Activities will help students:
- understand that until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, many states denied women the right to vote
- use primary and secondary sources to understand the ways that women advocated for the right to vote
- evaluate the importance of the federal government in securing women's right to vote
- Why did so many states deny women the right to vote? Why was women’s suffrage legal in some states?
- What strategies did women use to win the right to vote? Which were most successful? What made them successful?
- What role did state governments play in extending voting rights to women? What role did the federal government play?
- The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, by Alexander Keyssar. Rev. ed. New York: Basic Books, 2009.
- Iron Jaw Angels, a HBO film
- Why Women Couldn’t Vote
- Suffragists Change Tactics in Fight for Equal Suffrage transcript
- Strategy Cards
- Sandra Day O’Connor Views Alice Paul transcript
- "Votes for Women!/The Woman’s Reason"
- "Women in the Home"
- Map of Woman Suffrage Before 1920
This lesson is the fourth in a series called Expanding Voting Rights. The overall goal of the series is for students to explore the complicated history of voting rights in the United States. Two characteristics of that history stand out: First, in fits and starts, more and more Americans have gained the right to vote. Second, over time, the federal government's role in securing these rights has expanded considerably. Please note this lesson was originally written to be used with NBC Learn videos, but those videos are no longer available. The transcripts to those videos are linked in the materials list.
This lesson has students explore how women succeeded in gaining the right to vote in this country. Until 1920, most states limited the right to vote to men (and in many states only white men). Over a period of about 75 years, a movement of American women used nonviolent tactics at both the state and federal levels to demand their right to vote. The outcome was the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1920.
suffrage [suhf-rij] (noun) the right to vote
suffragist [suhf-ruh-jist] (noun) someone who wants to extend the right to vote; frequently used to refer to women
abridge [uh-brij] (verb) to deprive; to limit
1. For some background information, read Why Women Couldn’t Vote. It explains that in the early 1900s, the United States lacked a coherent national policy guaranteeing women the right to vote. This reading will prepare you for a more in-depth look at the women’s suffrage movement.
2. Different groups of women used different strategies to gain the right to vote. Watch Suffragists Change Tactics from the NBC Learn archives.What are the three different phases of the suffrage movement identified by historian Sarah Chinn in the video? (Note: Moral persuasion, state-by-state and federal amendment. Have students write each one on chart paper and post each chart in a different corner of the room.)
3. (Note: Have students count off by threes.) Students who are "ones" go to the corner with moral persuasion sign, the “twos” go to the state-by-state sign and the “threes” to the federal amendment sign.(Note: Give each group the Strategy Card that corresponds to the strategy identified in their corner. If you have enough computers in the classroom for each group to work on one, have groups work where they are. If you don’t, print a copy of the appropriate documents/transcripts ahead of time and give it to the group.)Read your group’s strategy card and discuss it together to see if you understand it. To get more information, view/read any sources identified on your group’s card, and do any additional research you need so that you have a solid understanding of your group’s beliefs and actions. Create a presentation for the class showing how your group went about trying to win votes for women. Which group might picket, march or chant in public places to draw attention to their cause? What would other groups do? Keep in mind that you want the rest of the class to understand the answers to these two questions: 1) What arguments did your group make about why women should have the right to vote? 2) How did they present those arguments?
4. Form groups of three, with each group having a representative from each of the three strategies (that is, one person from a moral persuasion group, one from a federal amendment group and one from a state-by-state group). Staying in character, discuss your group’s position on women’s suffrage and strategies. Make a three-way Venn diagram to clarify what you have in common and how you differ. Study the diagram together. Have each person take a turn explaining why she either would or would not be willing to work with the other two groups to gain the right to vote. Tell the rest of the class about your group’s decision and how you reached it.
5. Read the Nineteenth Amendment. Plan a celebration of its ratification, with each of the three groups contributing. Be creative with your contributions! They might include, for example, decorations, a speech, a song or costumes.
6. Finally, after the festivities, write an essay or prepare a presentation that addresses this question: Do you think women would have gotten the right to vote if the federal government had not proposed a constitutional amendment? Why or why not?
Activities and embedded assessments address the following standards from Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.