Women's Suffrage: The Women Behind the Movement You Thought You Knew

Girls in America don't have to think twice about their right to vote. They are born with the promise that at eighteen, they can cast their vote.

Less than a hundred years ago, a woman's right to vote was nonexistent; women had to fight for it, relentlessly and courageously. The story of the American women’s suffrage movement is long and harrowing, with details gone largely unknown.

Beginning in the 19th century with incredible minds like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony and moving into the 20th century with the tenacious leaders like Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, women’s suffrage did not happen overnight. From unprecedented pickets in front of the White House to cruel imprisonment and punishment, the women who fought for women’s suffrage were far more than women in long dresses and big hats.

Check out the gallery above to learn about the incredible women who fought for women’s suffrage.

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Alice Paul (1885 - 1977) | Alice Paul first fought for women's suffrage in England and used what she learned abroad in her American demonstrations. Along with Lucy Burns and others, Paul led a successful campaign for women's suffrage that resulted in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, but first endured extreme backlash from the government for her forward-thinking. After being imprisoned for picketing at the White House, force-fed, and even beaten by the police on one night in November 1917 known as the "Night of Terror," Paul remained undiscouraged.

During fall of 1909, before Alice Paul joined the American women's suffrage movement, she and other suffragettes disguised themselves as cleaning women in the banquet hall where the Prime Minister was to speak. When the Prime Minister stood up to deliver his speech, Paul and the other activists threw their shoes and broke stain glass windows while yelling "Votes for women!" It was provocative actions like this that made Paul known in the U.S. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Using provocative measures to make their point, Alice Paul and her fellow National Women's Partiers known as the "Silent Sentinels" picketed the White House and in 1917, and were convicted and incarcerated at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia for their protests. In a protest of the inhumane conditions in Occoquan, Paul began a hunger strike, which resulted in the guards moving her to the prison’s psychiatric ward where they force-fed her milk and raw eggs. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Alva Belmont (1853 – 1933) | Alva Belmont was a prominent multi-millionaire American socialite who became a major player in the women's suffrage movement. She donated large sums of money to the movement in both the United Kingdom and the States, paying picketers' bail, leasing office space on Fifth Avenue that allowed the relocation of NAWSA offices to New York, and funded its National Press Bureau. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

A notable member of the National Woman's Party, Alva Belmont helped organize the first picketing ever to take place before the White House. Belmont was elected president of the National Woman's Party, an office she held until her death. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

The National Woman's Party continued to lobby for new initiatives from the Washington, D.C. headquarters that Alva Belmont had purchased in 1929 for the group. Today the headquarters are known as the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum whose collection celebrates the history of women's progress toward equality. Photo Credit: The Washington Post/Getty Images

Anna Howard Shaw (1847 – 1919) | Anna Howard Shaw was a leader of the women's suffrage movement in the United States as well as a physician and the first ordained female Methodist minister in the United States! Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Although she initially took up women's suffrage as a means to move the temperance movement forward, Anna Shaw met Susan B. Anthony who encouraged her to join the National Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Shaw became president of the NAWSA but did not agree with Alice Paul and Lucy Burns's "militant" methods such as picketing the White House, and in 1915, she resigned as NAWSA president and was replaced by Carrie Chapman Catt. Photo Credit: Archive.org

Carrie Chapman Catt (1859 - 1947) | A teacher and then superintendent of schools in Mason City, Iowa in 1885, Carrie Chapman Catt went on to serve as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and was the founder of the League of Women Voters and the International Alliance of Women.

Susan B. Anthony selected Carrie Chapman Catt to succeed her as head of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and was elected president for two terms (1900-1904 and 1915-1920), her second term occurring with the climax of the women's suffrage movement. Catt's controversial decision to support the the war effort shifted the public's perception in favor of the now patriotic suffragettes. Photo Credit: Frances Elizabeth Willard, Mary Ashton Rice Livermore

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 – 1902) | Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a leading figure of the early women's rights movement. Her "Declaration of Sentiments," presented at the first women's rights convention held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, is credited with sparking the first organized women's rights and women's suffrage movements in the U.S. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Together with Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869. The NWSA was created in response to a split in the American Equal Rights Association since the Fifteenth Amendment did not include the vote for women. In 1890 the NWSA and the AWSA merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Photographed are suffragists Katharine McCormick and Mrs. Charles Parker, holding a historical NWSA banner on April 22, 1913. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Almost thirty years after the Seneca Falls Convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage authored the Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States, which Susan B. Anthony presented, uninvited, at the Centennial celebration in Washington in 1876. The Declaration was signed in the Centennial Books of the NWSA by Stanton, Anthony and Gage, as well as many later arrivals to the movement such as Virginia Minor and Lillie Devereux Blake. Also signing the original Declaration were Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann McClintock, and Amy Post, all who were at the 1848 Convention.

