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Woman Suffrage Centennial

Timeline: The Senate and the 19th Amendment
Women demanded political equality even before the nation's founding, but not until 1878 did a member of Congress formally submit a proposal to amend the Constitution to allow women to vote. The Senate debated what came to be known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment periodically for more than four decades. Approved by the Senate on June 4, 1919, and ratified in August 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment marked one stage in women's long fight for political equality. This timeline features key moments on the Senate's long road to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

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July 19-20, 1848
Women's Rights Advocates Meet in Seneca Falls, New York

At a convention in Seneca Falls, New York, prominent women's rights advocates draft the "Declaration of Sentiments," including a provision to extend the right to vote to all women.

Seneca Falls Convention Pamphlet, 1848
Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

December 12, 1866
Senate Defeats D.C. Suffrage Proposal

During a debate over a District of Columbia suffrage bill, Senator Edgar Cowan (R-PA) introduces an amendment to provide for woman suffrage. The Senate defeats Cowan’s amendment by a vote of 9-37.

Edgar Cowan (R-PA)
Library of Congress

December 7, 1868
Pomeroy Proposes Universal Suffrage

As Congress debates the nation’s postwar reconstruction, Senator Samuel Pomeroy (R-KS) introduces S. Res. 180, a constitutional amendment: “The basis of suffrage in the United States shall be that of citizenship, and all native or naturalized citizens shall enjoy the same rights and privileges of the elective franchise….” Three days later, the Senate agrees to let Pomeroy’s bill “lie upon the table.”

The Congressional Globe, December 7, 1868

Senator Samuel Pomeroy (R-KS) introduces S. Res. 180, a constitutional amendment for universal suffrage.

January 10, 1878
Sargent Proposes Amending Constitution

Senator Aaron Sargent (R-CA) introduces S.Res. 12, providing for woman suffrage: "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." The Senate refers the so-called Susan B. Anthony Amendment to the Committee on Privileges and Elections. The following day, suffragists testify for the first time before senators on the issue of woman suffrage.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton before the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections, New York Daily Graphic, January 16, 1878
Library of Congress

June 14, 1878
Committee Receives 30,000 Petitions

The Committee on Privileges and Elections, after reviewing 30,000 petitions requesting a woman suffrage amendment, recommends that consideration of the issue be "indefinitely postponed."

Report of the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections, June 14, 1878

January 9, 1882
Senate Forms Woman Suffrage Committee

Senators approve a resolution introduced by George Hoar (R-MA) to establish a Select Committee on Woman Suffrage, 35-23.

George F. Hoar (R-MA)
Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

June 5, 1882
Committee Recommends Suffrage Amendment

For the first time in Senate history, a committee submits a report to the full Senate supporting a woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution.

The Congressional Record, June 5, 1882

The Senate Select Committee on Woman Suffrage reports favorably on a woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution.

January 25, 1887
Senate Defeats Woman Suffrage Amendment, 16-34

In February 1886 the Senate Select Committee on Woman Suffrage favorably reports the Susan B. Anthony Amendment to the full Senate. Nearly a year later, after much prodding by Henry Blair (R-NH), the Senate holds its first vote on the proposal, which suffers a lopsided defeat.

The Congressional Record, January 25, 1887

Senate roll call vote on a woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution.

March 4, 1908
Suffragists Invade Capitol, Lawmakers Tremble

Dozens of suffragists, including spouses and daughters of members of Congress, lobby senators in the Marble Room, a meeting space near the Senate Chamber. Their presence in the Capitol had become an annual tradition, organized in conjunction with the yearly meeting of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in Washington, D.C.

Washington Evening Star, March 3, 1908

March 3, 1913
Senators Investigate Parade Chaos

At the first national woman suffrage parade held in Washington, D.C., spectators assault marching suffragists. A subsequent Senate investigation of the incidents of that day, which draws upon dozens of eyewitness accounts, concludes that “uniformed and…special police acted with more or less indifference while on duty.”

Crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue during Suffrage Parade, March 3, 1913
Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

June 24, 1913
Belle La Follette, Senate Spouse, testifies

Belle La Follette, prominent suffragist and spouse of Senator Robert La Follette (R-WI), testifies before the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage in support of the constitutional amendment. “Ours is a government of the people by the people and for the people. And are not women people?”

Belle La Follette, Prominent Suffragist and Spouse of Senator Robert La Follette (R-WI)
Library of Congress

July 31, 1913
Senators Submit Suffrage Petitions

In a carefully orchestrated event, suffragists deliver petitions with more than 75,000 signatures to senators. Suffragists call it the "Siege of the Senate." When the Senate convenes that afternoon, senators formally submit the petitions for committee referral.

Automobile Procession to Deliver Suffrage Petitions to the Senate, July 31, 1913
Records of the National Woman's Party, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

March 19, 1914
Senate Defeats Suffrage Amendment

For the second time in its history, the Senate holds a vote on a constitutional amendment to extend suffrage to women. The measure falls 11 votes short of the constitutionally required two-thirds of senators present and voting, 35-34.

Senate Roll-Call Vote Tally for S.J.Res.1, March 19, 1914
Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives

May 3, 1917
Alice Hay Wadsworth, Senate Spouse, Testifies

Alice Hay Wadsworth, wife of Senator James Wadsworth, Jr., (R-NY), and president of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, testifies before the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage.

Alice Hay Wadsworth
Prints and Photograph Division, Library of Congress

September 30, 1918
President Wilson Addresses Senate

Only the third president to address the U.S. Senate in the Senate Chamber, Woodrow Wilson, a converted suffragist, pleads with senators to immediately pass the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which had been approved by the House of Representatives in January 1918.

Telegram in Favor of Woman Suffrage as a War Measure, May 30, 1918
Records of the U. S. Senate, National Archives

The effect of President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to publicly support the woman suffrage amendment as “vitally essential to the successful prosecution of the great war” is evident in this telegram to Idaho senator William Borah, from Mary D. Snyder, 1st District Federation of Woman’s Club Idaho, in favor of suffrage as a war measure.

October 1, 1918
Suffrage Amendment Falls Two Votes Short

The Senate fails to approve the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, falling two votes short, 53-31. Five weeks later, in the midterm election of 1918, Democrats lose their majorities in both chambers of Congress.

"The Last Trench," June 1918, by Nina Allender
Nina Allender Political Cartoon Collection, National Woman's Party

By 1918 unofficial vote counts of senators supporting the woman suffrage amendment revealed a deficit of just two votes. In this June 1918 cartoon by Nina Allender, the official artist for The Suffragist (the weekly newspaper of the National Woman’s Party), a woman dressed as a soldier stands over a man representing the Senate. The man holds a piece of paper that reads, “Two Votes.” The phrase “The Last Trench” is inscribed beneath the image.

February 10, 1919
Senate Defeats Suffrage Amendment

The Senate fails to approve the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, falling one vote short of the necessary two-thirds present and voting, with a vote of 55-29.

Suffragists from the National Woman’s Party with Banner, 1918
National Woman's Party Collection

June 4, 1919
Senate Approves Nineteenth Amendment

After 41 years of debate, the Senate finally approves a constitutional amendment to provide for woman suffrage, 56-25. Vice President Thomas Marshall, flanked by suffragists, signs the Susan B. Anthony Amendment in the Vice President's ceremonial office in the Capitol. Upon Tennessee's approval on August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified.

The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution
National Archives

August 6, 1965
Senate Approves Voting Rights Act

Four decades after passage of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, President Johnson signs into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which had been passed by Congress two days earlier. The goal of extending voting rights to all women had remained elusive, as some states continued to disenfranchise African American women and men well into the mid-20th century. The Voting Rights Act provides enforcement mechanisms to protect voting rights under the provisions of the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

Signing Ceremony for the Voting Rights Act, August 6, 1965
LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto

Posing for camera with the signed Voting Rights Act, August 6, 1965 (L-R) Sen. Jacob Javits (R-NY), Sen. Mike Mansfield (D-MT), V.P. Hubert Humphrey (D-MN), Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-IL), Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX), Speaker John McCormack (D-MA), Rep. Emanuel Celler (D-NY)