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Progressive Reform:
Votes for Women

Our Republic stands upon the threshold of what may prove the severest test of loyalty and endurance our country has ever had. It needs its women; and they are ready- as fearless, as willing, as able, as loyal as any women of the world.”

Suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt, April 10, 1917

The woman suffrage movement began in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention in New York. Its leaders drew on a wealth of earlier experience with the antislavery movement in organizing petition drives, conducting electoral campaigns, and lobbying state legislatures and Congress. After the Civil War, the movement’s leaders were disappointed when women were not included in the extension of suffrage to the former slaves. Many turned toward gaining the vote at the state and local level, winning suffrage in 15 states by 1918. The Progressive Era’s thrust toward expanding democracy, however, offered another chance for a successful campaign for a constitutional amendment.

While women participated in many of the reform efforts associated with Progressivism, such as child labor reform and temperance, American involvement in World War I had the greatest impact on achieving the vote. Over 1.5 million women entered the workforce as the nation mobilized. Citing "the marvelous heroism and splendid loyalty of our women," President Woodrow Wilson changed his mind and began supporting woman suffrage in 1917. As the Versailles Peace Conference began to meet at the war’s end, Congress passed House Joint Resolution 1, the woman suffrage amendment, and sent it on to the states.

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