Why did it take a long time for women in the US to get the vote, and how did they handle resistance?

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Women did not receive universal suffrage in the United States until 1920. This is despite large efforts to achieve it going back to the mid-19th Century. There was widespread opposition to women's involvement in politics that was deeply ingrained in society. Many men (and even some women) clung to the belief that giving women the vote would erode the institution of the family. They argued that a woman should only be concerned with domestic matters. Politics was a man's domain, they argued. To them, voting was more of a duty than a right. Women already had enough duties inside the home. All these sentiments held up the expansion of the vote for many decades.

The suffragettes attempted to counter this in several ways. They formed conventions and groups to lobby politicians in the name of their cause. They published pamphlets and other materials making the argument that a constitutional amendment should be passed to extend the franchise to all American adults regardless of gender. They even countered many of the arguments that women should stick to the domestic sphere by saying that women could bring a more maternal and virtuous side to the often turbulent realm of politics.

By the early 20th century, the pro-women's suffrage movement began using more overt tactics. They began heavily lobbying state and local governments. They took to publicity stunts and visible acts of civil disobedience to draw attention to their cause. They made public speeches, organized marches, and engaged in the picketing of public places such as the White House. In short, they refused to be ignored until they received the right to vote.

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Why do you think it took so long for women in the US to get the vote? What type of resistance do you think these women faced from men and politicians? What was their strategy for handling this resistance and for achieving their goal of obtaining the vote?

In the first place, it is worth noting that the women's suffrage movement progressed at about the same pace in the United States of America as it did in other developed nations. In the United Kingdom, for instance, women over thirty achieved the franchise in 1918, but it was not until 1928 that women gained full parity with men in voting. Several European nations enfranchised women earlier than the United States, but only a few years earlier: 1913 in Norway, 1915 in Denmark, while France and Switzerland lagged far behind in this regard. Switzerland did not give women the vote until 1971, later than Yemen and Afghanistan. In this context, the United States cannot be said to have taken an unusually long time to enfranchise its female population.

There had, however, been a longstanding women's rights movement formally campaigning in America since the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. Opponents of the movement often argued that women were not sufficiently educated to vote, an easy case to make since there were no women's colleges in America until the foundation of Wesleyan and Mount Holyoke in the 1830s, and most institutions of higher education remained closed to women well into the twentieth century. It was also widely argued that most women did not want the right to vote. Again, this case was superficially convincing, since the proportion of any large group which campaigns for anything is always small. Most African Americans were not active members of the civil rights movement, and it is scarcely surprising that only a small minority of women were vocal suffragists.

There was no single strategy in the campaign for women to gain the franchise. Alice Paul, for instance, adopted a confrontational approach to sexism, while Lucy Burns was diplomatic and persuasive, countering arguments about the intellectual inferiority of women by demonstrating her own intelligence and thoughtfulness in debate. However, perhaps the most fruitful approach was that of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Carrie Chapman Catt. Catt, despite her pacifist beliefs, supported the war effort when America entered the First World War and subsequently argued that the patriotic efforts of women had been vital in gaining victory, conclusively proving that women should have equal voting rights. It was this argument that finally prevailed, persuading Congress to pass the Nineteenth Amendment, which had first been introduced more than four decades earlier, in 1878.

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