The National Women’s Suffrage Association

The National Women’s Suffrage Association was among the forerunners for the women’s demand for suffrage spanning back to the 1880s. Carrie Chapman Catt was among its most eminent leaders and coming from a Mormon background that emphasized the equality between men and women; she was quick to recognize the inequality of the then existent suffrage system. This was because her mother couldn’t vote, unlike her father, Michals, Debra.  “Carrie Chapman Catt.” National Women’s History Museum.  National Women’s History Museum, 2015.  Date accessed 29/04/2020. She joined NAWSA and soon grew into its presidency.

Under her leadership, NAWSA was focussed on a state to state approach in its push for women’s suffrage. NAWSA lobbied under the individual states’ congresses seeking to pass amendments supporting women’s rights to vote under the so-called “winning plan.” To better lobby the states, they focussed on recruiting, which would help them gain more influence and significantly boost their fundraising (McCammon). They also signed petitions which were a time honoured tradition in American politics to put pressure on the elected representatives. Key among their actions was the position the organization took to support President Woodrow’s involvement in the war.

The National Women’s Party was formed by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns after their break off from NASWA. Just like NAWSA before them, they employed tactics such as lobbying and petitions to draw support to their cause. However, they saw this method as not working fast enough, and they favoured a more aggressive approach. They drew inspiration from the British Suffrage campaign, American labour activism, the antislavery movement and early women’s rights campaigns. Rather than focussing on the slow and tedious state by state approach, they pushed directly for a federal constitutional amendment that would give women the right to vote, (“Historical Overview of the National Women’s Party | Articles and Essays | Women of Protest”). They addressed their concerns to president Woodrow directly targeting him for striving to liberate nations abroad while women in his country lacked fundamental rights. The peak of their campaigns was when America joined in WW1.

Their militant methods included parades, pageants, street speaking, picketing and hunger strikes (Carrie Chapman Catt | National Women’s History Museum)

Pankhurst, E. Sylvia. The Suffragette: The History of the Women’s Militant Suffrage Movement, 1905-1910. Good Press, 2019. The administration initially snubbed their efforts, but their patience ran out with them with the advent of the war. Their members faced arrest, brutality, jail, threats to be taken to mental asylums and forced feeding an invasive procedure. News of their plight under the police caused widespread criticism of the administration’s actions while also gathering them national praise and support. This ultimately culminated in the passing of the 19th amendment that essentially gave women the right to vote. The party’s efforts did not stop at this with them addressing other issues such as child labour and world peace.

The two methods, while vastly different in their approaches, ultimately culminated in the women’s right to vote. The NWP’s plan can be viewed as an evolution of the previous traditional and more peaceful and conformist stand. This clear demarcation in ideas was later visible in the civils right approach in the 60s with Martin Luther King and Malcom X taking different approaches to the issues, (University et al.). This divide was also in the feminist movement with radical feminists rejecting both the political view that social evolution will bring about women’s change and the liberal feminist’s view of integrating women into the political sphere. They demanded a more radical and urgent approach to solving women’s issues.

“Historical Overview of the National Women’s Party | Articles and Essays | Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party | Digital Collections | Library of Congress.” Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. www.loc.gov, https://www.loc.gov/collections/women-of-protest/articles-and-essays/historical-overview-of-the-national-womans-party/. Accessed 29 Apr. 2020.

McCammon, Holly J. “‘Out of the Parlors and into the Streets’: The Changing Tactical Repertoire of the U.S. Women’ Suffrage Movements.” Social Forces, vol. 81, no. 3, Oxford Academic, Mar. 2003, pp. 787–818. academic.oup.com, doi:10.1353/sof.2003.0037.

University, © Stanford, et al. “Malcolm X.” The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, 29 June 2017. kinginstitute.stanford.edu, https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/malcolm-x.

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