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The bold suffragettes you likely didn’t learn about in school

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Chances are, if you were asked to name two women who fought for their right to vote, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would roll off your tongue — or at least their names may be lodged deep in your brain somewhere. But there are many more women who were involved in the fight, and they’re not all white. You also likely didn’t learn about them in history class.

The 19th Amendment opened the doors for women to vote throughout the country when it was ratified on August 18, 1920. It was a long fight to secure this freedom, with roots stretching back to the mid-19th century when the women’s suffrage movement began.

It was a contentious battle, with factions splitting on many points, including whether to support the 15th amendment, which gave Black men the right to vote in 1870. (Although plenty were disenfranchised even after the amendment became law.) While several states had granted women the right to vote beforehand, it wasn’t until 1919 when Congress passed the 19th amendment. It was ratified a year later.

However, that didn’t mean the fight was over. Women of color, immigrants, and poor women were often left out of the voting process. Discriminatory literary tests, poll taxes, citizenship hurdles, general intimidation, and other restrictive state laws stood in their way. Indigenous women, for example, couldn’t vote as they weren’t considered citizens. It wasn’t until 1962 that all Indigenous people were allowed to legally vote.

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Mashable is highlighting women who pushed for the right to vote even as they were discriminated against due to other parts of their identity. These Black, Indigenous, Latina, immigrant, and working-class women contributed to a movement that at points kept them at arm’s length.

1. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Image: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Harper was a woman of firsts. She was the first Black woman to publish a short story and, at 26 years old, became the first female instructor at Union Seminary, a school for free Black people in Ohio. Harper was free and born to free parents in Maryland in 1825. Her parents died when she was three years old, leaving her aunt and uncle to take care of her. Her uncle was a fervent abolitionist, and his activism had an influence on Harper.

Though Harper was devoted to antislavery causes, she also rallied for women’s rights. In 1866, she spoke at the eleventh National Women’s Rights Convention delivering her famous speech We Are All Bound Up Together, in which she urged suffragists to include Black women in their fight. Three years later, Harper helped form the second national suffrage association. The American Women Suffrage Association supported the 15th Amendment, which granted Black men the right to vote.

2. Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Image: R. GATES / Getty Images

Unlike Harper, Wells-Barnett was born into slavery in 1862. Her family was broken apart in 1878, when at 16 years old, Wells-Barnett lost both her parents and baby brother to yellow fever. She was forced to grow up quickly and raise her remaining siblings. Wells-Barnett became a teacher so she could take care of her family. Later, she turned to investigative journalism when her friend was lynched in 1892. Though it was quite dangerous, Wells-Barnett started to report on lynchings in the South. She published The Red Record in 1895, which documented statistics, details, and photographs of lynchings across the South.

Never someone to hold her tongue or compromise her values, Wells-Barnett fought hard for women’s rights. While lecturing in England, Scotland, and Wales, she raised awareness about lynchings. She also “openly confronted white women in the suffrage movement who ignored lynchings,” according to the National Women’s History Museum. She was one of the founders of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, which at the time focused on suffrage and improving Black people’s lives. Wells-Barnett also helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

3. Adelina Otero-Warren

Adelina Otero-Warren

Adelina Otero-Warren

Image: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

One of Otero-Warren’s superpowers was her ability to navigate both the English and Spanish-speaking communities in the U.S. She was born in 1881 in what is now New Mexico. Her familial lineage included early colonizers and Spanish pioneers. Otero-Warren’s mastery of both cultures proved helpful when Alice Paul, a prominent white suffragist, chose her to lead the New Mexico chapter of the predecessor to the National Woman’s Party (NWP). Paul founded the NWP to champion women’s suffrage, which pushed for the 19th amendment. Otero-Warren insisted that suffrage materials were published in both English and Spanish.

4. Maria de Guadalupe Evangelina Lopez de Lowther

Lopez was fluent in both Spanish and English (her father had immigrated to California from Mexico). She was born in San Gabriel, California and taught English as a second language at Los Angeles High School.

By 1911, Lopez was deeply involved in the suffrage movement in California. She traveled around the state speaking in Spanish and English about women’s voting rights and organized rallies.

California granted women the right to vote in a special election on Oct. 10, 1911. A week before, Lopez was the featured speaker at the Votes for Women’s Club rally to buoy “yes” votes on the measure. Suffrage passed narrowly, with 125,037 votes to 121,450. In 1913, Lopez was invited to attend the 1913 women’s suffrage parade in D.C., led by Alice Paul. Thousands of women came together to demand the right to vote, though it’s unclear if Lopez actually attended.

5. Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin

Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin

Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin

Image: Personnel File Photograph of Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin; ca. 1911; Marie Baldwin; Official Personnel Folders-Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs; Records of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, Record Group 146; National Archives at St. Louis, St. Louis, MO

Baldwin was both a suffragist and a lawyer. She was born in Pembina, North Dakota (located a couple miles from the Canadian border) in 1863. In the early 1890s, Baldwin moved to D.C. with her father (also a lawyer) to fight for the treaty rights of their tribe, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Later in 1904, Baldwin was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to become a clerk in the office of Indian Affairs. She was the first Indigenous person to hold this federal government role. Baldwin at first believed Indigenous people should assimilate into white American culture, but she later changed her mind. In her 1911 personnel photo for the office of Indian Affairs, Baldwin wore traditional Indigenous clothes and braided hair, which was a radical act at the time. At 49 years old, Baldwin enrolled in law school and graduated two years later.

