Reluctant Suffragettes: When Women Questioned Their Right to Vote

  • March 18, 2009
  • By Jodie T. Allen

Woman is a flower for the man to look after.... [She should not] spoil it and mingle in his affairs." — Mrs. Rehm, Douglas Park, Chicago, Ill., 1923.

In the year 1980, 59.4% of voting-age U.S. women cast ballots in that fall's presidential election. According to the Bureau of the Census, they were joined by 59.1% of voting-age men. That comparison is noteworthy because, 60 years after passage of the 19th Amendment granted them the franchise, it marked the first time in U.S. history that American women turned out in equal proportion to their male compatriots. What took them so long?

The Census Bureau didn't track voter turnout prior to 1964 so we don't really know the pace at which most women acquired the voting habit. But the recent serendipitous rediscovery of what was surely among the earliest survey-based analyses of voting-booth avoiders, makes it possible, with appropriate caveats, to examine the factors that made many female Americans slow to appreciate the fruits of the 70-year battle fought by U.S. suffragettes such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony.

Read the full commentary Reluctant Suffragettes: When Women Questioned Their Right to Vote on the Pew Research Center's Web site.