What are the pros and cons of the women's suffrage movement in the United States?

Asked on by susu36

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The major pro of the women's suffrage movement was, of course, the fact that it gained women the right to vote.  This was a right that they should have had long before.  Bringing more justice to the American system was certainly a pro.

It is hard to identify any cons of giving women the right to vote.  The best argument that you can make is to claim that there were cons about the suffrage movement itself (as opposed to the result of that movement).  You could argue that the protests that the women engaged in (doing things like comparing President Wilson to the Kaiser) were unseemly and that they made America a less polite society.  

However, this is a pretty hard argument to make.  The suffrage movement in the US did not do any of the truly radical and violent things that the British suffragists did.  Therefore, the arguments in favor of the movement are much more credible than any arguments against it.

jerseygyrl1983's profile pic

jerseygyrl1983 | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

As the previous Educator mentioned, the most obvious "pro" was that the Suffragist movement, which is considered the "first-wave" of the feminist movement in the United States, expanded the vote and made the nation move closer in practice to its democratic principles.

In the context of their time, the suffragists were a very radical group. They were not averse to saying and doing extreme things (e.g., hunger strikes) in order to bring publicity to their cause. By comparing Wilson to the Kaiser in Germany, the suffragists drew media attention while also addressing the irony of the United States fighting for democracy in Europe but not at home. Wilson, by the way, was a very conventional Virginian who did not initially support women's suffrage, but he became more receptive after a private meeting with a suffragist.

One possible "con" of the movement was that it was not more inclusive along racial or class lines. As radical as the suffragists were, in many ways they reflected their times. From the movement's inception in the mid-19th century to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, the most visible members of the women's suffrage movement were middle-class white women. Sojourner Truth was the only black woman to take part in the Seneca Falls Conference of 1848, and her purpose there was to illustrate the ways in which black women are often excluded from our understanding of womanhood.

The racial split began early on, shortly before the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, when suffragist Lucy Stone gave a speech emphasizing the primacy of giving white women the right to vote, asserting that it would be more beneficial to the country. Her husband Henry Blackwell, a member of the American Woman Suffrage Association, the organization Stone formed with Julia Ward Howe, wrote an open letter to Southern legislatures entitled "What the South can do" in which he asserted that, with white women included in suffrage, the political predominance of white people would remain secure.

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