2020 is the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits the states and the federal government from denying women the right to vote. The amendment was finally ratified by the required 36 states—Tennessee was the final one, after a hard-fought campaign—in August 1920, 42 years after it was first introduced in Congress.
Small groups of American women had been organizing and fighting for the right to vote since the 1830s. (Before the American Revolution, women in some colonies could vote.) In 1870, after African American men won the vote through the 15th Amendment, the word suffragist—which earlier in the century had been a generic term for any advocate for voting rights—began to be associated specifically with those who advocated for woman suffrage by peaceful, lawful means. The OED’s earliest citation for this usage, in a May 13, 1870, edition of the Boston Post, is typical of the mocking tone that would persist for decades in discussions of women’s rights: “A lady suffragist out West brands as slanderous the charge that strong-minded women have big feet.”
“Looking Backward,” an anti-suffrage illustration by Laura E. Foster. The steps lead away from love, marriage, and children and toward suffrage, strife, anxiety, and loneliness. Published in Life magazine, August 22, 1912. From the collections of the Library of Congress.