This cartoon from the February 17, 1912 issue of Harper’s Weekly shows Theodore Roosevelt knocking at the door of the “Campaign Headquarters [for] Woman’s Suffrage.” Running for the Republican nomination and then for president under the Progressive Party banner, Roosevelt was the only major-party candidate in 1912 to endorse voting rights for women. Republican William Howard Taft opposed it and Democrat Woodrow Wilson refused to comment, claiming it was a state issue.
In a few cases, women had been allowed to vote in early American history, but by 1807 no state permitted them to cast ballots. In the decades before the Civil War, a movement developed for the legal, political, and economic rights of women. In 1848, a women’s rights convention held at Seneca Falls, New York, drafted a revised version of the Declaration of Independence calling for freedom and equal rights under the law for women. In 1869, two organizations formed to promote voting rights for women, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), led by Henry Ward Beecher.
Women gained the right to vote in the Wyoming Territory in 1869 and the Utah Territory in 1870 (rescinded in 1887). In 1878, suffragists convinced Senator Aaron A. Sargent, Republican of California, to introduce a proposed Constitutional amendment allowing federal voting rights for women. It was introduced in each subsequent Congress until its passage over 40 years later. In 1890, the NWSA and AWSA merged into the North American Woman Suffrage Association, and focused on winning the vote at the state level. When Washington became a state in 1890, it was the only one that allowed voting rights to women. It was joined by Colorado in 1893, Idaho and Utah in 1896, Washington State in 1910, California in 1911, and Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon in 1912.
In August 1912, the Progressive Party became the first major party to endorse women’s suffrage. It also offered women an unprecedented opportunity to serve in a major partisan organization. Three women—Jane Addams, Frances Kellor, and Isabella Blaney—were members at large of the Progressive National Committee. They were the first women to serve on the executive board of a major political party. Another woman, Alice Carpenter, served on the Platform Committee, and the party’s official records list 16 delegates and five alternates who were women. Addams delivered one of the speeches seconding Roosevelt’s nomination for president, after which she carried a “Votes for Women” banner across the stage and through the auditorium. It was the first time that a woman addressed a major party convention. During the post-convention campaign, women gave speeches, press interviews, and published pamphlets for the Progressive Party.
Women gained the right to vote in Illinois and the Alaska Territory in 1913 and in Montana and Nevada the following year. In 1916, Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican, became the first woman elected to Congress. The next year seven states granted women’s suffrage, and in 1919 Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment. Upon ratification by a three-quarters majority of states the following year it became part of the U.S. Constitution, allowing women to vote in a presidential election for the first time in 1920.