American Woman Suffrage Association

The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) was a single-issue national organization formed in 1869 to work for women's suffrage in the United States. The AWSA lobbied state governments to enact laws granting or expanding women's right to vote in the United States. Lucy Stone, its most prominent leader, began publishing a newspaper in 1870 called the Woman's Journal. It was designed as the voice of the AWSA, and it eventually became a voice of the women's movement as a whole.

American Woman Suffrage Association
SuccessorNational American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)
Key people
Lucy Stone, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Henry Brown Blackwell, Julia Ward Howe, Mary Livermore, Josephine Ruffin, Henry Ward Beecher[2]

In 1890, the AWSA merged with a rival organization, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). The new organization, called the National American Woman Suffrage Association, was initially led by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who had been the leaders of the NWSA.



Following the Civil War, in 1866, leaders of the abolition and suffrage movements founded the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) to advocate for citizens' right to vote regardless of race or sex. Divisions among the group's members, which had existed from the outset, became apparent during the struggle over the ratification of two amendments to the United States Constitution.[3][4] The proposed Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed equal protection of the laws to all citizens, regardless of race, color, creed, or previous condition of servitude, added the word "male" to the Constitution for the first time. The proposed Fifteenth Amendment extended franchise to African American men, but not to women. Following its contentious convention in May 1869, the AERA effectively dissolved. In its aftermath, two rival organizations were formed to campaign for women's suffrage. The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was formed at a hastily organized meeting two days after the last AERA convention.[5] Preparations for the formation of the rival American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) began soon afterward.

The AWSA was founded in November 1869 at a convention in Cleveland following the issuance of a call signed by more than 100 people from 25 states.[6] It was organized by leaders of the New England Woman Suffrage Association (NEWSA), which had been created in November 1868 as part of the developing split within the women's movement. The AWSA and the NEWSA operated separately with somewhat overlapping leadership.[7]

Wanting to differentiate themselves from NWSA leaders who had expressed hostility to male political influence, the AWSA founders made a point of inviting prominent male abolitionists and Republican politicians to sign the call to its founding convention. The first slate of officers consisted of equal numbers of men and women, and the convention agreed to alternate the presidency of the organization between a woman and a man.[8] Henry Ward Beecher was the first president of the AWSA, and Lucy Stone was chair of the executive committee.[9] Its headquarters were in Boston.[10]

African Americans attended the AWSA's founding convention and played important roles in the organization. Robert Purvis was elected vice president for Pennsylvania at that convention.[11] Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, also a founding member of the AWSA,[12] gave the closing address at the annual conventions in 1873 and 1875.[13]

Suffrage activists who hoped to prevent a split in the movement convinced Susan B. Anthony, one of the leaders of the NWSA, to attend the AWSA's founding convention. She was given a seat on the platform where she heard speeches voicing a determination to replace the NWSA. She rose to speak immediately after Lucy Stone's speech, offering to cooperate with the AWSA and saying the movement was more important than any one organization.[14] The split, however, continued for many years.

NWSA, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, condemned the Fifteenth Amendment as an injustice to women. In her The Revolution newsletter, Stanton periodically appealed to racism and ethnocentrism in order to distinguish female suffrage from black male suffrage: “ 'Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung, who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic,' declared Stanton, had no right to be “making laws for [feminist leader] Lucretia Mott.” '[15] The AWSA, which included Lucy Stone, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Henry Blackwell, Julia Ward Howe and Josephine Ruffin, strongly supported the Republican Party and the Fifteenth Amendment, which they felt would not win congressional approval if it included the vote for women. Another member was abolitionist and women's rights advocate Sojourner Truth.[16]

In 1870, Lucy Stone, the leader of the AWSA, began publishing an eight-page weekly newspaper called the Woman's Journal as the voice of the AWSA. Eventually it became a voice of the women's movement as a whole.[17]

Comparison to NWSA


After Reconstruction, the AWSA began to differ from the NWSA in several other ways:

  1. The AWSA included both men and women. The NWSA was all-female.[16]
  2. The AWSA chose not campaign on other issues related to gender equality, focusing its efforts on suffrage. The NWSA also took positions on a number of other women's rights issues, including improved property rights for married women and laws that would make it easier for married women to obtain a divorce.[18]
  3. The AWSA believed success could be more easily achieved through state-by-state campaigns.[3][19] As a part of this strategy, the group adopted a federated structure, establishing state and local chapters throughout the nation, and particularly in the East and Midwest. The early NWSA advocated for securing woman suffrage through a federal constitutional amendment, although its work also moved to the state level during the 1880s.[3]
  4. The AWSA supported traditional social institutions, such as marriage and religion. The NWSA criticized aspects of these institutions that they felt were unjust to women.[3]
  5. The AWSA employed less militant lobbying tactics, such as petition drives, testifying before legislatures, and giving public speeches.[16] The NWSA used litigation and other confrontational tactics.[3]

