How Did the Fifteenth Amendment Affect the Women’s Suffrage Movement?

Subject: Gender Studies
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 4
Word count: 989
Topics: Constitution, Feminism, Women Rights, Women's Suffrage

The Women’s Suffrage Movement was a seven-decade-long fight for equal suffrage rights in America, especially for women. While the movement participated in women’s rights, it partnered with abolitionists and anti-slavery movements to help them push for equal rights in America. The Women’s Suffrage Movement helped the abolitionists campaign for emancipation and citizenship for African Americans, evident through the 13th and 14th Amendments. However, when discussions of giving suffrage rights to black men emerged, it disappointed the Women’s Suffrage Movement. The passing of the 15th Amendment in 1869 made the movement’s fault lines wider, affecting the movement negatively (Wayne, 2020). After ratifying the 15th Amendment, the movement went through stubbles for decades, highlighted by several adverse outcomes. The 15th Amendment caused a split in the campaign, revealed deeply engrained racism and elitism, and delayed the granting of suffrage rights to women.

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Brief History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the 15th Amendment

During the eleventh National Women’s Right Convention in 1866, the movement merged with the Anti-Slavery Society to form the American Equal Rights Association (AERA). AERA comprised suffragists and abolitionists fighting for universal rights (Wayne, 2020). This organization achieved much, including the 14th Amendment that extended the bill of rights to blacks. However, section two of the Amendment clarified that the rights were extended to “male citizens.” Therefore, women were not benefitting from this achievement. When the discussion of the 15th Amendment began, women were hopeful to be included in the enfranchisement. However, the 15th Amendment excluded women from the right to vote. The ratification of this Amendment was like a betrayal to women, who missed the suffrage rights given to black men despite decades of fighting. This Amendment was the beginning of a decades-long rumble in the movement.

Split in the Movement

The AERA had a central purpose of advocating for an amendment that would bring universal suffrage right. However, the 15th Amendment ended voter discrimination based on race but did not include gender. Different views within the association of who should get the rights first between black men and women sped up the crumbling of AERA. Some leaders, especially abolitionists, supported the 15th Amendment, while others, especially suffragists, opposed it. Abolitionists in the association thought it would be better for blacks to get voting rights first and later push for women’s suffrage rights. Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were not pleased with this approach, heftily opposing the 15th Amendment.

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These disagreements brought conflicts that led to the splitting of AERA into two groups. Anthony and Stanton created the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) that focused primarily on women’s national suffrage rights and divorce laws amendments (Wayne, 2020). Lucy Stone and Julia Ward created the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), which primarily championed women’s suffrage rights at the state level (Wayne, 2020). NWSA had racial prejudice on local levels, where black women were denied participation in the association. In a nutshell, the 15th Amendment led to the split of one of America’s most influential activism movements.

Revealed Racism and Elitism in the Movement

In their opposition to the 15th Amendment, Stanton and Anthony outrightly used racist and classist language. After the split from AERA, NWSA aligned with white supremacists that supported women’s suffrage rights (Wayne, 2020). This move meant Stanton and Anthony were willing to appeal to racism to further their course. Elizabeth Stanton made a racist argument opposing the 15th Amendment that shocked Douglass and other association members. Stanton said it was “a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see ‘Sambo’ walk into the kingdom of civil rights first” (Stanton, 1868). During the 1869 meeting of AERA, Douglass responded to Stanton’s racist remarks by saying, “I do not see how anyone can pretend that there is the same urgency in giving the ballot to women as to the negro” (McDaneld, 2015). Douglass argued that suffrage rights were a matter of life and death to blacks, and the association would find time later to advocate for the women’s suffrage rights amendment. Douglass, a great friend to Stanton, struggled to find peace with her to prioritize black men’s voting rights.

Stanton and the NWSA made classist remarks on who deserves suffrage, pointing to educated women as the most eligible. She said that women were already under oppression by the vote of the best “men.” Therefore, they would be oppressed further if the “lower” men received voting power (Stanton, 1868). The remarks revealed the racist, xenophobic, and classist view of Stanton and other suffragists that had been hidden for years. It shows that the Women’s Suffrage Movement only supported the abolition of slavery and equal rights as a means to an end.

It Delayed Getting Suffrage Rights

When AERA supported the passing of the 15th Amendment, it meant that women’s suffrage rights had to wait. Because the Women’s Suffrage Movement had been fighting for suffrage rights since the early 1800s, the delay was a loss to women. The women heading the movement felt betrayed and split from the anchor association fighting for universal rights. The split and Stanton’s racist views elongated the time it would have taken to get suffrage rights. However, women in these split groups realized they could only get suffrage rights if they united. Therefore, Alice Stone Blackwell, daughter of Lucy Stone, re-merged the two split groups into one under the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) (Pruden, 2020). After decades of a deep divide, the movement united under one banner, where campaigns and protests led to the 19th Amendment of 1920, giving women suffrage rights.

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As shown above, the Women’s Suffrage Movement was negatively affected by the 15th Amendment. It led to the split of AERA, a strong group that advocated for equality in America. Also, it brought up racist and classist sentiments among members. Lastly, it led to a delay in the attainment of women’s suffrage rights. While the 15th Amendment was an achievement for African Americans, it affected the Women’s Suffrage Movement negatively, delaying the overall goal it was to achieve.

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  1. McDaneld, J. (2015). Harper, historiography, and the race/gender opposition in feminism. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society40(2), 393-415.
  2. Pruden III, W. H. (2020). Blackwell, Alice Stone (1857–1950). Womens Suffrage: The Complete Guide to the Nineteenth Amendment, 25.
  3. Stanton, E. C. (1868). “Manhood Suffrage.” Revolution24, 392-93.
  4. Wayne, T. K. (2020). National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). Womens Suffrage: The Complete Guide to the Nineteenth Amendment, 103.
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