Vanderbilt Law Review

Article Title

The History of the Women's Suffrage Movement


It is difficult to imagine that only seventy-five years ago, a woman's right to vote was not protected by our Constitution. It is hard to remember that a right I have taken for granted all my life is one that some of our grandmothers never enjoyed. But it is important to remember such things, to celebrate the amendment that extended to women one of the fundamental rights of citizen participation, and to reflect upon how far we have come.

In order to appreciate the tremendous progress made by American women in the last century, we should consider the point from which we started. The history of the suffrage movement is a colorful and entertaining one, and a tale from which we can draw many lessons.' It begins in the late eighteenth century, as this country's political, governmental, and social frameworks were only beginning to take shape. When the wife of future-President John Adams implored her husband in 1776 to "remember the ladies" in drafting our new nation's charter, her plea fell on deaf ears. The American Constitution, signed in September 1787, was produced by fifty-five men for a nation in which men were to govern. Women were subject to its terms but "unacknowledged in its text, uninvited in its formulation, [and] unsolicited for its ratification." In permitting each state to determine the qualifications of voters for Congress, the Constitution implicitly endorsed laws, then existing in virtually every state, that prohibited women from voting. Although neither the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights explicitly denied equal rights to women, it seems fair to say that the Framers envisioned no role for women in the new American government.