Women Already Voters: Test Cases during Reconstruction

The sources presented as “Women Already Voters” were assembled to reconstruct events mentioned in a volume of the Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—specifically, in the second volume, Against an Aristocracy of Sex, 1865 to 1873.  For their insight into Reconstruction, however, the sources are useful for many more purposes.

“Women Already Voters” was a claim women made after the Civil War while they took direct action to test its truth.  Around them, men in Congress and the press debated how far the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments reached in protecting citizens’ rights and what linked citizenship to voting rights.  At the moment in American history when former slaves became citizens and the men among them became voters, white and black women hoped to walk through the door to political participation.  They embraced the idea that the United States could eliminate from fundamental law all distinctions of sex while eliminating distinctions of race.

In at least twenty-two of the United States, hundreds of women tried to register to vote and tried to cast ballots, assisted by family and friends in their communities. The cases here were the best known of this social movement.  With one exception, the women in this group were stopped by local officials or state courts or federal courts or federal marshals or justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, but they took their cause to the courts.  Through their cases, defense attorneys raised difficult questions about discrimination and constructed expansive definitions of rights, while prosecutors and judges settled the constitutional questions by reasserting male prerogatives and, in the end, extolling a category of citizenship without political rights, suitable to women. For a working list of the hundreds of women who tried to vote between 1868 and 1873 but never contested their exclusion, see http://ecssba.rutgers.edu/resources/wompolls.html

Most credit for the work amassing this collection goes to Susan I. Johns.  Danielle Bradley and Katharine Lee made this presentation of the sources possible.  Ann D. Gordon, editor of the papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, is responsible for omissions and errors.

Created by Katharine Lee .
Last edited by Danielle Bradley .