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National Woman Suffrage Association

NWSA: Promoting Women's Voting Rights 1869 - 1890

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Founded: May 15, 1869 in New York City

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: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony. Founders also included Lucretia Mott, Martha Coffin Wright, Ernestine Rose, Pauline Wright Davis, Olympia Brown, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Anna E. Dickinson, Elizabeth Smith Miller. Other members included Josephine Griffing, Isabella Beecher Hooker, Florence Kelley, Virginia Minor, Mary Eliza Wright Sewall and Victoria Woodhull.

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

  • condemned passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments unless they were changed to include women
  • supported a federal Constitutional Amendment for women's suffrage
  • became involved in other women's rights issues beyond suffrage, including the rights of working women (discrimination and pay), reform of marriage and divorce laws.
  • had a top down organizational structure
  • men could not be full members although they could be affiliated

Publication: The Revolution. The motto on the masthead of The Revolution was "Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less!" The paper was largely financed by George Francis Train, a woman's suffrage advocate also noted for opposing suffrage for African Americans in the campaign in Kansas for women's suffrage (see American Equal Rights Association). Founded in 1869, before the split with the AERA, the paper was short-lived and died in May 1870. The rival newspaper, The Woman's Journal, founded January 8, 1870, was much more popular.

Headquartered in: New York City

Also known as: NWSA, "the National"

About the National Woman Suffrage Association

In 1869, a meeting of the American Equal Rights Association showed that its membership had become polarized on the issue of support for ratification of the 14th Amendment. Ratified the previous year, without including women, some of the women's rights activists felt betrayed, and left to form their own organization, two days later. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the first president of the NWSA.

All members of the new organization, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), were women, and only women could hold office. Men could be affiliated, but could not be full members.

In September of 1869, the other faction which supported the 14th Amendment despite it not including women, formed its own organization, the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA).

George Train supplied signicant funding for the NWSA, usually called "the National." Before the split, Frederick Douglass (who joined the AWSA, also called "the American") had denounced use of funds from Train for women's suffrage purposes, as Train opposed black suffrage.

A newspaper headed by Stanton and Anthony, The Revolution, was the organ for the organization, but it folded very quickly, with the AWSA paper, The Woman's Journal, much more popular.

The New Departure

Before the split, those who formed the NWSA had been behind a strategy originally proposed by Virginia Minor and her husband. This strategy, which the NWSA adopted after the split, relied on using the equal protection language of the 14th Amendment to assert that women as citizens already had the right to vote. They used language similar to the natural rights language used before the American Revolution, about "taxation without representation" and "governed without consent." This strategy came to be called the New Departure.

In many locations in 1871 and 1872, women attempted to vote in violation of state laws. A few were arrested, including famously Susan B. Anthony in Rochester, New York. In the case of United States v. Susan B. Anthony, a court upheld Anthony's guilty verdict for committing the crime of attempting to vote.

In Missouri, Virginia Minor had been among those who attempted to register to vote in 1872. She was turned down, and sued in state court, and then appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In 1874, a unanimous verdict by the court declared in Minor v. Happersett that while women were citizens, suffrage was not a "necessary privilege and immunity" to which all citizens were entitled.

In 1873, Anthony summarized this argument with her landmark address, "Is It a Crime for a U.S. Citizen to Vote?" Many of the NWSA speakers who lectured in various states took up similar arguments.

Because the NWSA was focusing on the federal level to support women's suffrage, they held their conventions in Washington, D.C., even though headquartered in New York City.

Victoria Woodhull and the NWSA

In 1871, the NWSA heard an address at its gathering from Victoria Woodhull, who testified the previous day before the U.S. Congress supporting woman suffrage. The speech was based on the same New Departure arguments that Anthony and Minor acted upon in their attempts to register and vote.

In 1872, a splinter group from the NWSA nominated Woodhull to run for president as a candidate of the Equal Rights Party. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Isabella Beecher Hooker supported her run, and Susan B. Anthony opposed it. Just before the election, Woodhull released some salacious allegations about Isabella Beecher Hooker's brother, Henry Ward Beecher, and for the next few years, that scandal continued -- with many in the public associating Woodhull with the NWSA.

New Directions

Matilda Joslyn Gage became president of the National in 1875 through 1876. (She was Vice President or head of the Executive Committee for 20 years.) In 1876, the NWSA, continuing its more confrontational approach and federal focus, organized a protest at the national exhibition celebrating the centennial anniversary of the nation's founding. After the Declaration of Independence was read at the opening of that exposition, the women interrupted and Susan B. Anthony made a speech on women's rights. The protestors then presented a Women's Declaration of Rights and some Articles of Impeachment, arguing that women were being wronged by the absence of political and civil rights.

Later that year, after months of gathering signatures, Susan B. Anthony and a group of women presented to the United States Senate petitions signed by more than 10,000 advocating women's suffrage.

In 1877, the NWSA initiated a federal Constitutional Amendment, written mostly by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, which was introduced into the Congress every year until it passed in 1919.

Merger

Strategies of the NWSA and AWSA began to converge after 1872. In 1883, the NWSA adopted a new constitution allowing other woman suffrage societies -- including those working at the state level -- to become auxiliaries.

In October of 1887, Lucy Stone, one of the founders of the AWSA, proposed at that organization's convention that merger talks with the NWSA be initiated. Lucy Stone, Alice Stone Blackwell, Susan B. Anthony and Rachel Foster met in December and agreed in principle to proceed. The NWSA and AWSA each formed a committee to negotiate the merger, which culminated in the 1890 beginning of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. To give gravitas to the new organization, three of the best-known leaders were elected to the three top leadership positions, although each was aged and somewhat ailing or otherwise absent: Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who was in Europe for two years) as president, Susan B. Anthony as vice president and acting president in Stanton's absence, and Lucy Stone as head of the Executive Committee.

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