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Division in the Progressive Campaign for Suffrage

After disagreements over the 14th and 15th amendments that addressed African American men’s citizenship and voting rights, the mainstream campaign split in 1869 to form two organizations: the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA).

Some Black suffragists were active with the mainstream organizations, but racism within the white women’s suffrage campaign effectively pushed Black women out.

By 1890, a prominent Black women’s club movement was thriving and the mainstream groups re-emerged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).

Racism in Women's Suffrage Movement

Racism in Women's Suffrage

Associate Professor and Sabo Senior Fellow of Augsburg College, Dr. William Green, examines racism in the Women's Suffrage Movement.

Setting the Stage

The late 1800s and early 1900s were times of rapid growth for the United States due to immigration and economic development through industrialization The introduction of big businesses with high-tech factories and production.

While the 14th and 15th amendments brought voting rights for African American men, Congress passed racist and ethnocentric belief in the superiority of your own ethnic group. The belief that your own ethnic group is smarter than all other ethnic groups is an example of ethnocentrism legislation such as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act A 10-year ban on Chinese labor immigration. It was the first major ethnic group immigration exclusion policy in U.S. History and the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 An informal agreement between the U.S. and Japanese governments stopping the flow of Japanese immigrants to discourage Chinese and Japanese immigrants from coming to the United States.

The American Civil War was followed by a time period called “Reconstruction” (1865-1877) which saw increased industrialization and an even greater influx of European immigrants.

During this time, Black political power expanded dramatically. Due to Reconstruction era policies, more than 1,500 African American men held public office in the South. Sixteen African Americans served in Congress during Reconstruction, at least 600 served in state legislatures, and hundreds more served in local offices.

However, race and gender relations were still incredibly divided. By 1877 the Federal Government withdrew their troops from the South and legal mechanisms such as Jim Crow Laws a practice or policy of segregating or discriminating against African Americans, as in public places, public vehicles or employment were quickly created to reverse the political and civil gains of African Americans in the south.

This period of especially poor race relations in the U.S. is called “the nadir The "nadir of American race relations" was the period in the history of the Southern United States from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 through the early 20th century, when racism in the country was worse than in any other period after the American Civil War” and it continued into the first two decades of the 20th century.

19th and 20th Century Women's Movement Organizations in Minnesota

Notably, in the 1870s, women in Minnesota gathered to work for women’s suffrage in the state. This happened on many levels. While our focus is usually on state and federal voting rights, an important mark in Minnesota history is 1875 when women gained the right to vote in school board elections.

In 1881, 14 women formed the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association. Within a year, the organization had over 200 members, including prominent founders Sarah Burger Stearns (the organization’s first president) and Harriet Bishop. The members of MWSA wrote letters, created petitions, and talked to the public about the importance of women’s right to vote. Their efforts, combined with those of the many local suffrage groups of Minnesota, influenced the Minnesota State Legislature’s decision to approve the 19th Amendment in 1919. The MWSA eventually became what we know today as the League of Women Voters Minnesota.