American Woman Suffrage Association

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

The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) was a single-issue national organization formed in Boston in 1869.[3] The AWSA lobbied state governments to enact laws granting or expanding women's right to vote in the United States. One of the AWSA most prominent leader, Lucy Stone, began publishing a newspaper in 1870 called the Woman's Journal. AWSA was co-founded by an African American woman Frances Ellen Watkins Harper,[4] and strong women's right advocate, abolitionist, and published poet of her era. AWSA was designed as the voice of the AWSA, it eventually became a voice of the women's movement as a whole.

In 1890, the AWSA merged with a rival organization, the National Woman Suffrage Association. 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.[5][6] 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 AWSA was founded in November 1869 at a convention in Cleveland that was organized by leaders of the New England Woman Suffrage Association (NEWSA). The NEWSA 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] 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.[8]

The more radical NWSA, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, condemned the Fifteenth Amendment as an injustice to women. The AWSA was the more conservative of the two groups. Its founders, including Lucy Stone, Francis Ellen Watkins Harper,[9] 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 of its members was noted abolitionist and women's rights advocate Sojourner Truth.[10]

Comparison to NWSA[edit]

AWSA distinguished itself from NWSA in several additional ways:

  1. The AWSA included both men and women (White and African American). The NWSA was all-female (White and African American).[10]
  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.[11]
  3. The AWSA believed success could be more easily achieved through state-by-state campaigns.[5][12] 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.[5]
  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.[5]
  5. The AWSA employed less militant lobbying tactics, such as petition drives, testifying before legislatures, and giving public speeches.[10] The AWSA also founded its own magazine, the Woman's Journal.[13] 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.[11] 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.[5]

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.[5]

Formation of the National American Woman Suffrage Association[edit]

The AWSA was initially larger than the NWSA, but it declined in strength during the 1880s.[14] 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.[15]

During the 1880s, it became increasingly clear that group rivalries were counterproductive to the goal of votes for women.[12] Conversations about a merger between the AWSA and NWSA began in 1886.[16] After several years of negotiations, the organizations officially joined together in 1890 to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).[13] 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.[17]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ "American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 2, Chapter XXVI, p. 756.
  4. ^ Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. (1998). African American women in the struggle for the vote, 1850-1920. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33378-4. OCLC 37693895.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Banaszak, Lee Ann (1996). Why Movements Succeed and Fail. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 6–8.The exlusion of women from voting was so unchallenged in the nineteenth century that it was not necessary to have a law prohibiting this participation.
  6. ^ 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. ISSN 0046-3663. JSTOR 3518956.
  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. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. (1998). African American women in the struggle for the vote, 1850-1920. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33378-4. OCLC 37693895.
  10. ^ a b c Painter, Nell Irvin (2002). "2: Voices of Suffrage: Sojourner Truth, Francis 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.
  11. ^ a b McBain-Stephens, Jennifer (2006). Woman's Suffrage. New York: Rosen Publication Group. pp. 16–19.
  12. ^ a b Flexner, Eleanor (1996). Century of Struggle: The Woman's Rights Movement in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  13. ^ a b Cullen-DuPont, Kathryn (2014-05-14). Encyclopedia of Women's History in America. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 9781438110332.
  14. ^ Gordon, Ann D., ed. (2009). The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: Place Inside the Body-Politic, 1887 to 1895. 5. Rutgers University Press. pp. xxv, 55. ISBN 978-0-8135-2321-7.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Harper, Ida Husted; Anthony, Susan B. (1902). History of Woman Suffrage. 4. Indianapolis, IN: The Hollenbeck Press.
  17. ^ DuBois, Ellen Carol (1998). Woman Suffrage and Women's Rights. New York: New York University Press. pp. 216, 234. ISBN 0-8147-1901-5.


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