In November of 1869, a pivotal moment in the history of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States occurred with the establishment of the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). This marked the birth of the second major political organization dedicated to advancing the cause of women’s suffrage. To truly understand the significance of this event, it’s essential to delve into the background that led to the creation of the AWSA.
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Background of the American Woman Suffrage Association
The AWSA’s formation came in the wake of the dissolution of the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) in 1869. Initially, the AERA had a broader mission, striving to promote universal suffrage without discrimination based on race or gender. However, during the ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, conflicts emerged. The Fourteenth Amendment marked the first time the word ‘male’ was included in the Constitution, a significant omission that excluded women. The proposed Fifteenth Amendment further exacerbated the situation by continuing to disregard women in the quest for suffrage.
These contentious issues ultimately led to the downfall of the AERA. Prominent women’s suffrage activists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton expressed their disappointment in their 1868 publication, “The Revolution,” signaling the need for a new direction.
The Birth of the American Woman Suffrage Association
The dissolution of the AERA set the stage for the birth of the American Woman Suffrage Association. The aftermath resulted in the creation of two distinct organizations: the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the AWSA, both fervently advocating for women’s right to vote. The AWSA emerged with support from leaders of the New England Woman Suffrage Association (NEWSA) during a convention in Cleveland.
While these organizations operated independently, there were individuals who played pivotal roles in both. The NWSA was led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whereas the AWSA was founded by Lucy Stone and included key members such as Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Henry Blackwell, Julia Ward Howe, and Josephine Ruffin.
Characteristics of the American Woman Suffrage Association
The AWSA’s central focus was on women’s suffrage, with its headquarters located in Boston. Remarkably, it maintained gender parity among its members, alternating male and female presidencies, promoting the spirit of unity. It is worth noting that Susan Anthony later joined the AWSA after a persuasive speech by Lucy Stone. Interestingly, while the NWSA opposed the Fifteenth Amendment due to its exclusion of women, key AWSA members lent their support to the amendment.
In January 1870, the AWSA launched its publication, the “Woman’s Journal,” with Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell serving as chief editors. The journal featured contributions from influential figures like Mary Livermore, Julia Ward Howe, and Alice Stone Blackwell.
After several years of individual pursuits, the NWSA and the AWSA finally merged in 1890, forming the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). This new organization was led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton as its president, Susan B. Anthony as vice president, and Lucy Stone heading the Executive Committee.
The American Woman Suffrage Association was characterized by its diverse membership, welcoming both men and women. It centered its efforts squarely on the goal of achieving women’s suffrage. Employing a federated structure, the AWSA believed in the effectiveness of state-by-state campaigns and supported traditional social institutions such as marriage and religion. The organization primarily pursued less militant tactics, including petition drives, public speeches, and testimonies, setting the stage for the broader women’s suffrage movement in the United States.