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#19SuffrageStories Countdown: Stories 9 to 4

Zitkála-Šá wears indigenous clothing and stares directly into the camera in a sepia photo. Text on image: 4 Years  Zitkála-Šá (Yankton Sioux)

Photo of Zitkála-Šá (Yankton Sioux) by Joseph T. Keiley. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

This month the Smithsonian, Library of Congress, and National Archives are sharing lesser-known stories of suffragists who worked long before (and after) the 19th Amendment was passed. See our stories so far (stories 19 to 15 and 14 to 10). Also, use our new set of women's history-inspired animated gifs and Instagram stickers on your social media posts.


9: 1909 Factory Workers Strike

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Two strikers look at the camera. They wear large hats and sashes that say "Picket Ladies Tailors Strikers." Men behind them stare. Text on image: Factory Workers Strike 1909
Women picket during ladies tailors strike, February 1910. National Archives.
 

The 1909 garment workers strike in New York City was crucial in paving the way for women's suffrage in the state in 1917. The strike brought higher wages and union consciousness to thousands of women workers.

Leaders like Rose Schneiderman—who emigrated as a child from Russian Poland, worked in a factory, and became a force among New York's labor community—insisted that working women needed the vote to fight against low wages, long hours, and unsafe conditions.

As working-class women joined the suffrage movement during the 1910s, the movement gained supporters and leaders with deep experience in organizing labor. These working women won over powerful trade unions and working-class men. As labor organizations voiced their desire for a women's suffrage amendment, support in Congress mounted.

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8: Eight Million Women with Paychecks and No Votes

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Poster advocating for women's suffrage. Text added: 8 Million Women with Paychecks and No Vote.
“Eight Million Women Wage-Earners in the United States ... They Need the Vote” poster. Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
 

This poster declared that 8 million working women in the U.S. needed the vote. It was printed in 1917 by the National Woman Suffrage Publishing Co. Inc., one of the country's largest pro-suffrage groups. It's in our National Museum of American History's collection, along with postcards they created for a 1910 campaign.

The Women's Political Union (WPU), a radical suffrage group formed by Harriot Stanton Blatch, focused on women who supported themselves financially. Blatch started the WPU to bring working-class women into the suffrage movement. The group was responsible for holding one of the first large suffrage marches in the U.S. That march took place in New York City in 1910. The group joined with Alice Paul's suffrage organization in the spring of 1916, and they created posters, postcards, and pamphlets around labor rights.

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7: Seven Notable Founders of the National Association of Colored Women

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Purple and gold "Lifting as we climb" banner. Text on image: 7 Founders
 Banner with motto of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
 

These seven women were among the founders of the National Association of Colored Women: Fanny Jackson CoppinCharlotte Forten GrimkéFrances Ellen Watkins HarperMary Church TerrellHarriet TubmanMargaret Murray Washington, and Ida B. Wells. The organization merged several African American women's groups in 1896 to tackle issues nationally, promoting suffrage, education, and other causes.

Tubman elected Terrell to serve as the association's president. Addressing the National American Woman Suffrage Association in Washington, D.C. in 1898, Terrell discussed the efforts of black women within their homes and communities. She closed her speech by saying, "and so, lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go, struggling and striving, and hoping that the buds and blossoms of our desires will burst into glorious fruition ere long."

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6: Six Months in Jail

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Woman, frowning, holds up a banner that reads "Mr. President How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty." Text on image: 6 months in jail
Photograph of Flag Bearer for Women's Rights Standing Near White House. January 30, 1917. National Archives.
 

Suffragists arrested for picketing outside the White House could face six months in jail.

Starting January 10, 1917, women stood without speaking, holding banners, six days a week. Known as the "Silent Sentinels," suffragists were the first group to protest outside the White House. Predominantly white-led groups within the movement continued to perpetuate discrimination, rarely allowing African American women to take part in militant actions like picketing.

From June to November 1917, more than 200 protesters were arrested and charged with "obstructing sidewalk traffic." Many were convicted.

Held in horrifying conditions, some incarcerated women went on hunger strikes and endured forced feedings. The resulting publicity and public outcry over their treatment is often credited with compelling President Woodrow Wilson to support women's suffrage.

The protesters demonstrated for two and a half years until Congress passed a joint resolution proposing the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919.

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5: More Than 5,000 Women

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A large group of women, dressed in white, march away from the U.S. Captiol building. They are led by a woman in on a white horse. Text on image: More than 5,000 women marched.
Women Marching in Suffragette Parade, Washington, DC. March 3, 1913. National Archives.
 

On March 3, 1913—the day before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration—more than 5,000 suffragists from around the country marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

In the early 20th century, suffragists began staging large and dramatic parades to draw attention to their cause. This first national suffrage parade had costumes, nine bands, four mounted brigades, and 24 floats. The parade featured a dramatic tableau on the steps of the U.S. Treasury building, illustrating the ideals of Justice, Charity, Liberty, Peace, and Hope. Women marched in sections representing states, professions, and other groups. Suffragist Jennie Griswold wore this cape while riding horseback in the parade.

The rowdy, mostly-male crowd watching the parade pressed in on the demonstration, at times leaving barely enough room for the marchers to pass. Many women were verbally and physically assaulted while the police stood by, either unwilling or unable to control the crowd. Outrage over the violence resulted in a congressional investigation into the lack of police protection for the marchers and increased sympathy for women's suffrage.

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4: Four Years Later

Zitkála-Šá wears indigenous clothing and stares directly into the camera in a sepia photo. Text on image: 4 Years  Zitkála-Šá (Yankton Sioux)
Photo of Zitkála-Šá (Yankton Sioux) by Joseph T. Keiley. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

 

Four years after the 19th Amendment was ratified, many American Indian women (and men) gained the right to vote through the Indian Citizenship Act, which deemed all American Indians citizens. But even after the Indian Citizenship Act, ­state governments used many methods to bar American Indians from voting, including literacy tests, poll taxes, tax laws, reservation residency, and other factors related to political status.

Zitkála-Šá (Yankton Sioux), a leader in the Society of American Indians (SAI), fought for citizenship rights. The SAI was the first national all-American Indian organization to advocate for American Indian rights.

An author, musician, and advocate for policy reform, Zitkála-Šá also founded the National Council of American Indians in 1926, which worked to make U.S. government policies toward American Indians more just.

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Continue the countdown with stories 3 to 1 or go back to read stories 14 to 10.

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