How does one carry out long-term change in order to better align institutions with principles of liberty, justice, and equality within a constitutional order?
The story of the Nineteenth Amendment is a story of struggle, perseverance, and courage. In 1765 the British jurist William Blackstone described the legal position of married women when he wrote, “The very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage or at least incorporated or consolidated into that of the husband, under whose wing, protection, and cover she performs everything.” For most women in most parts of the world there were few opportunities to pursue education, occupation, or social standing. In general, they were regarded as inferior, subservient, and incapable of reasoning.
The Age of Enlightenment prompted a new focus on the abilities of human beings, the ideals of liberty, and the obligation of constitutional government to preserve both. The British writer Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792 raised her voice to insist that women, as human beings, were entitled to equal treatment under the law, an idea perhaps even more revolutionary than the contemporary political upheavals in Britain’s former North American colonies and in France.
The United States was established on the self-evident truth that all humans are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The fight for women’s equality and the right to vote illustrates the struggle, sacrifice, and hardship involved in making America live up to that truth. The struggle was long, costly, and frustrating but deliberate in its path thanks to the determined individuals who remained committed to the goal. This fight provides an answer to the Driving Question above. The pathway to win that fight involved several stages which may be conceived as shown at the left. It should be noted that the various steps are not necessarily discrete and sequential. Participants in the movement may not always know which step they are in because efforts overlap, progress is hard to see, and the struggle may be long. Constitutional change which rejects the use of violence requires long-term commitment, courage, and perseverance, but its success is deeply rooted and can be permanent.
Trace the steps in women’s battle to win legal equality and the right to vote by filling in dates, people, and methods by which reformers carried out each of the steps below as described in Votes for Women: the Story of the Nineteenth Amendment.
|Steps Toward Change
|Women’s Suffrage Movement
|Women’s Suffrage Effectiveness (+ or -)
|Define the problem
|State a goal
|Work with others to organize and set interim goals.
|Build on prior knowledge of similar or related efforts.
|Join forces with other likeminded people or groups—seek allies and public support.
|Participate in ongoing constructive challenge within your work group.
|Reevaluate progress toward goal and correct course as necessary.
|Think “outside the box” and evaluate the best ways to respond to others pursuing the same goals by different methods.