The History: A look at the Women’s Suffrage Movement both Nationally, Locally

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By Emily Kimbell, Special to The Paper

Life during the early settlement of the United States looked quite different for particular groups of people. Whether a person was white, black, male, or female played a role in establishing the roles and rights that individual was able to have and express.

In the early 19th century, women in the United States were subject to restrictive laws and regulations — laws like coverture, a legal doctrine that placed a woman’s husband in charge of all the wife’s legal rights and obligations. Women at that time were certainly not allowed to vote.

By the mid-1800s, women in the United States had started protesting their status in society and revolting against 17th and 18th-century ideas of traditional “womanhood.” On July 19 and 20, 1848, women held the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Fall in New York, and the women’s suffrage movement was officially born.

It took over 70 years from the origination of the suffrage movement to finally get a constitutional amendment passed. But on May 21, 1919, the House of Representatives passed the 19th amendment which stated, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Two weeks later, the amendment passed in the Senate. The 19th amendment was officially ratified on August 18, 1920 and certified on August 26, 1920.

After earning the right to vote, women knew their fight was not over. Suffrage organizations merged to form voting leagues, and in Georgia, the League of Women Voters of Georgia officially formed on April 3, 1920 at the home of prominent Atlanta suffragist Emily C. MacDougald. The purpose of the League was to educate women about the voting and political process. Women associated with the League of Women Voters worked to register women to vote, taught other women about the voting process, and distributed information about candidates. As the League continued, it worked on the grassroots’ levels to advocate for political and governmental changes.

Local chapters of the National and State League of Voters existed to carry out the mission of the organization on a local level. Newnan had its own league chapter, which actively met and worked to register women to vote in the early 1920s. These organizations became early examples of women leading the planning and execution of social movements. In 1921, the Newnan chapter started a voting campaign led by Mrs. C. B. Glover, Miss Martha Reid Robinson, and Mrs. E. R Barrett. The goal of the campaign was to canvas homes in the area in an attempt to register women to vote. The league felt so strongly about the goal that they provided automobiles and transportation to those in need.

It has now been 100 years since the 19th amendment was officially adopted as part of the US Constitution and women were granted the right to vote in this country. With August 26 designating Women’s Equality Day, it gives us a great opportunity to honor the women who fought for today’s freedoms, reflect on the growth we have seen, and recognize the progress that we still have to make.

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Newnan-native, Emily Kimbell is the director of the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society and McRitchie-Hollis Museum. Emily is currently finishing her doctoral studies at Georgia State University, where she also teaches English Composition courses and is an active member of her community often seen on stage in local theatre productions and writing for local media outlets.

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