Photo by debra millet/Shutterstock
Photo by Shutterstock
The suffragettes loved a good road trip. In 1913, delegates from all 48 states drove across the country collecting signatures on petitions for a national suffrage amendment.
On the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, trace the route of the national women’s suffrage movement and stand in the spots where history happened.
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The 19th Amendment, which granted (most) women in the United States the right to vote, was ratified 100 years ago. But the road to ratification was a long and winding one. For nearly 70 years, suffragettes petitioned, protested, rallied, and campaigned for their rights, only to be shut down, knocked back, told off, and in some cases, even physically beaten. Nevertheless, they persisted.
History this recent is still tangible. You can visit homes where rebellion was fomented and stand in the same spots were women protested. And better yet, you can string together many of the most notable places in one epic road trip.
We mapped out a route that traces the evolution of the national women’s suffrage movement, which fortuitously followed an easily traceable route starting in New York’s Finger Lakes region and ending at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. It’s not comprehensive: Individual state movements were key to building the momentum that eventually allowed the law to pass and so have their own women’s history landmarks (for example, read more about tracing Wyoming’s legacy of voting rights here). And struggle didn’t stop with the passage of the 19th Amendment: Native American women, for example, weren’t allowed to vote in many states until the 1960s, and voter-suppression tactics such as literacy tests and poll taxes continued to disenfranchise millions of nonwhite women for even longer.
Think of this as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” of the national women’s suffrage movement. You can follow the route in its entirety, or you can add a few of the stops onto your itinerary next time you’re in Washington, D.C. or New York City or the Finger Lakes region. Here’s where to go:
A fitting place to begin this journey, Seneca Falls was the site of the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848, which marked the beginning of the organized fight for women’s suffrage. Each July, the town celebrates its history during the Convention Days event, which includes art and history exhibits, tours, and readings. But there’s plenty of women’s history to take in here year-round at the Women’s Rights National Historic Park.
Visit the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the founding mothers of the movement, who called her home the “Center of the Rebellion,” and the nearby M’Clintock House, where the organizers of the Women’s Rights Convention drafted and signed their battle cry, the Declaration of Sentiments. The original text, which was reprinted in Frederick Douglass’s newspaper The North Star, has been lost. But you can read the words, which pointedly echo those of the Declaration of Independence, carved into the Waterwall monument at nearby Declaration Park.
And be sure to visit the Wesleyan Methodist Church (sometimes called the Wesleyan Chapel), the site of the convention, which took place from July 19 to 20 and was attended by about 300 women and 40 men.
Head one hour west of Seneca Falls, and you’ll reach Rochester, the home of Susan B. Anthony, one of the most recognizable figures of the women’s suffrage movement. Anthony lived at 17 Madison Street, which is now the Susan B. Anthony House and Museum. On a tour, you can see where she had tea with abolitionist and women’s suffrage supporter Frederick Douglass, and the parlor where she was arrested for voting illegally in 1872. Her polling place no longer exists, but it was somewhere along West Main Street in the city’s Eighth Ward, if you want to stroll along the street and soak in the history. You can also visit the courthouse in nearby Canandaigua where she refused to pay the $100 fine after being arrested.
Before you head out of town, stop by the Mount Hope Cemetery, where Anthony is buried. You can’t miss her headstone—it’s covered in “I Voted” stickers.
If your inner history nerd is particuarly insatiable, stray from the easiest path on the following two side trips. Neither site is flashy, but both were backdrops to monumental moments in the women’s suffrage movement.
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Five hours west of Rochester, Akron, Ohio, hosted a women’s convention in its Universalist Old Stone Church in 1851. There, abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. The church no longer exists, but the office building that stands in its place is named for Truth and memorializes the speech with a plaque. In the early days of the women’s rights movement, abolitionists and suffragettes were allies, but eventually, racism and classism disrupted this alliance, creating a legacy of prejudice that women’s rights activists still struggle with today.
If you head five hours east of Rochester, you can stand outside the site of the first official National Women’s Rights Convention at 340 Main Street in Worchester, Massachusetts. In 1850, almost 1,000 participants from 11 states came together at what was then known as Brinley Hall to further the cause of women’s suffrage. Speakers included prominent suffragettes such as Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, and Lucy Stone. The site, known today as the Commerce Building, is marked with a commemorative plaque installed by the Worcester Women’s History Project.
Just three hours from Worcester, New York City was an important hub of activity for the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the 1870s. Not all of these sites have memorials or even plaques, but you can head to these addresses and stand where history happened. Walking tour not enough for you? Dig deeper at the Center for Women’s History inside the New-York Historical Society, where you can watch a film about remarkable women whose advocacy for change had lasting effects, or attend a lecture.
Victoria Woodhull, a stockbroker, newspaper editor, and the first woman to run for president, lived at 17 Great Jones Street. The building was demolished when Lafayette Street was expanded, but you can stand at the intersection and know that the first female candidate for the U.S. presidency used to walk up Great Jones Street to get home at the end of the day. Thirty-four-year-old Woodhull was nominated by the Equal Rights party in 1872, and Frederick Douglass was named as her running mate, though he never acknowledged the nomination. The two won a small percentage of popular votes, and no electoral votes.
Woodhull also became the first woman to address a House Committee when, in 1871, she traveled to D.C. to argue that the 14th Amendment, which addresses citizenship rights and equal protection under the law, granted women the right to vote. The committee disagreed.
