Calm About It: Women Exercised their Voting Rights Before the 19th Amendment

By Tanner Probst

Women may have won the right to vote in 1920, but some voted decades before it was legal. The women’s suffrage movement won their battle with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, and most people assume the victorious movement sent women flooding to the polls in the next election in a historic first casting of their ballot. And while they did flood the polls, the reality is that this was not the first time.

Many women, and men, felt women were granted the right to vote far earlier by the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868, declaring, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” That position was further supported in 1870 by the 15th Amendment’s declaration “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.” Women were U.S. citizens, and the 15th amendment implied protection of all citizen’s suffrage.

According to Jeffrey Rosen, president of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, “Hundreds of women tried to vote during the Reconstruction era, between the 1860s and 1870s, believing that the 15th Amendment, which said the right to vote would not be denied on the basis of race or color or prior servitude, had guaranteed it.” In 1872, civil rights activist Susan B. Anthony even voted in the presidential election—for Ulysses S. Grant—before being jailed and fined $100.