Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Teaching the American Twenties: Exploring the Decade through Literature and Art

Rise of Women

Women Unite

The suffrage work that had formally begun in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention culminated in August 1920 with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, securing the vote for women nationwide. The presidential election of November 1920 became the first occasion on which American women were allowed to exercise their right to vote.

The right to vote, however, did not equate to having "full citizenship" with equal rights for women. The desire for full citizenship guided longtime suffragist leader Alice Paul to create the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to end legalized discrimination against women. The National Woman's Party, an organization that had been influential in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, took the ERA to Congress in 1923. The ERA did not make it onto the floor of the House or Senate for a vote until the 1970s. Even today, in 2006, the bill remains a few states short of ratification.

In 1920, the same year women won the vote, Prohibition criminalized the production, transport, and sale of alcoholic beverages in America. The campaign for women's voting rights was closely tied to Prohibition. Because women did not enjoy equal rights, some suffered abuse and economic hardship as a direct result of their husbands' habitual and socially acceptable alcohol consumption. Many of the women who organized and leveraged their position as a moral force in American society to fight the ills of alcohol also campaigned for voting rights. Groups such as the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) had supported the "dry" cause and women's right to vote since the 1870s.

The powerful liquor, wine, and beer industries did not support women's suffrage, believing that all women would vote for Prohibition. Ironically, both conservatives, who believed in the rights of states and private industry, together with liberals, for whom other problems facing women and workers took precedence, opposed suffrage and Prohibition.

Nevertheless, the numbers of both dry and suffrage states rapidly increased, culminating in the ratification of the Eighteenth and Ninetheenth amendments in 1920.

Photograph of women campaigning for the vote
Photograph of women campaigning for the vote
Eugene O. Goldbeck

This Eugene O. Goldbeck (1919) photograph shows women campaigning for the vote from an automobile. Notice the suffrage banners affixed to the side of the car.

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