Alice Paul (1885 – 1977)
Alice Stokes Paul (Image source, Library of Congress), a suffragist, feminist, and women’s rights activist from Mount Laurel, New Jersey, dedicated her life to the cause of securing equal rights for all women. Raised a Hicksite Quaker, her three-year stay in England and friendship with Christabel Pankhurst, daughter of England’s most radical suffragette transformed her from a quiet Quaker into a militant suffragist. Upon her return to the US in 1910, she joined the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and was quickly put in a leadership position. However, her differences in political strategy with Carrie Chapman Catt, NAWSA president, led her to form the semi-autonomous group, the Congressional Union, in 1914 and then sever all ties with NAWSA to form the National Woman’s Party (NWP) in 1916. Her leadership and militant strategies combined with the efforts of many hastened the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the vote for women.
Carrie Chapman Catt (1859 – 1947)
Carrie Clinton Lane Chapman Catt (Image source, Library of Congress), a suffragist, humanitarian and peace activist from Ripon, Wisconsin, helped secure an American woman’s right to vote through passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. She directed the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and founded the League of Women Voters (1920). Catt became involved with the suffrage movement in the late 1880s joining the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association and later became involved with the NAWSA. An outstanding speaker, Catt gave speeches and helped organize local NAWSA suffrage chapters nationwide. In 1900, as a protégé of Susan B. Anthony, she was elected president of NAWSA replacing Anthony who vacated the seat at 80 years old. Despite splitting with Alice Paul over strategy, it was Catt’s moderate leadership that finally led to President Woodrow Wilson lending his support to the 19th Amendment. Fifty-one years after Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded NAWSA, the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the vote in 1920.
Mable Ping-Hua Lee (1897 – 1966)
Mabel Ping-Hua Lee (Image source, Library of Congress), an advocate for women’s suffrage in the United State was from Guangzhou (Canton City), China. Her father, Dr. Lee Towe, was a missionary pastor and he and the family moved to the United States in 1905. In 1912, at just 16 years old, Mabel took part in a parade with 10,000 other suffragists advocating for the right to vote. Lee, riding a horse, helped lead the parade. Prior to the parade, the New York Tribune and New York Times wrote articles featuring Lee’s teenage activism and her involvement in the movement. And by 1913, she insisted that true feminism “is nothing more than the extension of democracy or social justice and equality of opportunities to women.”
Ironically, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act prevented Chinese immigrants from attaining citizenship and voting. Even when the 19th amendment was passed, Chinese women and many other women of color still did not have the ability to vote. The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed by the 1943 Magnuson Act, during a time when China had become an ally of the U.S. against Japan in World War II. However, this act only allowed Chinese residents in the U.S. the opportunity to become naturalized citizens. It wasn’t until 1952 that the McCarran-Walter Act repealed a number of other acts such as the Asia Barred Zone Act of 1917, which denied entry to peoples from South and Southeast Asia and the islands of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and the 1924 Immigration Act, which totally excluded the Japanese and other Asians from immigration and naturalization, that all people of Asian descent had the opportunity emigrate and become citizens.
Zitkala-Ša, “Red Bird” (1876 – 1938)
Zitkala-Ša (Image source, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, NPG.79.26), a political activist, writer, and musician from the Yankton Indian Reservation, South Dakota, was a member of the Yankton Dakota Sioux and was raised by her mother. When she was eight years old, Quaker missionaries visited the Reservation, taking her and several other children to Wabash, Indiana to attend White’s Indiana Manual Labor Institute. Here she was given the missionary name Gertrude Simmons. Zitkala-Ša attended the Institute until 1887 but left despite her mother’s disapproval. She was conflicted about the experience, and wrote both of her great joy in learning to read and write and to play the violin, as well as her deep grief and pain of losing her heritage by being forced to pray as a Quaker and cut her hair.
She joined the Society of American Indians, a group founded in 1911 with the purpose of preserving traditional Native American culture while also lobbying for full American citizenship. She was firm in her conviction that Indigenous people in America should have the rights of American citizens; and that as citizens, they should have the vote: In her words, “In the land that was once his own – America…there was never a time more opportune than now for American to enfranchise the Red man! As original occupants of the land,” she argued, “Native Americans needed to be represented in the current system of government…” The federal Indian Citizenship Act passed in 1924 granted US citizenship rights to all Native Americans. Zitkala-Ša created the Indian Welfare Committee of the Federation in 1924. That year, she ran a voter registration drive among Native Americans, encouraging those who could, to engage in the democratic process and support legislation that would be good for Native Americans.
Ida B. Wells (1862 – 1931)
Ida Bell Wells-Barnett (Image source, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library), a journalist, civil rights advocate, and feminist born into slavery in Mississippi, led an anti-lynching crusade from Memphis, Tennessee in the 1890s and was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The turning point for her activism came on May 4, 1884. After purchasing a first-class train ticket, the crew forced her to the “Colored” car. When she refused, they forcibly removed her from the train. During the scuffle, she bit the hand of a conductor and later sued the railroad and initially won $500 before the decision was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court. She participated in the National American Women’s Suffrage Association white section during the first (1913) suffrage procession organized by Alice Paul. When told to return to the back and walk with the other African Americans her response was, “Either I go with you or not at all. I am not taking this stand because I personally wish for recognition. I am doing it for the future benefit of my whole race.” She initially left the scene, therefore convincing the crowd that she was complying with the request. However, she quickly returned and marched alongside her own Illinois delegation, supported by her white co-suffragists Belle Squires and Virginia Brooks. This event received extensive newspaper coverage and shed light on the reality for African American participation in politics.