Where Women Made History: Suffragist Edition

As part of the commemoration of the passage of the 19th Amendment, the National Trust has been working to tell the full story—to uncover and uplift women across the centuries whose vision, passion, and determination have shaped the country we are today. Our goal: discover 1,000 places connected to women’s history, and elevate their stories for everyone to learn and celebrate.

It was not until June 4, 1919, that the 19th Amendment was finally passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate, followed by a 14-month journey to ratification. When the 19th Amendment was adopted in August of 1920, it was indeed a leap for the cause of women's suffrage, but with racial discrimination baked into the American legal system, it would be decades before the franchise was extended to all.

Native American women could not vote until 1924 with the passing of the Indian Citizenship Act (and some states prohibited Native Americans from voting until the 1940s). Chinese American women could not vote until the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed, which was not until 1943. Japanese and Korean women could not vote until the McCarran-Walter Act was passed in 1952. And it was not until the 1960s that all women could truly vote, with the passing of the 24th Amendment (which enabled all citizens to vote regardless of their ability to pay any tax) and the Voting Rights Act, which paved the way for African American women to vote without fear of intimidation and discrimination.

While the suffrage movement did not end in 1920, it was still this date—June 4,1919—that provided the bedrock needed for women of all races to win the vote. So in honor of its passage, we are highlighting seven sites and women who played significant roles as suffragists.

  1. Photo of suffragette Mabel Ping-Hua Lee from a newspaper article, with the caption "Chinese Girl Wants Vote."

    Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee (New York, New York)

    Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee was born in 1896 in Guangzhou, China, and immigrated to New York City with her family when she was 9 years old. While growing up, Lee became increasingly interested in women’s rights, and in 1912 she co-led a suffrage march through New York City. She went on to study history and philosophy at Barnard College, where she published feminist essays including "The Meaning of Woman Suffrage” (1914). But it was not until 1943, with the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, that Lee would finally be able to cast her own ballot. Today, she is remembered as a suffragist who rallied for the rights of all women of color.

  2. Photo of the ruins of the Progressive Club. All that is left of the club now is the white brick foundation of the original building.

    Septima Clark and Bernice Robinson (Johns Island, South Carolina)

    In the 1950s, activists Septima Poinsette Clark (1898–1987) and Bernice Robinson (1914–1994) opened the first Citizenship School (now referred to as The Progressive Club) in Johns Island, South Carolina. The success of their school spread through the area, and soon neighboring islands and towns also began establishing educational centers where black Americans could learn the skills needed to become registered voters. These sites, in addition to prepping voters, also offered workshops and classes on topics related to literacy, activism, and practical skills (such as navigating the healthcare system and owning property). They became important community cornerstones, and were instrumental in engaging more Americans to vote.

  3. Black and white photo of suffragette Lavinia M. Engle, who is seated and staring into the camera.

    Lavinia M. Engle (Montgomery County, Maryland)

    Lavinia M. Engle was a politician and suffragist. She was born in 1892, and went on to attend Antioch College and Johns Hopkins University, where she was the first woman to earn her graduate degree in political science. She served as the leader of the League of Women Voters and the executive secretary of the Maryland League of Women Voters, a position she held from 1921–1936. During the 1930s, Engle also served as the representative of Montgomery County in the Maryland House of Delegates (1930–1934). In 1936 she was appointed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to join the Social Security Administration. She retired thirty years later, in 1966, as the chief of field operations.

  4. Marguerite Newburgh (St. Paul, Minnesota)

    Less then a week after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, organized an election regarding a water bond referendum. Local women lined up to vote, including Marguerite Newburgh, who is now widely believed to be the first woman to vote in the United States, having cast her ballot at 6:00 a.m. on August 27, 1920. Twenty-one years old at the time, Newburgh was the daughter of a councilman and worked as a stenographer. Though she did not pursue politics or activism during her lifetime, she has come to symbolize the overwhelming number of women who exercised their right to vote after the passing of the 19th Amendment.

  5. Photo of suffragette Alice Paul as she sits at her desk.

    Alice Paul (Mount Laurel Township, New Jersey)

    Alice Paul (born in 1885) was one of the primary leaders of the women’s suffrage movement. Inspired by the British suffragette movement, she began organizing events and parades to rally for women’s rights, and in 1913 she co-organized the first suffragist parade in the United States. Paul then founded the Silent Sentinels, a group of suffragists who, despite protesting peacefully, were often harassed and arrested. Paul herself was detained for seven months, during which time she was violently force-fed by doctors (often through her nasal passages), but over time the suffragist's actions rallied support. After the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Paul penned the Equal Rights Amendment (1923) and supported Title VII during the Civil Rights Movement. In 2016, President Obama named the Sewall-Belmont House as the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument in Paul’s honor.

  6. Photo of the Harriet Taylor Upton House, a medium-sized two-story home that is painted white and has green shutters.

    Harriet Taylor Upton (Warren, Ohio)

    Harriet Taylor Upton (born in 1853) emerged as an advocate of women’s rights in the 1890s. She joined the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1890, and became the treasurer of the NAWSA in 1894. Upton’s house served as the headquarters of NAWSA from 1903–1905, during which time notable suffragists frequented Upton’s house (including Susan B. Anthony). It was not until 1910 that NAWSA headquarters was relocated to New York City (and became the League of Women Voters in 1920). Upton’s home was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992 due to its unique historical significance in the suffragist movement.

  7. Photo of suffragette Coralie Franklin Cook, who is seated and staring at the camera.

    Coralie Franklin Cook (Harpers Ferry, West Virginia)

    Born into slavery in 1861, Coralie Franklin Cook was an orator, professor, and suffragist. She is the first known descendant of those enslaved at Monticello to have graduated college. Cook taught elocution at Howard University, and established herself as a gifted orator in Washington, D.C. During her lifetime, she became a leader of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC) and a member of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA). As a black, educated, middle class woman, Cook became a central figure of the suffragist movement, and used her voice to emphasize the importance of dismantling discrimination based on both race and sex.

Emma Peters is the marketing assistant at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A history graduate, she is constantly humbled by the way past lives and societies can alter the way we consume the present.

Every place has a woman's story to tell. Through Where Women Made History, we are identifying, honoring, and elevating places across the country where women have changed their communities and the world.

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