Saturday, March 12, 2011

March 12, 1776 – Beginning of Women’s Suffrage in America

In Baltimore, Maryland, newspapers made recognition of the fairer sex, which would be much needed as the troubles with the mother country became increasingly violent. A blurb noted, "The necessity of taking all imaginable care of those who may happen to be wounded in the country's cause, urges us to address our humane ladies, to lend us their kind assistance in furnishing us with linen rags and old sheeting, for bandages." As the newspapers came out early, posted bills appeared that evening reading, “Our country’s cause for liberty includes us all”, reiterating the need for women to help as well as noting that men would need to share their liberty when granted. The appeal for aid would be crucial to the American war effort as well as to the quick pace of suffrage for women in the soon-to-be independent colonies.

Over the course of the Revolutionary War, women did aid in many ways such as tending to farms and businesses while men were gone to war, collecting supplies, tending to the wounded, and even participating in battle. Molly Pitcher, the nickname for who is believed to be Mary Hays, aided her husband during the darkest days of Valley Forge and even assisted in firing the cannon when he collapsed at the Battle of Monmouth. Thomas Paine (whom many began to suspect was merely making his name and fortune by writing fiery notions) produced a companion to his popular The Crisis entitled The Warm Hearth to encourage the home front as he had the soldiers. He wrote, “These are the times that try women's souls: The harvest wife and sunshine sweetheart will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but she that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” He was much criticized for holding women in an esteem that would not be seen commonly in England until the late Victorian Era, but the bold voice was echoed by women throughout the Revolution, notably Abigail Adams as she wrote to her husband.

It would be the words of Abigail Adams that would finally assure a permanent political voice for American women. She had written her husband during the Continental Congress that she longed for a declaration of independence and, “…by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” The words would seemingly fall under blind eyes in 1776, but in 1787, at the Constitutional Convention, they would be reiterated along with the demands of thousands of women for the vote. Interestingly, the reason Mr. Adams attended was that he had been passed over for Minister to Britain in favor of Thomas Paine, whose growing fame among the womenfolk had made him irksome to many in Congress and wanted him more distant.

Men at the Congress were not so certain. Along with the cries for recognition were the knowing nods of conservatism, fearing what pure democracy could do to a country legally torn apart by the mob (as would be seen some years later in the French Revolution). Finally, however, Abigail would write to John about the issue of the three-fifth compromise with the struggles for the South to get representation for their population while having slaves unable to vote. Women were allowed to vote in some of the states; for example, Lydia Taft of Massachusetts had won her vote in a town all meeting after the deaths of her husband and son left her the head of the family, and New Jersey listed the only restriction on general suffrage to be possessing only £50 in cash or property. Mrs. Adams noted that if voting rights were expanded in the North with its largely Federalist leaning, they would gain an advantage on popular referenda.

Adams skillfully weaved the point into the discussion in the convention and later Constitution when the Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights provided for universal suffrage dependent upon property. Many local laws had already changed to be more welcoming of women, and the national consensus finally included the voice of women. Many famous ladies would speak up for rights, such as Representatives Frances Wright in 1840. The first female United States Senator, Elizabeth Caddy Stanton, would be instrumental in legislation that would solve the slavery question by gradual emancipation with reimbursement to masters after instilling legal requirements for humane treatment. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, many women in the federal government would be praised for their works of social reform, though they would also be criticized for limiting America’s potential in expansionism, particularly in the cases of independence retained to new territories in the Philippines, Hawaii, Cuba, and Nicaragua.


In reality, women’s suffrage was an unheard matter in the Revolution, despite examples of general suffrage such as in New Jersey (which illegally amended its laws to be limited to men in 1809). The struggle would continue over a century through lectures and conferences such as the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. Finally, in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment stated, "The right of citizens of the United States to vote are not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."


  1. every women should be proud and respect what abigail did for us females if it wasnt for her who knows how it would be for <3

  2. My paternal grandmother became an active suffragist when she realized she had no voice over her husband's participation in the Spanish American War, later because a leader of the movement in California. Proud of Mary Bridgit Mullally Hamilton!


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