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social sciences

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Women's Suffrage Movement  
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British Suffragists and the Nineteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a discouraged U. S. suffrage movement received renewed energy from the confrontational tactics of militant suffragists in Great Britain, where women like Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christobel not only marched in the streets, but also cut telegraph wires and broke store windows to call attention to their cause.

They were reviled by the male press, as were the American women inspired by them who picketed the White House during World War I demanding the vote and comparing President Woodrow Wilson to the German Kaiser.

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Meanwhile, some localities and newly admitted states, mainly in the West, began granting women the right to vote in local and state elections.

Eventually, whether worn down by decades of women's activism or by the demands of modernity, early in 1919 Congress passed the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote in national elections. It was ratified by the required number of states before the end of 1920. Equal suffrage was granted to women in Great Britain in 1930.

Lesbians in the Movement

Modern experience tells us that when movements arise that seek to improve the status of women, lesbians are often in the leadership. There are several reasons for this. One is that lesbians, who often do not live under the protection of men, are more sharply aware of the legal and social disadvantages that women face.

Also, those who choose to act on their love of women are often strong women who have learned to overcome their fear of the consequences of speaking out against oppression. In addition, those who work closely with other women in political struggles are likely to develop intimate relationships with their sister workers, making women's movements both places that attract and form lesbians.

Within the "first wave" feminists of the women's suffrage movement, there are many who have long been thought to be what we now recognize as lesbian or bisexual, though they may not have identified as such. A striking number of the leaders of the women's suffrage movement were involved in "romantic friendships" or "."

Susan B. Anthony herself was a lifelong spinster who developed passionate friendships with other women, among them Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Anna Dickinson. Carrie Chapman Catt, who led the National American Women's Suffrage Association after Anthony retired in 1910, was known to have a close and significant relationship with Molly Hay. Anthony's niece, Lucy Anthony had an intimate life partnership with another NAWSA president, Anna Howard Shaw.

Many of these relationships existed side by side with a more conventional marriage, as was the case with Stanton and Catt. Another married suffragist was Lucy Stone, who not only continued her important relationships with women after her marriage, but also became famous for not taking her husband's name, inspiring a trend among young women, who called themselves "Lucy Stoners."

Rumors of lesbianism also surrounded many of the well-known British suffragists, among them Emmeline Pankhurst, who was said to have a relationship with Ethel Smyth, a lesbian composer. Her daughter Christobel had intimate connections with Mary Blathwayt and Annie Kenney.

Tina Gianoulis

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Although best known for her crusade for women's suffrage, Susan B. Anthony spoke out on a range of feminist issues.

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social sciences >> Kellor, Frances Alice

Frances Kellor was a progressive activist and intellectual who is best known for having led the Americanization movement, but also contributed in a number of other areas.

arts >> Smyth, Dame Ethel

The most important female composer in early twentieth-century English music, Dame Ethel Smyth enjoyed a class privilege that allowed her to be an unapologetic lesbian.


DuBois, Ellen. Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Woman's Movement in America, 1848-1969. Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1978.

Evans, Richard J. The Feminists: Women's Emancipation Movements in Europe, America, and Australasia, 1840-1920. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1977.

Faderman, Lillian. To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America--A History. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958.


    Citation Information
    Author: Gianoulis, Tina  
    Entry Title: Women's Suffrage Movement  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 17, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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