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The passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution ended seventy-two years of struggle to secure for women the right to vote. As this long struggle came to a close, suffragists' efforts concentrated on the passage of a constitutional amendment. Many states had already adopted woman suffrage, but because state-by-state campaigns were costly and their outcomes uncertain (especially in the South), suffragists agreed on the necessity of a federal approach to extend suffrage to women throughout the nation. Between 1917 and 1920, Mary Garrett Hay, Maud Wood Park, and Carrie Chapman Catt, three leading suffragists from New York, constituted a vanguard of lobbyists for the suffrage amendment, using tactics that men had been using for decades to generate Congressional support.
To understand lobbying tactics suffragists used to obtain the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment; to examine relationships between prominent woman suffragists; to explore newspaper coverage of the suffrage campaign and the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.
Begin by reading the letter from Mary Garrett Hay to Maud Wood Park, 21 November 1918. Ask students to discuss the lobbying tactics suffragists used in their fight for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. What tactics did Hay suggest? Did these lobbyists work with Republicans, Democrats, or both? Why did Hay suggest Wilson would be embarrassed at the peace conference? How did she suggest that suffragists use the peace conference to further the cause of woman suffrage?
Next, read the Report of the National American Woman Suffrage Association Political Committee, 9 December 1918. How did this report illustrate the political work that women did to secure the vote? Why did the political committee include questions about prohibition, labor laws, and wartime profiteering in their questionnaire? Were you surprised that nearly all elected politicians from New York were pro- suffrage? Why do you think that was the case?
Break the class into groups. Have each group read one of the following letters: Mary Garrett Hay to Maud Wood Park, 30 January 1919; Minnie Cunningham to Mary Garrett Hay, 31 January 1919; Mary Garrett Hay to Maud Wood Park, 13 March 1919. Ask each group to discuss the following questions: What political strategies were Hay, Park, and Cunningham suggesting to win the vote? What was the personal relationship like among these suffragists? How do you imagine the women's political network might have been different from or similar to a network of men? Ask each group to report back to the class about the discussion of the letter they examined.
5-page paper topic:
Ask students to read the following articles from the New York Times: "Suffragists' Machine Perfected in All States Under Mrs. Catt's Rule," 29 April 1917; "Suffrage Wins in Senate; Now Goes to States," 5 June 1919. In a five-page paper, address the authors' attitudes toward women's political organizations, the lobbying activities of suffragists, and the eventual passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Students may want to consider the following questions: What was the "Suffragists' Machine" the author of the first article mentions? How successful do the two authors believe suffragists have been? Did the author of the second article view the work of suffragists differently than did the author of the first article? What did the author of "Suffrage Wins in the Senate" believe led to the ultimate success of the suffrage movement?
For Further Exploration:
To explore further the activities of New York suffragists after women were granted the right to vote, see "How Did the Republican Party Respond to Suffragists' Entry into Electoral Politics in New York, 1919-1926?" also on this website.