Congress Approves the Nineteenth Amendment


Photo Credit: Governor Edwin P. Morrow signing the Anthony Amendment. Kentucky was the twenty-fourth state to ratify, January 6, 1920. Frankfort, KY: Gretter Studio. League of Women Voters(U.S.) Records. Prints & Photographs Division. Source: Library of Congress,

On June 4, 1919, Congress, by joint resolution, approved the woman’s suffrage amendment and sent it to the states for ratification. The House of Representatives had voted 304-89 and the Senate 56-25 in favor of the amendment.

Disagreement on whether the best strategy was to pursue enfranchisement through a federal amendment or by individual state campaigns had divided the women’s suffrage movement in 1869. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony worked for a federal amendment under the banner of the National Woman Suffrage Association, while Lucy Stone led the American Woman Suffrage Association’s state-by-state battle for the vote.

In 1890, the two groups united to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). NAWSA combined both techniques to secure voting rights for all American women. A series of well-orchestrated state campaigns took place under the dynamic direction of Carrie Chapman Catt, while the new National Woman’s Party, led by Alice Paul, used more militant tactics to obtain a federal amendment.

In his 1916 book Woman’s Suffrage By Constitutional Amendment, Congressman Henry St. George Tucker of Virginia argued that enfranchising women by constitutional amendment would violate the Constitution:

For three-fourths of the States to attempt to compel the other one-fourth of the States of the Union, by constitutional amendment, to adopt a principle of suffrage believed to be inimical to their institutions, because they may believe it to be of advantage to themselves and righteous as a general doctrine, would be to accomplish their end by subverting a principle which has been recognized from the adoption of the Constitution of the United States to this day, viz., that the right of suffrage — more properly the privilege of suffrage — is a State privilege, emanating from the State, granted by the State, and that can be curtailed alone by the State.

Woman’s Suffrage By Constitutional Amendment, by Henry St. George Tucker. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1916. p 4National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

Henry Wade Rogers, a Yale University law professor, offered a different perspective in “Federal Action and State Rights,” an essay within the 1917 collection Woman Suffrage by Federal Constitutional Amendment, compiled by Carrie Chapman Catt. He argued that previous constitutional amendments set a precedent for the demands of suffragists:

…the Fifteenth Amendment provides that “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 race, color or previous condition of servitude…” If woman suffrage is a sound principle in a republican form of government, and such I believe it to be, there is in my opinion no reason why the States should not be permitted to vote upon an Amendment to the Constitution declaring that no citizen shall be deprived of the right to vote on account of sex.

“Federal Action and State Rights,” by Henry Wade Rogers. In Woman Suffrage by Federal Constitutional Amendment. New York: published by the National Woman Suffrage Publishing Co., Inc., 1917. p 67National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

Rogers’s position prevailed. Women’s active participation in the war effort during World War I and their broadening role in society highlighted the injustice of their political powerlessness. On August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified.

Source: Library of Congress,