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What is the National Woman Suffrage Association?

By K. Testa
Updated May 17, 2024
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The National Woman Suffrage Association was a group that fought for women to have the right to vote in the United States (U.S.). Some consider it to be one of the most influential women's political organizations in U.S. history. It was founded in 1869 along with a similar group, the American Woman Suffrage Association. Both groups were formed in response to the proposed Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment addressed U.S. citizens’ right to vote, but its language did not include women. The formation of these two suffrage groups is generally considered instrumental to the advancement of women's rights.

The two organizations’ methods for encouraging reform usually differed. Eventually, they both acknowledged that they might be more effective at promoting change by working together. In 1890, the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association joined forces, becoming the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). At the organization’s 1920 convention, it became known by its current name, the League of Women Voters.

Prior to the formation of the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association, there were seemingly few organizations dedicated to securing equal rights for women in the United States. Up to that point in U.S. history, voting rights had been granted only to free white males. The Fifteenth Amendment, if ratified, would prohibit denial of the right to vote based on race, color, or previous status as a slave. It contained no mention of a woman’s right to vote, however. Many women felt, therefore, that radical action might be needed in order to gain equal rights.

Since they had different approaches to protesting the proposed Fifteenth Amendment, two distinct suffrage groups were created. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association, in New York, and focused on change at the national level. The American Woman Suffrage Association, on the other hand, intended to promote reform on a state-by-state basis. Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, Josephine Ruffin, and Julia Ward Howe formed this group, based in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston group’s approach eventually prevailed and the two organizations merged, forming NAWSA.

NAWSA was considered responsible for overseeing the many state and local branches of the national organization. It sponsored numerous events, such as parades and yearly conventions. Its members also took part in many press activities, establishing newspapers and publishing informational literature such as books and pamphlets.

NAWSA’s hard work could be viewed by most people as a significant contribution to the advancement of feminism in the U.S. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment granted women the right to vote. The nonpartisan League of Women Voters was formed in anticipation of the ratification of that amendment. To this day, the organization carries on the political activism that was initiated by the National Woman Suffrage Association.

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Discussion Comments
By SteamLouis — On Nov 23, 2014

What does NAWSA, or actually, League of Women Voters, do nowadays? There isn't much work in this area naturally since women can vote. But I would love to see the League and other similar groups lobby for other women's rights, such as equal pay. I think that non-discrimination at the work place and preventing and fighting sexual harassment are on top of feminist issues in this century.

By ZipLine — On Nov 22, 2014

@TanGoddess-- Actually, women suffrage was granted in 1920. So it also lost momentum due to the First World War. Woodrow Wilson was president at the time. The woman suffrage associations were very much active and tried to bring attention to the issue. But when WWI started, many people felt that women's suffrage was a petty issue in comparison to war.

By discographer — On Nov 22, 2014

I saw a film on the National Woman Suffrage Association and the activities they undertook so that American women could have the right to vote. They organized protests and were even jailed as a result. They resisted in prison by refusing to eat and the members of the association were even force-fed. Those scenes were quite disturbing. They showed tubes being put down the women's throats and force-fed with raw eggs so that they wouldn't die of hunger. They were treated so badly, and only because they asked for what was their right.

History shows that individual rights in America were not very easily gained. African Americans were long the victims of racism and prejudice. But the fact that women in America gained the right to vote last of all groups really shows that this right couldn't have been attained without a fight. I'm proud of the women who participated in the activities of the National Woman Suffrage Association. It's thanks to them that I can vote today.

By TanGoddess — On Nov 18, 2014

The push for women’s suffrage lost momentum around the time of the Civil War. Obviously, there were larger issues at the forefront than giving women the right to vote. Had women had the right to help elect officials, maybe things would have been vastly different. Who knows? The NWSA did deal with other important issues, aside from giving women voting rights. The organization also promoted the unionization of female workers, plus it supported Victoria Woodhull for President of the United States in 1872. The association is still active in promoting the rights of women today, thank goodness.

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