As promised, I’ve compiled a list of some of the women of America’s suffrage movement. More than a list, it's a rainbow of female suffrage fighters.
Of course there are scores more than I've included here - this isn’t intended as anywhere close to a complete list. My purpose is to feature some of the women who were not a part of our national curriculum alongside some of the women who were.
I’ve presented our rainbow of suffragettes in order of their birth.
Lucretia Coffin Mott was born in 1793 on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. She worked for the abolition of slavery and was one of the founders of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. It would be exclusion from the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 that would ignite her fight for female equality. And she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would organize the Seneca Falls Convention that is thought to be the official beginning of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in America.
Lucretia was a major player in the fight for female equality, but she would not live to see the 19th Amendment ratified. She lived until November 11, 1880.
Isabella Baumfree was born sometime in 1797, escaped slavery in 1826, and changed her name to Sojourner Truth in 1943. She considered Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony friends and worked with them until the end of her life in 1883. Sojourner Truth was a serious bad ass in the fight for freedom – a leader of the abolition movement and an early advocate for women’s rights. She lived to see the abolition of slavery, but it would be close to 40 years after her death before the 19th Amendment was ratified.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”
This is the message that Elizabeth Cady Stanton delivered at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. She organized the convention with Lucretia Mott after neither of them were recognized at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. It was Seneca Falls where she presented her famous Declaration of Sentiments – a Declaration of Independence for women. Elizabeth was an abolitionist, social activist and a leading figure in the women’s suffrage movement.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born in Johnstown, New York in 1815. When she married in 1840, she insisted the word “obey” be dropped from her wedding vows – really unheard of at the time. She addressed the Legislature of New York in 1854 and helped get reforms passed allowing women to gain joint custody of their children after divorce, own property and participate in business transactions.
Many of the speeches given by Susan B. Anthony were written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She spent her adult life fighting for equality, but would not live long enough to see the battle won. She died in 1902.
Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony was born into a Quaker family committed to the cause of racial equality. She lived from 1820 to 1906. Her name is synonymous with the American Women’s Suffrage Movement, but she also championed temperance, abolition, labor rights and equal pay for equal work. Susan did not attend the Seneca Falls Convention, but three years later in 1851, she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The two women became friends and worked together for equality for over 50 years.
In 1872, Susan was arrested for voting. She was tried and fined $100 for her crime (that’s over $2,000 in today’s dollars) bringing national attention to the cause. She spent the rest of her life speaking throughout the country and fighting for equality for women. The 19th Amendment was ratified about 14 years after her death in 1906.
By the way, the B stands for Brownell.
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
Frances Harper was the first African American women to publish a short story in the United States. She was an influential abolitionist, poet, teacher, public speaker, writer and suffragist. She was a very accomplished woman who travelled the country as a lecturer and in 1866, spoke at the National Woman’s Rights Convention in New York. “We Are All Bound Up Together” was the title of the speech she delivered about including African American women in the fight for suffrage. Though her message was well-received, the push to support the 15th Amendment soon split the movement as lines between black and white were redrawn. Like Sojourner Truth, Frances Harper lived to see the abolition of slavery, but she died 9 years before the 19th Amendment was added to the Constitution.
Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin
“We are justified in believing that the success of this movement for equality of the sexes means more progress toward equality of the races.” Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin worked with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the fight for women’s suffrage, but the big picture for her was equality for the sexes and equity of the races. She published the first national newspaper for African American women – “Women’s Era”. She also founded the Women’s Era Club and was one of the founding members of the Boston NAACP in 1910. Josephine lived until 1924.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Ida Bell Wells was born into slavery during the Civil War. She was born in Mississippi, but moved to Memphis where she worked as a teacher as a young adult. Memphis is also where she began writing about the lynching of black men by white mobs after a friend of hers was murdered. She was driven out of Memphis, because of what she wrote about lynching. However, that did not stop her activism against violence, racism and sexism. Ida B. Wells was a founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club – an organization created to address civil rights and suffrage. Ida was not universally admired within the suffrage movement, because of her confrontational stance on lynching.
Ida was a fierce and courageous advocate. She stood up and spoke when it was dangerous to do so. Ida B. Wells lived until 1931.
Adella Hunt Logan
“I cannot have speak for us a woman who has even a ten-thousandth portion of African blood who would be an inferior orator in matter or manner, because it would so mitigate our cause . . . let your Miss Logan wait till she is more cultivated, better educated, and better prepared and can do our mission and her own race the greatest credit.” –Susan B. Anthony
The foregoing quote was Mrs. Anthony’s answer to the suggestion that Adella Hunt Logan speak at a convention honoring her 80th birthday. Disturbing and disappointing words, but also ironic since Adella was a woman of “rare privilege and education”.
Adella had a fair complexion that she used to her advantage at times to infiltrate segregated suffrage meetings and bring information and materials back to the Tuskegee Women’s Club. She was a writer with notable works, an educator, administrator and suffragist.
This quote from Adella Hunt Logan demonstrates that she was indeed cultivated, educated and prepared.
“The colored American believes in equal justice to all, regardless of race, color, creed or sex, and longs for the day when the United States shall indeed have a government of the people, for the people and by the people — even including the colored people.”
