American Woman Suffrage Association

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The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) was a single-issue national interest group formed in 1869. The AWSA lobbied state governments to enact laws granting or expanding women's right to vote in the United States. It also published the Woman's Journal. In 1890, the AWSA merged with another group, the National Woman Suffrage Association, to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association.


Following the Civil War, in 1866, leaders of the abolition and suffrage movements founded the American Equal Rights Association 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.[1] 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 1869 convention, the AERA dissolved, leading to the formation of two organizations lobbying for woman suffrage, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA).

The more radical NWSA, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, condemned the Fifteenth Amendment as a blatant injustice to women. The AWSA was the more conservative of the two groups. Its founders, including Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, Julia Ward Howe and Josephine Ruffin, were staunch abolitionists, and 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 of its most famous members was noted abolitionist and women's rights advocate Sojourner Truth.[2]

Comparison to NWSA[edit]

AWSA distinguished itself from NWSA in several additional ways:

  1. The AWSA permitted both men and women to join the group. The NWSA allowed only women members.[2]
  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 advocating easier divorce laws and an end to discrimination in employment and pay.[3]
  3. The AWSA believed success could be more easily achieved through state-by-state campaigns.[1][4] 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 amendments, although its work also moved to the state level during the 1880s.[1]
  4. The AWSA supported traditional social institutions, such as marriage and religion. The NWSA, through its journal, The Revolution, advocated for free love, and its leaders, particularly Elizabeth Cady Stanton, attacked the Bible and the church for promoting and preserving patriarchy.[1]
  5. The AWSA employed less militant lobbying tactics, such as petition drives, testifying before legislatures, and giving public speeches.[2] The AWSA also founded its own magazine, the Woman's Journal.[5] Edited by Lucy Stone, it featured articles by the group's members and cartoons by Blanche Ames, Lou Rogers, Mary Sigsbee, Fredrikke Palmer and Rollin Kirby.[3] Some state and local organizations affiliated with the AWSA also produced journals, most notably, the Women Voter (New York City), Maryland Suffrage News (Baltimore) and the Western Woman Voter (Seattle). The NWSA used litigation and other confrontational tactics to bring attention to their cause.[1]

Policy Victories[edit]

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 referenda on the issue; none, however, were successful.[1]

Formation of the National American Woman Suffrage Association[edit]

Throughout the 1880s, it became increasingly clear that group rivalries were counterproductive to the goal of votes for women.[4] Conversations about a merger between the AWSA and NWSA began in 1886.[6] After several years of negotiations, the groups officially joined together in 1890 to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).[5] 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. Anthony served as the group's first president.

Because many of the NAWSA's leaders were drawn from the traditions and the organization of the NWSA, much of the history of the woman's suffrage movement focuses on that groups' lobbying work. Proving that the acrimony that led the groups to divide in 1869 was not fully forgiven, even after they merged and became one, the six volume History of Woman Suffrage, first authored by Stanton and Anthony, rarely discusses the AWSA's activities during the 1870s and 1880s.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Banaszak, Lee Ann (1996). Why Movements Succeed and Fail. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 6–8. 
  2. ^ a b c d Baker, Jean (2002). Votes for Women. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 51–53. 
  3. ^ a b McBain-Stephens, Jennifer (2006). Woman's Suffrage. New York: Rosen Publication Group. pp. 16–19. 
  4. ^ a b Flexner, Eleanor (1996). Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 
  5. ^ a b Cullen-DuPont, Kathryn (2014-05-14). Encyclopedia of Women's History in America. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 9781438110332. 
  6. ^ Harper, Ida Husted; Anthony, Susan B. (1902). History of Woman Suffrage. Indianapolis, IN: The Hollenbeck Press.