Susan B. Anthony (1820 – 1906) | Along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony played a pivotal role in the 19th century women's rights movement and women's suffrage. She was co-founder of the first Women's Temperance Movement with Stanton as President. Photo Credit: Kean Collection/Getty Images

Susan B. Anthony published the women's rights weekly journal The Revolution, with Elizabeth Cady Stanton acting as editor. The paper was influential in attracting working-class women to the movement. Photo Credit: Fotosearch/Getty Images

In 1872, Susan B. Anthony was tried for illegally voting in the presidential election. An excerpt from her speech after being arrested: "It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people — women as well as men." Anthony was sentenced with a $100 fine, but stayed true to her word in court that she would never pay a cent of the "penalty." She never paid the fine for the rest of her life, and the U.S. government took no collection action against her.

Lucy Burns (1879 – 1966) | Lucy Burns was a suffragist and women's rights advocate who was close friends with Alice Paul. Together with Paul, they ultimately formed the National Woman's Party. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Along with Alice Paul, Lucy Burns called for more "militant" means to reach women's suffrage, such as a parade during Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. Their views on different methods led to a divide in NAWSA and Burns and Paul eventually formed the NWP. Photographed circa 1917 is Lucy Burns with Katherine Morey holding a banner up at the gates of the White House. Shortly after this photograph was taken they were attacked by a mob. Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Of the well-known suffragists of the era, Lucy Burns spent the most time in jail. Arrested on multiple occasions for picketing, Burns joined Alice Paul and others in hunger strikes within Occoquan Workhouse. Upon her third arrest in 1917, Burns endured what is known as the “Night of Terror” where the women were treated brutally and were refused medical attention. In protest to their treatment, the women refused to eat for three days. With the potential of having dead prisoners on their hands, the guards dangerously force-fed Burns, needing multiple people to hold her down. Outside and within the prison Burns was a force of courage who was able to unite the women even under the most dire circumstances. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Crystal Catherine Eastman (1881 – 1928) | Crystal Eastman was a lawyer, antimilitarist, feminist, socialist, and journalist. She was one of a few hundred female lawyers in the U.S. at the time and a co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Crystal Eastman was incredibly progressive regarding labor conditions and drafted New York’s first workers' compensation law, adopted initially in 1910, and then again in 1913. It was one of the very first of such laws in the country, and served as a model for others to follow.

Eastman was also co-editor of the radical arts and politics magazine The Liberator, and a co-founder, along with Carrie Chapman Catt, of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom - the oldest women's peace organization.   Photo: Vassar.edu

Anne Henrietta Martin (1875 – 1951) Also known as Little Governor Anne, Anne Henrietta Martin was a suffragist, pacifist, and author from Nevada.   Photo: Library of Congress

Martin was the first vice chairman of the National Woman's Party and was one of the 16 NWP women who picketed for suffrage in front of the White House on July 14, 1917; as a result, she was sentenced to Occoquan Workhouse, but was pardoned less than a week later by President Woodrow Wilson.   Photo: Library of Congress

In 1918, Anne Henrietta Martin was the first American woman to run for the U.S. Senate. Photographed are Martin, then National Chairman of the NWP, with Senator Sheppard in 1926.   Photo: Library of Congress

Nina E. Allender (1873-1957) Nina Allender was the official cartoonist of the National Woman’s Party. Between 1914 and 1927 she drew hundreds of cartoons depicting the suffragists and promoting the suffragist cause. Many of these cartoons were published on the covers of the Suffragist and Equal Rights, weekly newspapers of the NWP.   Photo: Library of Congress

Nina Allender's first political cartoon appeared in the 6 June 1914 issue of the Suffragist. Her cartoons were tools that countered the negative, masculine stereotype of suffragists with a new image: the “Allender Girl.” The Allender Girl was a figure of femininity but also a supporter of women's rights.   Photo: Library of Congress

"American Woman: Is it not Enough?" Published in The Suffragist 27 Apr 1918. Photo: The Suffragist

"Great Statues of History." Published in The Suffragist 23 Jan 1915.   Photo: The Suffragist

"Our Hat in the Ring." Published in The Suffragist 8 Apr 1916.   Photo: The Suffragist

"President Wilson Says, "Godspeed to the Cause." Published in The Suffragist 3 Oct 1917.   Photo: The Suffragist

"The Spirit of '76.' On to the Senate!" Published in The Suffragist 30 Jan 1915.   Photo: The Suffragist

Doris Stevens (1892 – 1963) Doris Stevens was an American suffragist and prominent participant in the Silent Sentinels vigil at Woodrow Wilson's White House to urge the passage of a constitutional amendment for women's voting rights.   Photo: Library of Congress

Along with Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, Doris Stevens was arrested for picketing at the White House in the summer of 1917 and served three days of her 60-day sentence at Occoquan Workhouse before receiving a pardon from Woodrow Wilson. She was arrested again in the NWP demonstration at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in March 1919.   Photo: Library of Congress

Stevens published the quintessential insider account of the imprisonment of NWP activists, Jailed for Freedom, in 1920.   Photo: Library of Congress