A few blocks north of Woodhull’s stomping grounds, Union Square was the site of the first suffrage march in the United States. On February 16, 1908, members of New York City’s Women’s Progressive Suffrage Union walked from Union Square to the Manhattan Trade School, despite police interference. Two years later, a similar event on May 21, 1910, became the largest women’s suffrage demonstration at that time in the United States, with 10,000 attendees. It became a tradition and as soon as 1912, the event drew 20,000 marchers and half a million spectators.
In the late 1880s, Sarah Garnet established the Brooklyn Colored Woman’s Equal Suffrage League, which met in her seamstress shop at 748 Hancock Street. It was the first organization of black women devoted solely to suffrage. At that time, black women were increasingly being excluded from the larger women’s suffrage movement. The Woman’s Equal Suffrage League became associated with the National Association of Colored Women when that group was founded in Washington, D.C. in 1895.
Be sure to stop by the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx to visit the graves of the prominent suffragettes buried there. It’s the final resting place of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Carrie Chapman Catt, who succeeded Susan B. Anthony as the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and who established the League of Women Voters. Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, better known as the investigative journalist Nellie Bly, is also buried here.
Follow the next wave of the women’s suffrage movement south to Washington, D.C., but on your way down, stop just two hours outside of New York at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Stand on the lawn and imagine the moment on July 4, 1876, when Susan B. Anthony and suffragette Matilda Joslyn Gage persisted in disrupting the country’s official centennial celebrations to present a Declaration of Rights for Women to acting Vice President Thomas W. Ferry.
Another drive, about two and a half hours, will bring you to the end of the road, so to speak. The final push for women’s right to vote took place in Washington, D.C. as suffragettes demonstrated and protested relentlessly in front of familiar landmarks.
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In 1878, the first Woman Suffrage Amendment was proposed in the U.S. Congress. It was later rejected. Four decades later, the 19th Amendment, which was worded exactly the same as the Woman Suffrage Amendment, passed in 1919 in the very same building. But the women’s suffrage movement didn’t just experience legal wins and losses in the Capitol Building—in 1917, Jeannette Rankin of Montana was sworn in here as the first woman elected to the House of Representatives, a huge victory for the movement.
If you take a walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, you won’t just be following in the footsteps of the 470,000 people who participated in the 2017 Women’s March Walk, protesting the inauguration of President Donald Trump. One hundred and four years earlier, members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association organized the first public demonstration in the capital for women’s suffrage. It took place on March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson would walk the same route on the way to his inauguration. Wilson had long opposed women’s suffrage and for the next seven years, suffragettes relentlessly paraded and protested, often targeting Wilson directly.
Stand in front of the White House to take in the same view that picketers from the National Women’s Party had on January 10, 1917, when they kicked off a two-and-a-half-year daily protest. They held signs and banners addressing President Wilson directly, reading “Mr. President, What Will You Do For Woman Suffrage?” and “How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?” Some even quoted the president’s own speeches: “The time has come to conquer or submit, for us there can be but one choice. We have made it.” Called the Silent Sentinels, the women often used silence as a tool of protest.
Eventually, the Silent Sentinels moved from the White House Gates to Lafayette Park, where they became a fixture in 1917 and 1918 with their daily picketing. On January 1, 1919, they upped the ante, burning copies of Wilson’s speeches in an urn. Now called the Watch Fire Demonstration, it started in front of the White House but moved to Lafayette Park, where the suffragettes kept the urn burning for several days.
During the two years that National Women’s Party picketers held their posts in Lafayette Park, more than 500 were arrested and 168 of them incarcerated in the District Jail. Alice Paul—chair of the National Women’s Party, a political organization formed in 1916—and a suffragette known for favoring militant tactics, was locked in solitary confinement here in 1917 during her hunger strike. Later, the number of jailed protestors overwhelmed the facility and they were taken to the Occoquan Workhouse in nearby Virginia, where on November 14, 1917, they were brutalized by 40 guards. The event became known as the “Night of Terror.”
Today, you can visit the site of the workhouse, which was later became the Lorton Correctional Complex, and is now a cultural arts center to learn about the facility’s history. The center also houses the new Lucy Burns Museum, named for prominent suffragette Lucy Burns.
Although the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, the fight for women’s rights was far from over. In 1926, the National Women’s Party moved to Washington, D.C., where, close to the White House and the Capitol, the group continued to advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, which didn’t pass until 1972. The party’s headquarters is now the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, where visitors can learn about the history of women’s suffrage and equal rights movements.
Up for one more stop? The fight for women’s rights hasn’t stopped so why should you? It’s a 10-hour drive to Nashville, where, in 1920, Tennessee voted to ratify the 19th Amendment. As Tennessee was the 36th state to do so, this was the final ratification necessary for the amendment to officially become a law.
Head to the State Capitol building in Nashville, which became a battleground for suffragettes and antisuffragists in the months before the vote. Antisuffragist representatives wore red roses to indicate their votes, and those in support of the amendment wore yellow. The vote was forecasted to be 49–47 against suffrage, but at the last minute, two representatives changed their votes, one of whom was 24-year-old, first-term representative Harry T. Burns, who switched because of a short letter from his mother urging him to do the right thing. You can even view the letter at the Knoxville Library upon appointment.
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