The author of a study of African American women in the suffrage movement lists nine who participated in the AWSA during the 1870s and six who participated in the NWSA.[20] Elizabeth Cady Stanton and additional NWSA members employed racism in order to distinguish female suffrage from black male suffrage.[15] In contrast, Lucy Stone and AWSA members countenanced the absence of a female suffrage clause in the Fifteenth Amendment, while arguing that suffrage for women would be more beneficial to the country than suffrage for black men.[21]

Policy victories


Several modest but significant gains for women suffrage occurred during the twenty-year period of AWSA activity. Women in two Western states, Wyoming and Utah, won the right to vote. An average of 4.4 states per year considered, but did not adopt woman suffrage. Eight additional states also considered referendums on the issue; none, however, were successful.[3]

Formation of the National American Woman Suffrage Association


The AWSA was initially larger than the NWSA, but it declined in strength during the 1880s.[22] Stanton and Anthony, the leading figures in the NWSA, were more widely known as leaders of the women's suffrage movement during this period and more influential in setting its direction.[23]

During the 1880s, it became increasingly clear that group rivalries were counterproductive to the goal of votes for women.[19] Conversations about a merger between the AWSA and NWSA began in 1886.[24] After several years of negotiations, the organizations officially joined in 1890 to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).[25] The leaders of this new organization included Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, Frances Willard, Mary Church Terrell, Matilda Joslyn Gage and Anna Howard Shaw. Stanton served in a largely ceremonial capacity as the NAWSA's first president while Anthony was its leading force in practice. The suffrage movement distanced itself from labor groups and kept its focus on the more affluent levels of society.

The first three volumes of the six-volume History of Woman Suffrage were written by the leaders of the NWSA prior to the merger. It included a 107-page chapter on the history of the AWSA, the NWSA's bitter rival, but provided much more information about the NWSA itself that was written from its own point of view. This unbalanced portrayal of the movement influenced scholarly research in this field for many years. Not until about the middle of the 20th century did the AWSA begin to receive adequate scholarly attention.[26]

See also



  1. ^ "American Woman Suffrage Association". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  2. ^ "American Woman Suffrage Association". History of U.S. Woman's Suffrage. Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Banaszak, Lee Ann (1996). Why Movements Succeed and Fail. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 6–8.The exclusion of women from voting was so unchallenged in the nineteenth century that it was not necessary to have a law prohibiting this participation.
  4. ^ DuBois, Ellen (1975). "The Radicalism of the Woman Suffrage Movement: Notes toward the Reconstruction of Nineteenth-Century Feminism". Feminist Studies. 3 (1/2): 63–71. doi:10.2307/3518956. hdl:2027/spo.0499697.0003.107. ISSN 0046-3663. JSTOR 3518956.
  5. ^ DuBois (1878), p. 189
  6. ^ "American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 2, Chapter XXVI, pp. 756–758
  7. ^ DuBois, Ellen Carol (1978). Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women's Movement in America, 1848-1869. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. pp. 164, 195–196. ISBN 0-8014-8641-6.
  8. ^ DuBois, Ellen Carol (1978). Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women's Movement in America, 1848–1869, p. 196. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-8641-6
  9. ^ History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 2, p. 764
  10. ^ McMillen (2008), p. 177
  11. ^ History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 2, p. 765
  12. ^ Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn (1998). African American women in the struggle for the vote, 1850-1920. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 34, 37. ISBN 0-253-33378-4. OCLC 37693895.
  13. ^ History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 2, pp. 833, 846
  14. ^ DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage, pp. 198–199
  15. ^ a b "Politics of Precedence – Official Susan B. Anthony Museum & House".
  16. ^ a b c Painter, Nell Irvin (2002). "2: Voices of Suffrage: Sojourner Truth, Frances Watkins Harper, and the Struggle for Woman Suffrage". In Baker, Jean (ed.). Votes for Women. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 51–53. ISBN 0-19-513017-0.
  17. ^ McMillen, Sally Gregory (2008). Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women's Rights Movement. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 208, 224. ISBN 978-0-19-518265-1.
  18. ^ McMIllen (2008), p. 117
  19. ^ a b Flexner, Eleanor (1996). Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  20. ^ Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn (1998). African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 42. ISBN 0-253-33378-4. OCLC 37693895.
  21. ^ Stanton, Anthony, Gage (1887), Vol. 2, p. 384.
  22. ^ Gordon, Ann D., ed. (2009). The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: Place Inside the Body-Politic, 1887 to 1895. Vol. 5. Rutgers University Press. pp. xxv, 55. ISBN 978-0-8135-2321-7.
  23. ^ Dudden, Faye E. (2011). Fighting Chance: The Struggle over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction America. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-19-977263-6.
  24. ^ Harper, Ida Husted; Anthony, Susan B. (1902). History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. 4. Indianapolis, IN: The Hollenbeck Press.
  25. ^ Cullen-DuPont, Kathryn (2014-05-14). Encyclopedia of Women's History in America. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 9781438110332.
  26. ^ DuBois, Ellen Carol (1998). Woman Suffrage and Women's Rights. New York: New York University Press. pp. 216, 234. ISBN 0-8147-1901-5.