The Nadir: New Tactics in the Continued Fight for Suffrage

By 1900, the first national Black association - the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) - was four years old and 5,000 members strong. Unlike the NAWSA, the NACW had many focuses including social issues around health, housing and education and racial issues like anti-lynching and self-preservation.

Suffrage was among their priorities, but as women of color, they had serious and often life-threatening issues that demanded their attention. By 1924, the NACW would reach 100,000 members.

National Association of Colored Women

National Association of Colored Women
National Association of Colored Women

For the mainstream campaign, the coming years would bring new leadership, new organizations and new tactics to the continuing fight for women’s voting rights — a battle that would culminate in the passage of the 19th Amendment Passed in 1919, this Amendment gave women the right to vote, although African American and American Indian women still faced considerable barriers. At first, the nonpartisan NAWSA focused on gaining the vote in individual states, under the leadership of women like Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw.

 

NAWSA Works to Drum Up Support for the Suffrage Cause

NAWSA used strategies and tactics that are still used in American society today. The organization recruited celebrities who brought publicity to the cause. It raised funds from wealthy donors and used the money to send recruiters across the country to sign up new members. It held colorful, exciting parades and street rallies designed to draw crowds and newspaper coverage.

NAWSA built alliances with local women's clubs, temperance groups and even some labor unions. Most importantly, they lobbied Advocating for certain changes in government by working directly with officials relentlessly at the local, state and federal levels for voting rights for women.

Suffragists had several victories between 1910 and 1914. With lobbying efforts led by the NAWSA, more states gave voting rights to women. In this time period, Washington, California, Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, Nevada and Montana granted full suffrage, as well as the territorial government of Alaska.

Racism Remains a NAWSA Strategy

Regardless of external successes, the mainstream movement was still racist in many ways.

Many middle-class white people, especially in the South, “worried” about African Americans gaining political and social power after the passage of the 15th Amendment [link to Fed Law]. Some white women’s suffrage advocates used the fear of large numbers of African Americans voting to argue that giving the vote to women would ensure a majority white vote.

Others suggested that adding educated, white, middle-class women to the voting rolls would cancel out the votes of the working class as well as new immigrants, whom they accused of not having “the best interests of their new country” at heart.

At the suffrage convention in Minneapolis in 1901, Susan B. Anthony expressed concern about “the introduction of vast numbers of irresponsible citizens.” To “improve society”, they proposed a women’s suffrage amendment that would grant voting rights only to women who could read and write English, which they called “educated suffrage”.