Why did women gain suffrage when they did?
Historians typically argue that women in the United States gained the vote in 1920 due to three main factors. First, there was their own efforts, which had been going on for decades and which helped convince people of the rightness of their cause. The second and third factors were the Progressive Movement and WWI, both of which helped make people more receptive to the suffragists’ message.
When we ask why women got the vote, we must be sure to give most of the credit to the women who fought for that right. Without their efforts, women would surely not have gained suffrage in 1920. However, we still have to ask why suffragists’ efforts did not pay off until 1920.
Suffragists finally won the vote in 1920 because the Progressive Movement and WWI helped them gain support. The Progressive Movement was an attempt by middle class reformers to improve America’s government and society by curbing the power of the rich and by improving the lot of the poor. Middle class, native-born American men thought that it would be a good idea to let women vote because they believed that women would be more likely than men to support Progressive goals. They felt that female voters would, for example, help to cancel out the votes of poor, immigrant men who tended to oppose Progressive reforms. WWI helped women gain the vote because it got women involved in the war effort. Because women were important in helping to keep the American economy running, many Americans came to feel that they should be rewarded. Since they had done their part to help win the war, the thinking went, they should be able to vote.
In these ways, the events of the early 1900s created a situation in which people became more receptive to the idea of women’s suffrage, thus allowing women to win the vote in 1920.