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American Woman Suffrage Association

AWSA - Working for Women's Suffrage State by State 1869-1890

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Founded: November 1869

Preceded by: American Equal Rights Association (split between American Woman Suffrage Association and National Woman Suffrage Association)

Succeeded by: National American Woman Suffrage Association (merger)

Key figures: Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, Henry Blackwell, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, T. W. Higginson, Wendell Phillips, Caroline Severance, Mary Livermore, Myra Bradwell

Key characteristics (especially in contrast to the National Woman Suffrage Association):

  • supported passing the 15th Amendment (giving the vote to black men) even if women were explicitly excluded
  • focused on the vote for women and largely ignored other women's rights issues
  • supported winning woman suffrage state by state with only occasional pressure for a federal constitutional amendment
  • supported the Republican Party
  • structure was a delegate system
  • men could and did join as full members and serve as officers
  • the larger of the two organizations
  • considered the more conservative of the two organizations
  • opposed more militant or confrontational strategies

Publication: The Woman's Journal

Headquartered in: Boston

Also known as: AWSA, "the American"

About the American Woman Suffrage Association

The American Woman Suffrage Association was formed in November of 1869, as the American Equal Rights Association fell apart over debate on the passage of the 14th amendment and 15th amendment to the United States constitution at the end of the American Civil War. In 1868, the 14th amendment was ratified, including the word "male" in the constitution for the first time.

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton believed that the Republican Party and abolitionists had betrayed women by excluding them from the 14th and 15th amendments, extending the vote only to black men. Others, including Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, T. W. Higginson, Henry Blackwell and Wendell Phillips, favored supporting the amendments, fearing they would not pass if women were included.

Stanton and Anthony began publishing a paper, The Revolution, in January 1868, and often expressed their sense of betrayal at former allies who were willing to set aside women's rights.

In November of 1868, the Women's Rights Convention in Boston had led some participants to form the New England Woman Suffrage Association. Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, Isabella Beecher Hooker, Julia Ward Howe and T. W. Higginson were the founders of the the NEWSA. The organization tended to support Republicans and the black vote. As Frederick Douglass said in a speech at the first convention of the NEWSA, "the cause of the negro was more pressing than that of woman's."

The following year, Stanton and Anthony and some supporters split from the American Equal Rights Association, forming the National Woman Suffrage Association - two days after the May 1869 convention of the AERA.

The American Woman Suffrage Association focused on the issue of woman suffrage, to the exclusion of other issues. The publication The Woman's Journal was founded in January, 1870, with editors Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell, assisted by Mary Livermore in the early years, by Julia Ward Howe in the 1870s, and then by Stone and Blackwell's daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell.

The 15th amendment became law in 1870, prohibiting the denial of the right to vote based on a citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." No state had yet passed any woman suffrage laws; in 1869 both Wyoming Territory and Utah Territory had given women the right to vote, though, in Utah, women were not given the right to hold office, and the vote was taken away by a federal law in 1887.

The American Woman Suffrage Association worked for suffrage state by state, with occasional support for federal action. In 1878, a woman suffrage amendment was introduced into the United States Constitution, and soundly defeated in Congress. Meanwhile, the NWSA also began to focus more on state by state suffrage referenda.

In October, 1887, frustrated by the lack of progress and the weakening of the suffrage movement by its split between two factions, and noting that their strategies had become more similar, Lucy Stone proposed at an AWSA convention that the AWSA approach the NWSA about a merger. Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Stone Blackwell and Rachel Foster met in December, and soon the two organizations established committees to negotiate a merger.

In 1890, the American Woman Suffrage Association merged with the National Woman Suffrage Association, forming the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Elizabeth Cady Stanton became the new organization's president (largely a figurehead position as she then went on a two-year trip to England), Susan B. Anthony became the vice president (and, in Stanton's absence, acting president), and Lucy Stone, who was ailing at the time of the merger, became head of the Executive Committee.

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