Mary Church Terrell
“A white woman has only one handicap to overcome - that of sex. I have two - both sex and race. ... Colored men have only one - that of race. Colored women are the only group in this country who have two heavy handicaps to overcome, that of race as well as that of sex.”
Mary Church Terrell was a civil rights activist and suffragist. She viewed the two movements as interlinked – elevate black women and elevate the entire race. She also was the first African American appointed to a school board and one of the first African American women to earn a degree. In 1896, the National Association of Colored Women was formed, because African American women weren’t exactly welcomed into the suffrage movement. Mary was one of its founders and she also served as its first president.
Mary lived until July 24, 1954. Her home in Washington, D.C. is a National Historic Landmark.
Zitkala-Sa/Gertrude Simmons Bonnin
"White suffragists celebrated the matriarchal traditions in Native societies, especially the Haudenosaunee (formerly Iroquois), holding them up as examples of women with significant power. Early suffragists like Matilda Joselyn Gage and Lucretia Mott learned about those societies directly from Native women in upstate New York. Lucretia Mott, for example, had been visiting the Haudenosaunee community at Cattaraugus just before she attended the women's rights convention at Seneca Falls in 1848."
Gertrude Simmons was born in South Dakota in 1876, the same year that the Sioux defeated Custer. She was raised by her mother and aunts and later adopted the Sioux name Zitkala-Sa, meaning Red Bird. When she was eight years old, she was sent to a Quaker boarding school to be assimilated to the white world. She would later write about the horrible treatment of Native children in these schools. Surprisingly, Native people were not U.S. citizens in those days, but Zitkala-Sa and others fought for dual citizenship – their own sovereign nations and the United States of America. Her ideas about women’s equality were influenced both by her mother and the Dakota women who raised her, as well as by the Quakers, who were known for their ideas of spiritual equality of the sexes.
Zitkala-Sa’s activism in the women’s suffrage movement really started when she moved to Washington, D.C., with her husband, in 1917, when she began interacting with the mainstream suffragettes. Like so many women of color, her fight was for more than voting rights – she also was fighting for U.S. citizenship. The Indian Citizenship Act was passed in 1924, four years after the 19th Amendment was ratified, but the fight for voting rights for Native Americans continued. When Zitkala-Sa died in 1938, she was still battling a system designed to suppress the vote of Native Americans.
Zitkala-Sa was a writer, teacher, reformer, activist, orator and one of the most outspoken Native American suffragettes. She was also the granddaughter of the famous Sioux chief Sitting Bull.
(The quoted paragraph at the beginning of my comments on Zitkala-Sa is from an article written by Cathleen D. Cahill "Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (Zitkala-Sa): Advocate for the "Indian Vote")
Adelina (Nina) Otero-Warren
Adelina Otero was born in 1881 in La Constancia, New Mexico. She was a member of New Mexico’s Hispanic elite. Her family history and connections made her central to the suffragist movement in New Mexico – not to mention her personal passion for the cause.
Adelina was a successful businesswoman and the first female superintendent of schools in Santa Fe. She was also the first New Mexico woman and the first Latina to run for national office. Adelina was known for her work in education, health and culture. She lobbied for women’s suffrage and worked to include bilingual publications and speeches and often helped with the translations.
Maria Guadalupe Evangelina de Lopez
Maria Guadalupe Evangelina de Lopéz was a suffragist and educator who grew up in San Gabriel, California. Soon after earning her degree, she began teaching English as a second language at Los Angeles High School and by 1902 had become the youngest teacher hired by UCLA and, some say, the first Latina.
Maria was the Spanish translator for the California Suffrage Movement and she organized rallies and traveled the state speaking about women’s voting rights – in both English and Spanish. She is often credited with being the first in the state to deliver suffrage speeches in Spanish.
Although history is unclear as to whether she attended, Maria de Lopez was invited to be a representative for California suffragists in the 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. It was a big deal for her to be invited, because the Woman Suffrage Procession was the first suffragist parade in the nation's capitol. The parade was organized by suffragists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns (the National American Woman Suffrage Association).
Maria Guadalupe Evangelina de Lopéz worked as an ambulance driver during World War I, learned to fly a plane and served in the ambulance corps in France where she would later be cited for bravery. She lived until 1977 in Orange, California.
Mabel Ping-Hua Lee
Chinese women, like Mabel Lee, could not vote until 1943. This was because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, a Federal law in place from 1882 to 1943. The Chinese Exclusion Act limited Chinese immigration and prevented Chinese immigrants from becoming citizens. Without U.S. citizenship, Mabel Lee could not vote. Yet, she and other Chinese suffragists advocated for women’s voting rights, even though they did not benefit from the legislation.
Mabel Lee was 16 when she started the fight for voting rights for women. She believed that “equality of opportunities to women” was the “hallmark of true feminism”. She graduated from Barnard College and was the first Chinese woman to earn a PhD in economics at Columbia University. In 1921, Lee published her research as a book called The Economic History of China. In 1915, Mabel gave a speech, “The Submerged Half” urging the Chinese community to promote education for girls and women’s civic participation.
She was director of the First Chinese Baptist Church of New York City and later founded the Chinese Christian Center which served as a community center. It offered vocational and English classes, a health clinic, and a kindergarten. Lee never married and devoted her life to the Chinese community.
It is unknown whether Mabel Lee ever became a U.S. citizen or if she voted. She died in 1966.