Baldwin participated in the 1913 suffrage parade, where she walked alongside other lawyers. She became an advocate for Indigenous women and fought for their right to vote. One year after the parade, Baldwin met with President Woodrow Wilson to urge him to support women’s suffrage.

6. Rose Schneiderman

Rose Schneiderman

Rose Schneiderman

Image: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Schneiderman was born in Poland in 1882 and immigrated to the United States in 1890, settling in New York City. Two years later, tragedy struck the Schneiderman family when her father died from meningitis. Schneiderman’s mother sent her and her two siblings to an orphanage temporarily as she struggled to take care of her kids without her husband. Though the Schneiderman family was eventually reunited, their mother lost her job when Schneiderman was 13, which prompted Schneiderman to drop out of school and find work.

She worked in sales and then switched to making caps three years later because it was more lucrative than sales work. But work conditions were poor and the pay wasn’t that much better.

Schneiderman became involved in the labor movement, establishing her workplace as an arm of the United Cloth Hat and Cap Makers’ Union in 1903. One year later, Schneiderman was elected to the union’s executive board. This cemented her as the first woman elected to national office in any American labor organization. Schneiderman became a strong voice for the working class in the push for women’s suffrage. Schneiderman spoke at suffrage rallies and lectures in the East and Midwest from 1907 to 1920. In 1917, she led the industrial section of New York’s Women’s Suffrage Association and was part of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Schneiderman ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1920. Though she lost, her candidacy catapulted the needs of working-class people into the national consciousness.

7. Mary Elizabeth Lease

Mary Elizabeth Lease

Mary Elizabeth Lease

Image: Kansas State Historical Society

Lease wore many hats; she was trained as an educator and a licensed attorney. Born to Irish immigrant parents in 1850 in Pennsylvania, Lease moved to Kansas when she was 20 to teach school. She married at 23 and she, her husband, and four children moved to Wichita, Kansas after trying their hand at farming elsewhere in Kansas and in Texas.

Lease was well known for her speeches about women’s rights and labor unions. In the early 1890s, she took up the fight for farmers in Kansas who weren’t being paid fairly for what they produced. Though Lease couldn’t run for office as a woman, she went around Kansas to speak on behalf of the Kansas People’s Party, the populist party. She traveled throughout the country, advocating for populism, which she intertwined with her push for women’s suffrage.

8. Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee

Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee

Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee

Image: BARNARD ARCHIVES AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

Lee was born in China in 1896 or 1897 and got started early in the fight for suffrage at the age of 16.   She learned English at a missionary school in China (her father was a missionary who moved to the U.S. when Lee was four years old) and won a scholarship to study in New York City in 1905. In 1912, Lee led 10,000 people in a suffragist parade on horseback  in New York City. The New York Times wrote about her participation, casting her as “the symbol of the new era.”

Lee attended Barnard College, where she fought for women’s suffrage. She gave a speech in 1915 called The Submerged Half, which called for the Chinese-American community to promote women’s roles in civic life. In 1917, Lee was at the helm of another march leading Chinese-American women in a suffrage parade down Fifth Avenue. After college, Lee got her Ph.D. in economics at Columbia University.

Though women in New York got the right to vote in 1917, Lee couldn’t cast a ballot because she wasn’t an American citizen. She couldn’t get citizenship because of discriminatory immigration laws. Yet Lee continued to push for women’s suffrage.

9. Dr. S. K. Chan

Dr. S.K. Chan is fourth from left on the bottom row of this photograph published in the
Dr. S.K. Chan is fourth from left on the bottom row of this photograph published in the “Oregon Journal” in 1912.

Image: Oregon Women’s History Consortium

Dr. S. K. Chan, who practiced herbalism, became the president of a local equal suffrage society for Chinese women in Oregon in 1912. She led the society as it went around Portland’s Chinese neighborhoods during the suffrage movement. Chan was instrumental in the fight for Chinese women’s suffrage in Oregon. Her efforts helped repeal the article in the state’s constitution that held back voting rights for this group.

10. Nannie Helen Burroughs

Nannie Helen Burroughs

Nannie Helen Burroughs

Image: GHI Vintage / Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Burroughs was born in 1879 to formally enslaved parents. She attended high school in D.C. where she graduated with honors. However, Burroughs was refused a teaching job in the D.C. public school system. Undeterred, she created her own school for Black women in 1909, with the help of the National Baptist Convention (NBC). The majority of her students had working-class backgrounds and came from both D.C. and other countries.

Burroughs was also heavily involved in advocating for women’s suffrage. She believed Black and white women should work together to guarantee the right to vote. Burroughs worked for the NBC for 48 years and was very active in its women’s cohort, along with other suffragists. She spent her life advocating for women’s suffrage, especially for Black women.





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