The Suffrage Movement

Jessica Moore's picture

It is my hope with this blog to share my successes and failures on incorporating women’s history into my American history courses.  I will also share the sources that I use to communicate the information to my students and encourage their interest.  Each blog will look at a topic in women’s history and how I incorporated it into a survey course.    

 “Who knows what the word suffrage means?”  The forty blank faces that stared at me like the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off prompted me to reassess the topics I covered in the survey history courses I teach.  All professors who have taught a freshman history survey course know that the sheer amount of information that you have to tackle in a semester makes it difficult to really focus on one topic for very long.  Women’s history has always been a passion of mine, but I often find it difficult to give it more than just a passing mention during our sprint through American history.  Taking all of this into account, I decided to find ways to incorporate women’s history into my course whenever possible.

I quickly realized that my students were not alone in their lack of knowledge on topic of suffrage.  In fact student misunderstanding of the term is so widespread that a young man actually walked around at a nationally ranked academy asking them to sign a petition to “end women’s suffrage.”  The YouTube video of how students responded to him is now my jumping off point for discussing the women’s suffrage movement with my students.  Incorporating the video gets their attention and they are of course amused at all of the students in the video who are supporting the ending of women’s suffrage. 

Usually in the class previous to this one we have discussed the Progressive Movement and I have introduced the term suffrage to them as well as the general status of women in the 19th and early 20th century.  This is important I think because they have context for understanding the boldness of the women who participated in the suffrage movement.  I lecture on the suffrage movement including pictures of women picketing the White House during World War I and then show some clips from the movie Iron Jawed Angels depicting the arrest of women picketing the White House and how much of American society viewed their actions.

I conclude the class with a discussion on the actions of the women.  I ask the students to put themselves in the shoes of those women.  Was it unpatriotic to picket a war-time President?  Do you think they would have gotten the vote if they had waited until the war ended?  The students are usually divided in their opinions and very willing to argue with their classmates in support of their view. 

I have found the class period I devote to women’s suffrage to be one of the most engaging for students.  They seem to really enjoy the topic and I always hope it makes them appreciate their own right to vote a little more.  While it resulted in my only spending one class on the U.S. role in World War I rather than two, I have found the change to be well worth it.            


Ending Women’s Suffrage Video -

Iron Jawed Angels -

NWSA Constitution -

Seneca Falls “Declaration of Sentiments” -

Suffrage Movement Pictures: