African American Suffragists
Sojourner Truth (1797? – 1883)
Frances Allen Watkins Harper (1825-1911)
Figure 1. Frances E. W. Harper, c. 1898. Frontispiece of Harper’s Poems (Philadelphia: George S. Ferguson Co., 1898). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Gertrude Bustill Mossell (1855-1948)
Source of image unknown.
Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954)
Mary Church Terrell, c. 1890. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Primary Documents and Artifacts
Declarations / Publications
Seneca Falls Meeting – Declaration of Sentiments
The Seneca Falls Convention was the first woman’s rights convention held in the United States. It took place in 1848 in Wesleyan Chapel, Seneca Falls NY, and was organized by suffragists Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances was modeled after the US Declaration of Independence. It described the injustices faced by American women, and encouraged them to petition and campaign for their rights. The Declaration of Sentiments was signed by the attendees of the Seneca Falls Convention.
Signers of the Declaration of Sentiments set forth by the first Women’s Rights Convention, held at Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. (Collection of the Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division)
The Declaration of Rights of Women, 1876
On the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the National Woman’s Suffrage Association wrote and adopted the Women’s Declaration of Rights, a declaration of the rights promised to all in the Declaration of Independence but still denied to women 100 years later. At the 1876 Independence Day ceremony in Philadelphia, PA, five suffragists stormed the stage after the reading of the Declaration of Independence and read out the Declaration of the Rights of Women to the crowd.
“Declaration and Protest of the Women of the United States” by the National Woman Suffrage Association. July 4th, 1876. Library of Congress.
The Woman’s Bible, 1895
A group of suffragists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, revised the Christian Bible to highlight the discrimination against women. Stanton believed that the Bible was responsible for a lot of the discrimination suffered by women so with other suffragists, she revised the Bible by adding a commentary on the portrayal of women. An example of one of her comments asserts “If language has any meaning, we have in these texts a plain declaration of the existence of the feminine element in the Godhead, equal in power and glory with the masculine” (Stanton).
“The Woman’s Bible.” Museum of the Bible
Elizabeth Cady. “The Woman’s Bible Part I. Comments on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Part II, Comments on the Old and New Testaments from Joshua to Revelation.” EBook, Project Gutenberg.
American Equal Rights Association (AERA) 1866-1870
On May 10, 1866, during the Eleventh National Women’s Right Convention, the American Equal Right Association (AERA) was founded by former abolitionists and women’s rights advocates who endorsed both women’s and Black men’s right to vote (universal voting rights). In New York, which was in the process of revising its state constitution, AERA workers collected petitions in support of women’s suffrage and the removal of property requirements that discriminated specifically against black voters. In Kansas they campaigned for referenda that would enfranchise African Americans and women. With the proposal of the Fifteenth Amendment, which would enfranchise Black men but not women, the interracial and mixed-gender coalitions in AERA began to deteriorate. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony severed their ties with AERA and formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). The bitter disagreements that continued over whether to support universal male or women’s suffrage lead to the dissolution of AERA in 1870.
American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) 1869-1890
Following the dissolution of AERA, two leading suffrage organizations emerged, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). AWSA supported both Black suffrage and woman suffrage and took a state-by-state approach to securing women’s right to vote. Considered the more conservative organization of the two, AWSA ‘s members felt the 15th Amendment would not win congressional support if it included women’s right to vote. Sojourner Truth was a member of AWSA. Engaged in organizing on the state and local levels, AWSA encouraged auxiliary state societies to be formed and provided an effective grassroots system for the dissemination of information about the woman suffrage movement. After more than two decades of independent operation, in 1890, the AWSA merged with the more radical NWSA to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
American Woman Suffrage Association | American organization
National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) 1869-1890
Founded in 1869 and based in New York City, the National Woman Suffrage Association was created by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in response to the split in the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) over whether the women’s movement should support the 15th Amendment. NWSA insisted that Black men should not receive the vote before white women and sought to secure women’s enfranchisement through a federal constitutional amendment. Having invited all women’s suffrage societies in the United States to become auxiliaries of the NWSA, the group increased its ranks considerably by the time it reunited with its sister organization, the American Woman Suffrage Association, (AWSA) in 1890.
National Woman Suffrage Association | Significance & Facts
The Woman Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) 1874-present
The Woman Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded in November 1874 in Cleveland, Ohio. In five years the organization became one the largest and most influential women’s groups of the 19th century. WCTU campaigned for labor laws, prison reform and suffrage. The organization advocated for political reform through an appeal to Christianity. The WCTU fought to secure women’s participation in the political process and wrote a petition to Congress, asking for a constitutional amendment which prohibited disenfranchisement on the basis of sex. Following the death of the organization’s visionary leader Frances Willard in 1898, WCTU focused primarily on prohibition and its opposition to the use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco.
