With women gaining more agency in the public sphere, the beginning of the 20th century saw a mass movement fighting for women's suffrage. For many women, gaining the ability to vote was a step toward broader equality. Voting meant having a say in communities and in the nation. Further, having a Constitutional amendment that specifically stated that it was illegal to discriminate based on sex would further support women's status as equals and could bolster other reform movements. Suffragists tirelessly worked to educate both the public and politicians; they tried to persuade women around the country that they deserved the same rights men took for granted. At the same time, they lobbied political leaders for support.
|People participating in a demonstration for women's suffrage.
(Office of the University Historian Collection, AR.0015)
Despite a common goal, it was not a unified fight within the suffrage movement as there were many contrasting campaigns, methods, and factions of supporters. Some suffragists felt that only a Constitutional amendment would suffice, whereas others wanted to fight state by state for voting rights. Some supporters focused their lobbying efforts on the President and Congress while others pressured state politicians. Some believed in moderate, peaceful approaches while others took on aggressive, even violent tactics.
Eventually, two national organizations emerged. The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) began in 1890 when two previously competing groups, the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association, joined together. An umbrella organization made up of smaller state and local groups, NAWSA coordinated their efforts and focused its membership on pushing for changes at the state level. In 1913, members of NAWSA who were unhappy with the organization's tactics broke away and formed the National Woman's Party, which prioritized fighting for a Constitutional amendment at the federal level. NWP leaders were heavily influenced by the militant and radical methods of the British suffrage movement. Despite their differences, determined suffragists campaigned, lobbied, lectured, and protested for decades in support of their cause.
The suffrage movement certainly saw opposition, even among women. Some women activists agreed they should have a role in the public sphere, but thought having the right to vote would interfere with their reform and philanthropic work, which they viewed as non-partisan. Many anti-suffragists clung to traditional and religious-rooted beliefs that women should remain in the home and subordinate to men. Additionally, some opposition was rooted in racism; many did not like the suffrage movement's history with the abolitionist movement and did not want to support the cause knowing that it would extend to African-American women.
The suffrage movement was very active in Tennessee. By 1897, ten cities had suffrage societies; these groups met at the Nashville Exposition's Woman's Building to hear speeches by suffrage leaders from nearby states and formed a state association. In 1914, Nashville became the first city in the South to host a suffrage parade and the following year, NAWSA brought their annual convention to the capital city. Several Tennessee women played influential roles in the national suffrage movement:
|The Tennessee Woman Suffrage Memorial, located in Knoxville, features Elizabeth Avery Meriwether, Lizzie Crozier French, and Anne Dallas Dudley.|