. Women upended ideas about propriety by marching in the streets and harnessing modern forms of public spectacle. National organizations and local groups worked with legislators to get suffrage referendums on state ballots and introduce a constitutional amendment in Congress. Ultimately, success came with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, granting the vote to women. Although it marked a dramatic shift in American democracy, the suffrage victory came with limitations. Jim Crow laws and mob violence prevented African Americans from voting in much of the country, while Native and Asian Americans would wait decades to be citizens. Women who married foreigners lost their US citizenship. Efforts encouraged women to register and pressed for a wider definition of citizenship through jury service, education, and employment, along with an Equal Rights Amendment. 

The growing popularity of marches and parades coincided with the development of film and the popularity of newsreels. Suffrage and anti-lynching activists exploited this new medium to broadcast their message. 

12,000 Women March, 1917. Dawson City Museum, Library and Archives Canada, The Library of Congress, and Bill Morrison’s film “Dawson City: Frozen Time,” Hypnotic Pictures / Picture Palace Pictures 

NAACP Silent March, 1917. Dawson City Museum, Library and Archives Canada, The Library of Congress, and Bill Morrison’s film “Dawson City: Frozen Time,” Hypnotic Pictures / Picture Palace Pictures 

Woman Wins the Right to Vote, 1920. F.I.L.M Archive 

“Women of all ages, from the nearly feeble to the vigorously youthful,  
walked side by side — all seemingly fired by enthusiasm for their cause.”
The New York Times, 1917

Many Methods, One Goal

By 1900, urbanization, immigration, Jim Crow laws, and women in the industrial labor force made suffrage ever more urgent. Voting was the key to addressing societal issues. Although several Western states gave women the vote starting in 1869, the 1878 “Susan B. Anthony Amendment” proposing women’s suffrage gathered dust in Congress. New activism in the early 20th century reinvigorated the cause. While groups and individuals agreed on the end goal, they often disagreed philosophically. The National American Woman Suffrage Association pursued change state by state, until shifting course in 1916. The National Woman’s Party sought a swifter constitutional amendment, and members went to prison for picketing the White House, dismaying moderates. Black communities linked the vote to fighting racism. Some white-led groups welcomed Black members, while others sought the vote to entrench white power. Workers demanded the vote to gain shorter days, higher wages, and safer workplaces. Most visibly, grand parades drew crowds and publicity. Despite the range of suffragist beliefs, all disagreed with anti-suffrage claims that women should stay out of politics. 

Woman Suffrage Party
Sash, ca. 1915
Gift of Mrs. Dana Converse Backus, 1955; INV7421.1 

Working women first wore signs as part of labor strikes. Middle-class women similarly pinned sashes to their chests as they marched in suffrage parades.

Black Clubwomen and the Vote

As Jim Crow laws proliferated after the end of Reconstruction, Black women’s organizations advocated for improved education and employment, and spoke out against racial violence. Groups such as the National Association of Colored Women, Brooklyn’s Equal Suffrage League, and the Alpha Suffrage Club of Chicago sought the vote as a tool to achieve these goals and, in their own words, “uplift the race.” Black suffragists confronted racism that marginalized or dismissed their concerns within the suffrage movement. In response, Black women not only marched in multiple parades, but wrote and lectured extensively in support of the vote, supported progressive candidates, wrote to legislators, petitioned Congress, and exhorted Black men to support state referendums. After the 19th Amendment’s ratification, clubwomen worked to educate voters and fight widespread disenfranchisement. 

Nannie Helen Burroughs and others meeting for Banner State Woman's National Baptist Convention, ca. 1905
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington D.C.  
African American women’s “clubs,” frequently associated with churches, were powerhouses of activism. Nannie Burroughs was an outspoken suffragist as well as a leader in the Baptist church.

Howard University Delta Sigma Theta founders, 1913 
Courtesy of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Howard University  
Fearing the objections of Southern suffragists, Alice Paul first discouraged Black women from participating in the March 1913 parade in Washington, DC, then agreed to segregate them at the back of the procession. The young founders of Delta Sigma Theta marched, as did many well-known Black suffragists including Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells.    

A copy of this photograph is displayed at the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated National Headquarters located at 1707 New Hampshire Avenue, Northwest, Washington, DC 20009.

Front Row:    Winona Cargile Alexander, Madree Penn White, Wertie Blackwell Weaver, Vashti Turley Murphy, Ethel Cuff Black, Fredericka Chase Dodd    
Middle Row:
Pauline Orberdorfer Minor, Edna Brown Coleman, Edith Mott Young, Marguerite Young Alexander, Naomi Sewell Richardson    
Last Row:      Myra Davis Hemmings, Mamie Reddy Rose, Bertha Pitts Campbell, Florence Letcher Toms, Olive Jones, Jessie McGwire Dent, Jimmie Bugg        Middleton, Ethel Carr Watson    Not Pictured: Eliza Pearl Shippen, Osceola Macarthy Adams, Zephyr Chisom Carter

Vote for Woman Suffrage November 6th poster, 1917
The Dobkin Family Collection of Feminism  

On October 27, 1917, twenty thousand people​ paraded down Fifth Avenue in support of the upcoming state referendum. While newsreel footage and photographs show only white marchers, the New York Times reported that Black women participated in the parade.

Equal Suffrage League
Petition to Congress in Support of Woman Suffrage, 1908
Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries  

The Equal Suffrage League represented the National Association of Colored Women’s suffrage initiative. They obtained thousands of signatures for this petition to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments and support women’s suffrage, specifically addressing African American concerns. 

Amalgamated Clothing Workers on Strike, Chicago, 1915 
Jacob Rader Marcus Center for the American Jewish Archives    

Working women boldly asserted their desire for the vote. Broadsides proclaimed “every thinking working woman . . . wants the power 
the ballot will give her and her fellow workers,” urging workers to attend meetings and parades “to show the gentlemen we have arrived.”

Headquarters for Colored Women Voters, attributed as Georgia, ca. 1920
Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library  

Black voters fought efforts to keep them from the polls. 
The NAACP spoke before C​ongress on election-related violence, and these women formed a voters’ group despite widespread disenfranchisement. 

Sievers Studio. Missouri League of Women Voters, 1920. Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis