Women tried many different strategies in their struggle to gain the right to vote. Some pushed for a federal amendment to the United States Constitution. Others focused on securing rights at the state level.
Frustrated by the slow pace of progress, some suffragists took a new approach in the 1870s. Called the “New Departure,” their strategy was based on the idea that women already had the right to vote according to the definition of citizenship that was included in the Fourteenth Amendment.
Passed by Congress on June 13, 1866, and ratified on July 9, 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment stated:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
In November 1872, Susan B. Anthony, her three sisters, and several other Rochester women took a very brave step. Convincing local officials that all citizens, including women, had the right to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment, they registered and then voted in the presidential election.
Anthony, who was the most well-known woman in the group, was arrested for voting illegally. At her trial, which took place in Canandaigua in June 1873, she and her defense attorney, Henry Seldon, argued that Anthony had the right to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment. Neither Judge Ward Hunt nor the jury, however, was convinced. Anthony was convicted and sentenced to a fine. Refusing to back down in the face of adversity, Anthony had the proceedings of her trial published in the hope of rallying support for her cause.
It would be almost another fifty years before the Nineteenth Amendment finally established American women’s right to vote in 1920. Although this amendment was named after her in recognition of her efforts on behalf of women’s rights, Susan B. Anthony did not live long enough to witness its success. We can only imagine how happy she would have been to see her hard work, and the hard work of so many other women and men, finally pay off.