There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.
Susan B. Anthony
Working Women in the Suffrage Movement
Since the beginning of the women’s rights movement, women who devoted their lives to reform often were middle and upper class women. Women who worked to support themselves and their families had less time and funds to devote to social movements.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, working women began supporting suffrage in greater numbers. They joined labor unions, held strikes for higher pay, and protested for better working conditions. Working women started seeing the vote as a way to gain more political power to further these causes.
Harriot Stanton Blatch, daughter of suffrage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was among the first suffragists to recruit working women to support suffrage. She started collaborating with the Women’s Trade Union League, founded in 1905, to help women form unions and advocate for labor reforms. In 1907, she founded the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women (later called the Women’s Political Union) to attract working women to the suffrage movement. Blatch also wanted to integrate the more aggressive, militant tactics of labor activists—like parades through city streets and speakers on street corners—into the suffrage strategies to attract more publicity. Working women and their experience with the tactics of labor activists proved vital to winning the vote.
By Allison Lange, Ph.D.
- How did the rise of the labor movement influence the suffrage movement?
- What role did working women play in the movement during its final decades?
- How did that role contrast with earlier decades?
- Where did the labor and suffrage movements intersect?