The history of Woman’s Suffrage has a deep connection to New Jersey and the Morristown, NJ area.
In 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York, the first women’s rights convention would begin a seventy-year campaign for Woman’s Suffrage.
Guest speaker and supporter Frederick Douglas would speak that day demanding the vote for women. Douglas, the only Black person at the convention, was one of thirty men who signed the Declaration of Sentiments – a document seeking civil, social, political, and religious rights for women.
In an issue of North Star published shortly after the convention, Douglas wrote,
“In respect to political rights, we hold woman to be justly entitled to all we claim for man. We go farther, and express our conviction that all political rights which it is expedient for man to exercise, it is equally so for women. All that distinguishes man as an intelligent and accountable being, is equally true of woman; and if that government is only just which governs by the free consent of the governed, there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the exercise of the elective franchise, or a hand in making and administering the laws of the land. Our doctrine is, that ‘Right is of no sex.’”
In 1851, Sojourner Truth’s delivered her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at a woman’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio.
“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?”
Black and white women’s clubs founded in the next decades continued to push for woman’s suffrage. “Lifting as we Climb” was the motto of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs – one of the most significant contributors to the advancement of equal rights.
The New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association was formed in 1867 for the right to vote, full citizenship, better wages, and legislation to protect women and their families. While the 19th Amendment wouldn’t be ratified until 1920, the New Jersey State Constitution includes a clause stating,
“All inhabitants in this colony, who are worth 50 pounds proclamation money, clear estate in the same, and have resided within the county in which they claim a vote for twelve months immediately preceding the election, shall be entitled to vote for Representatives in Council and Assembly; and also for all other public officers, that shall be elected by the people of the country at large.”
Therefore, any landowner with one year of residency could vote in local and national elections.
From July 2, 1776, when NJs constitution was ratified, to 1807, free African Americans and female New Jerseyans cast ballots in local and national elections.
Then, an 1807 amendment to a voting rights statute took the vote away from all but white males over 21 years of age.
Then, New Jersey native Alice Paul, born in Mount Laurel, joins the woman’s suffrage movement and takes the fight to the front door of the White House. Paul organized parades and protests calling for action on a constitutional amendment. Her first parade was in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 1913 – the day before President-elect Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.
Eight thousand women marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. To appease women from the south, Black women and male supporters marched behind white women. Half a million spectators watched, supported, or harassed the marchers.
In January of 1917, Alice Paul began a thirty-month picket at the White House joined by 1,000 supporters picketing six days a week. Paul and her supporters were the first political activists ever to picket at the White House.
Among Paul’s supporters were two Morristown, NJ women, Alison Low Turnbull Hopkins and Julia Hurlbut.
By 1918, President Wilson began to support the woman’s suffrage movement. It would take two more years for the House and the required 36 states to approve the 19th Amendment. On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified guaranteeing “all” American women the right to vote.
In reality, Black women would wait nearly five more decades to actually exercise that right to vote.
Throughout the campaign for Woman’s Suffrage, Black women were “set at a distance.”
“Black women are set at a distance quite intentionally because, in order to hold onto the support of many white southern women, it’s necessary to keep the organization distant from African-American women. And it’s also the case, that, implicitly, the promise is that the amendment will not interfere with the disenfranchisement of African-American women—so it’s not a campaign premised in women’s universal voting rights, but it’s a campaign premised in the process of selective voting rights for white American women.”
Read about how Black women won the right to vote: Martha S. Jones’ book “Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All.”
Excerpts from TIME magazines interview with author Martha S. Jones:
“That prior spring, in Philadelphia, they were organizing to attend a conference of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, one of the large Black religious denominations of the period. In that church, there is a fight brewing over women’s rights, specifically church women who want licenses to preach. So even before Seneca Falls, Black women are organizing together about their rights.
“Part of the lesson out of Vanguard is that if we only look for African-American women suffragists in organizations put together by white American women, we’re going to be disappointed in the sense that their numbers will be small—or, in the example of Seneca Falls, nonexistent. At the same time, if we follow African-American women to where they are and listen to what they have to say and watch what they do, turns out they are as interested in political power and the problem of sexism as any community of American women—but they’re doing that work on their own terms. This is the story all the way through.”
“One of the questions I had was, “Where did Black women’s political philosophy come from?” One of the signatures of Black women’s suffrage has become this dual critique of racism and sexism. To understand the roots of that, go back to the beginning of the 19th century. A Black woman Methodist preacher, Jarena Lee, needs a preaching license to make a living and writes a memoir in 1836 on ways she confronts sexism in her denomination. I write about Maria Stewart, a widowed teacher in Boston in the 1820s, who is deeply concerned about the future of African American communities that have made the transition from slavery to freedom. She first writes a pamphlet and then is invited to step to the podium. These are the foremothers of what becomes the core idea that animates Black women’s quest for political power and political rights.”