How the AP covered ratification of the 19th Amendment

The bulletin moved just after 1 p.m. on Aug. 18, 1920, conveying the breaking news that the 19th Amendment had been ratified giving women the constitutional right to vote.

The AP had been covering the slow progress toward suffrage around the country as state after state ratified the amendment in 1920, culminating with Tennessee’s approval that put it past the threshold to become law.

The initial AP wire dispatches that day included jubilant reaction from around the country, including telegrams of congratulations from White House cabinet secretaries to the Tennessee governor.

The AP also quoted Maud Wood Park, chairwoman of the National League of Woman Voters, who declared: “Our slogan is ‘Every woman a voter’ in 1920.”

As ratification of the amendment became more likely, the AP also sent newspaper subscribers an analysis in advance that was embargoed until after the measure passed. Here is that original story from 1920:

Ratification of the suffrage amendment to the Constitution ends a struggle which began in this country before the Colonies declared their independence. It will eventually enfranchise 25,000,000 women.

Woman suffrage first raised its voice in America in Maryland in 1647 when Mistress Margaret Brent, heir of Lord Calvert, demanded a place in the legislature of the colony as a property holder of wide extent. And in the days of the Revolution Abigail Adams wrote her husband John Adams at the Continental Congress which was framing the laws of the infant nation that, “if – in the new laws – particular care and attention are not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound to obey any laws in which we have no voice.”

Organized work for women suffrage began in the United States with the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. in 1848, which was called by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, early leaders of Massachusetts and New York, in response to the indignation aroused by the refusal to permit women to take part in the anti-slavery convention of 1840. From the date of that convention the suffrage movement in the United States began the fight that lasted seventy years and ended with victory. Another convention followed in 1852 at Syracuse, N.Y., at which delegates from Canada were present and it was there that Susan B. Anthony assumed leadership of the cause to which she devoted her life.

In 1869 the National Woman Suffrage Association, with Miss Anthony and Mrs. Stanton at its head, was formed in New York and in the same year the American Woman Suffrage Association was organized in Cleveland with Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe as its leaders. At first differing widely in policy, the National Association, working to put a suffrage amendment through the federal Congress and its sister organization bending its efforts to convert the country state by state, the two associations later united under the name of the National Woman Suffrage Association. The Association’s drive for the vote was led, in turn by Mrs. Stanton, Miss Anthony, Dr. Anna Howard Shaw and Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, the latter of whom is now its president.

The nineteenth amendment, which bears her name, was drafted by Miss Anthony in 1875 and first introduced in Congress in 1878 by Senator A.A. Sargent of California; and it is in the same language that the new principle of the national law reads:

“Article---, Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

“Section 2. Congress shall have power, by appropriate legislation, to enforce the provisions of this article.”

The amendment holds the record of being before the country longer than any other successful amendment of the Constitution. It was introduced as the 16th Amendment and has been successively the 17th, 18th and 19th and has been before every session of Congress since its initial appearance.

During the first 35 years after its introduction into Congress the amendment made practically no progress and until seven years ago it had not been debated on the floor for 30 years. But the campaign for the movement was slowly but steadily gaining ground in the states.

Meanwhile Miss Anthony made a test of the right of women to cast the ballot by going to the polls and voting. She was arrested and convicted and, though she refused to pay her fine, was never jailed. She became, however, the forerunner of the “militants” who adopted the forceful tactics of the latter days of the campaign.

State after state gradually enfranchised its women citizens. Beginning with Wyoming in 1869, by 1919 sixteen states had given women the right to vote, and fourteen states had presidential suffrage previous to ratification of the amendment.

Militancy in the fight for suffrage in America made its appearance with the formation of the National Woman’s Party in 1913. On the eve of President Wilson’s inauguration, 8,000 women led by Alice Paul, now the chairman of the party, attempted to march from the Capitol to the White House. They were harassed by a hostile crowd which overran an unsympathetic police, and the capital of the United States had its first experience with suffrage rights.

Continuing their demonstrations over a period of seven years, members of the women’s party picketed the White House with banners in their hands and served terms in jail for the disturbances of the peace which grew out of their parades and blockade of the executive mansion. During the last few months before the adoption of the amendment the militants redoubled their exertions. Several demonstrations were held on the steps of the Capitol and on New Year’s Day, 1919, watch fires were lighted in front of the White House in which every speech made by President Wilson in Europe on Democracy and self-government was burned. The acts, however, were disavowed by the National Association.

Promptly with the passage of the amendment by the Congress, the suffrage forces turned their attention to ratification by the necessary two thirds of the states. More special sessions of the state legislatures were called to act upon the 19th than upon any other amendment.

Wisconsin and Michigan on June 10 were the first states to ratify, quickly followed on June 16 by New York, Kansas and Ohio.

Other states ratified in the following order: Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Texas, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Utah, California, Maine, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Oregon, Indiana, Wyoming, Nevada, New Jersey, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

From its beginning in this country, the suffrage movement met determined opposition from women as well as from men. The first organized opposition on the part of women manifested itself in 1873 when a committee of prominent women presented a petition to Congress “protesting against the extension of suffrage to women.” Mrs. W.T. Sherman, wife of the Civil War hero, headed the committee, of which Miss Catherine Ward Beecher, sister of the famous divine, Henry Ward Beecher, was a member. Various anti-suffrage organizations came into being subsequently, until the National Association opposed to women suffrage was formed in 1911 with Mrs. Arthur M. Dodge of New York as its first president. This body, step by step, fought the adoption and ratification of the amendment.

Full suffrage is enjoyed today by the women of 21 foreign countries including the new states of Czecho-Slovakia and Poland and the ancient nations of England, Germany and the Scandinavian countries. Now that the women of the United States have won the right equally with the men to take their part in the government of the republic the effect of the women’s vote on the political life of the country remains for time to show. Many women are joining the old line parties with their men folk but the National Woman’s Party holds its own convention in June and will draw up its platform for the coming campaign. First efforts probably will be directed to the laws on inheritance, divorce, guardianship and other laws alleged to discriminate against women.


Associated Press Researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed to this report.