National Council of Women of the United States (NCW/US) 1888-present
The National Council of Women of the United States was founded in 1888 by Susan B. Anthony to serve as an umbrella organization for national organizations and affiliated associations engaged in supporting the advancement of women, including securing women’s right to vote. To this day the organization continues to advocate for women’s social, economic and political equality.
National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) 1890-1920
The National Amerian Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was created in 1890 by the merger of the two major rival women’s rights organizations, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). The strategy of the newly formed organization was to push for the ratification of enough state suffrage amendments to force Congress to approve a federal amendment. NAWSA’s new approach focused the group’s energies exclusively on recruiting new members and winning the vote for women on the state level. Women’s suffrage gained further support because the organization actively engaged with the war effort during World War I. The organization played a pivotal role in the passing of the 19th Amendment which secured women the right to vote. A few months prior to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, NAWSA transformed into the League of Women Voters.
National American Woman Suffrage Association | American Organization.
Women’s Era Club, 1894-1896
The Women’s Era Club was an African American civic organization and the first black women’s club in Boston founded by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin. The Club admitted both back and white women and focused on charity, personal improvement and advocacy. At the time it was one of the largest women’s clubs for African Americans. The club crusaded for women’s suffrage and against lynching and embraced the motto “make the world better,” which were the last words of Lucy Stone, a progressive white suffragist. The Women’s Era Club eventually merged with the National Association of Colored Women’s Club (NACWC).
National Association of Colored Women’s Club (NACWC), 1896 – present
The National Association of Colored Women’s Club (NACWC) was formed in 1896 at the First Annual Convention of the National Federation of Afro-American Women in Washington D.C. Its founders included Harriet Tubman, Frances E.W. Harper, Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell, who became the organization’s first president.
Women’s Club of Buffalo, New York, Library of Congress
From 1896 to 1914, it was known at the National Association of Colored Women (NACW).
The organization adopted the motto “Lifting As We Climb” as the organizers believed that by elevating the status of Black women, they could elevate the status of their communities. NACWC focused on job training, wage equity, and child care, supported women’s suffrage and opposed segregation and lynching. The Suffragist Mary Church Terrell became the organization’s first president.
“National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs | Description, History, & Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica.
Banner with motto of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
National Woman’s Party-1980
The National Woman’s Party was founded in 1913 at the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU). NWP was instrumental in raising public awareness of the women’s suffrage campaign. Using a variety of tactics, the party successfully pressured President Woodrow Wilson, the members of Congress, and state legislators to support passage of a 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing women nationwide the right to vote. In doing so, the NWP established a legacy defending the exercise of free speech, free assembly, and the right to dissent. The NWP effectively commanded the attention of politicians and the public through its aggressive agitation, relentless lobbying, clever publicity stunts, and creative examples of civil disobedience and nonviolent confrontation. Its tactics were versatile and imaginative, drawing inspiration from a variety of sources–including the British suffrage campaign, the American labor movement, and the temperance, antislavery, and early women’s rights campaigns in the United States.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 1909 – present
The NAACP was formed was founded by a multi-racial group of activists in New York, N.Y. in response to the continuing horrific practice of lynching and the 1908 race riot in Springfield, the capital of Illinois and resting place of President Abraham Lincoln. Initially, the group called themselves the National Negro Committee. Founders Ida Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. DuBois, Henry Moscowitz, Mary White Ovington, Oswald Garrison Villiard and William English Walling led the call to renew the struggle for civil and political liberty. Today, the NAACP encourages economic enterprise in African Americans and works to increase political participation among African American voters.
“National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.” Encyclopedia Britannica.
The Fourteenth Amendment, 1868
The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution decrees that all those born in the United States are citizens. This amendment also contains the equal protection clause, which bars state governments and the federal government from making laws that discriminate against a group of people. The Fourteenth Amendment added the for the first time gender to the Constitution when it stated that all male citizens over twenty-one years old should be able to vote. The omission of women from the passage resulted in women not being granted the same voting rights access and mobilized the women’s suffrage movement.
“The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” National Constitution Center – The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Fifteenth Amendment, 1870
The Fifteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which declares that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States of by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” It was ratified and became the law of the land in February 1870. The Fifteenth Amendment was passed after the realization that the Fourteenth Amendment did not absolutely guarantee Blacks’ right to vote as local restrictions were imposed to prevent them from voting. The amendment added nothing to the women’s struggle for suffrage. Many of the white women grew resentful that black males were awarded voting rights before them and opposed the Amendment.
“The 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” National Constitution Center – The 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Nineteenth Amendment, 1920
The Nineteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution finally guaranteed all American women the legal right to vote. The Amendment states “The right of citizens of the United States shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
“The 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” National Constitution Center – The 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Special thanks to Maria Garcia who compiled a bibliography, see below, to help our research team.
Special thanks to Sharell Walker, our librarian, who created a resource page on the Library’s website to support our research team. We recommend you visit this website for additional resources and inspiration.