From Suffragists to Senators:
The 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, marked the start of the movement for women’s suffrage. The movement had strong ties to abolitionist groups; virtually all women’s rights advocates supported abolition, but not all abolitionists supported women’s rights, believing it was inappropriate for women to engage in public political action. After the Civil War, when the 14th and 15th Amendments granted citizenship and voting rights to former male slaves, the women’s suffrage movement split from their former abolitionist allies to advocate for a federal amendment granted women the right to vote.
At the turn of the century, reformers in women’s clubs and in the settlement house movement struggled to pass reform legislation, but legislators didn’t feel that their voices were important. Women began to realize that in order to achieve reform, they needed to win the right to vote. Leading the fight were the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, and the National Woman’s Party (NWP), led by Alice Paul. Both worked to organize women to campaign the White House and Congress to pass a woman suffrage amendment.
Not everyone was in favor of seeing women cast ballots, however. Anti-suffragists believed that a woman’s highest duties were as a wife and mother, and that voting women would threaten the family structure. Similarly, they worried that women lacked knowledge beyond the domestic sphere and couldn’t handle the responsibility of voting. Conversely, others, particularly brewers and distillers, feared women’s
reforming influence, believing that their “natural maternal instinct” would prohibit alcohol consumption and interfere in business practices.
Locally, women formed county chapters of the Equal Suffrage League and Pennsylvania Women’s Suffrage Association and enjoyed broad support. Mrs. Kate Chapman emerged as a local leader, along with Dr. Anna Clark, the first female doctor in Lackawanna County. The women held rallies in and around Scranton, and hosted the state suffrage convention in Scranton in 1914. A 1915 referendum to amend the Pennsylvania constitution to grant women the vote passed in Lackawanna County with 57% of the vote, but failed statewide. In an open letter published in the Scranton
Republican, Mrs. Chapman thanked the press and the voters for their support, especially those “noble men and women who put aside their shrinking” to speak in public in support of suffrage, and acknowledged men and women to volunteered at the polls, some of whom lost their jobs in doing so.
The 19th Amendment enfranchising women was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919. It was the single largest extension of democratic voting rights in our nation’s history. The ratification process took just over a year, and women formally gained the vote on August 18, 1920.
In 100 years, women have moved fully into politics. In Lackawanna County municipalities, women have been elected as borough council and school board members, mayors, county row officers, judges, and county commissioner. Nationally, the 116 th Congress, which took office in 2019, had the largest percentage of women in U.S. History, with 126 women serving in the House of Representatives (23.6%) and 25 women in the Senate comprising fully a quarter of the chamber. Once granted a voice in politics, women have made sure they are heard.