BROOKLYN (Workers World Today) — If you are lucky, you have grown up in an era where you or your daughters have seen women like Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton run for vice presidential candidacy and presidential candidacy, respectively. Times, though, was not always so welcoming to women running for political office. America has an extensive history of exclusion when it comes to women— especially minority women—being able to vote.
From the very birth of the United States in 1776, only males of ages 21, and older, who also owned land could vote. It was not until a century later that a significant change took place when it comes to voting rights in this country. The ratification of the 15th amendment allowed anyone who is a United States Citizen the opportunity to vote regardless of race.
Yet, this was not enacted as seamlessly as it was stated on paper. African-American men had the chance to vote, but hindrances like the poll taxes and literacy tests that would follow suit made it difficult. Another significant minority group—Native Americans—of both genders were still without voting rights under the 15th amendment.
Fast forward to half a century and four amendments later, and women won the liberty to exercise their vote in 1920. The fight was won through numerous conventions organized by women’s activists. On July 19, 1848, the first and most well-known women’s rights convention took place. The Seneca Falls Convention was held in New York and organized by the social activist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
As a prominent face of the women’s suffrage movement, alongside the regarded abolitionist Frederick Douglass, their goal as they gave speeches at this initial convention was to establish women as equals to men. The pair also aimed to establish civil and religious opportunities for women across the board without constraint to their backgrounds. Out of the 11 proposed rights that day in 1840, the only one not passed was the proposal for women to vote.
The Women’s Rights Convention was held in the sparsely populated upstate town of Seneca Falls, New York in a Methodist church. On day one, the convention itself managed to bring in a meager crowd of only 300 women—of which it lacked minority women. It really begs the question, what role did minority women play in the women’s suffrage movement?
Harriet Tubman—who is better known for her title of an abolitionist—was also a key figure in the suffrage movement. Tubman visited several cities in the Northeastern United States—even being invited to the National Association of Colored Women as an orator for African American women.
The National Association of Colored Women was founded and presided over by another activist known as Mary Church Terrell. Before her function there, Terrell was involved in the National American Woman Suffrage Association where she too would voice her worries about the troubles black women were facing. While white suffragists were fighting for the equality of all women to equate to men, African-American women still came in last and knew they had to form their own space to speak up about their specific tribulations.
The women’s suffrage movement had every intention of doing well by all women. Unfortunately, the social strata by which women of all colors were divided into was still a reality the initial suffragists could not overcome for women. In considering this, minority women had to step up to the plate to pave their way forward.