Highlights from History: American Women in Politics


Last week, Hillary Clinton made history by becoming the first woman in the United States to receive a presidential nomination from a major party. (Al Jazeera)

We look back on a few highlights of women’s political progress in the US. Use our resources to learn about woman suffrage, suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the first three waves of feminism.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

Photo by Hillary for Iowa, courtesy Flickr. CC-BY-2.0


  • 1848: Seneca Falls Convention
    • In Seneca Falls, New York, advocates Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organize the first women’s rights convention in the United States.
      • On the first day of the convention, only women are invited to attend and nearly 200 do. Elizabeth Cady Stanton shares a “Declaration of Sentiments,” which is based on the Declaration of Independence.
      • 40 men, including abolitionist Frederick Douglass attend the second day. Attendees agree unanimously on 11 resolutions related to specific rights for women.
        • A 12th resolution about a woman’s right to vote also passes, but it is controversial and inspires some supporters to withdraw.
Photo of Wesleyan Methodist Church, Seneca Falls, by Kenneth C. Zirkel, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0
  • 1851: “Ain’t I a Woman?”
    • Preacher, human rights advocate, and former slave Sojourner Truth speaks extemporaneously at a women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio, about the intersection of women’s rights and African-American’s rights:

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

  • 1866: American Equal Rights Association
    • During the Eleventh National Woman’s Rights Convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony found the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), which aims to “secure Equal Rights to all American citizens, especially the right of suffrage, irrespective of race, color, or sex.”
  • 1872: Arrested for Voting
    • After demanding to be registered and voting for Ulysses S. Grant in a presidential election, Susan B. Anthony is arrested in Rochester, New York. Meanwhile, Sojourner Truth is turned away from a polling booth in Michigan.
  • 1892: Anti-Lynching Campaign
    • Ida B. Wells, a journalist, activist, and teacher, begins an anti-lynching campaign soon after three African-American men are lynched in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1892.
      • She travels around the South to gather research for publications on the topic, and eventually leads a protest at the White House calling for reforms.
Photo of Ida B. Wells courtesy Wikimedia. Public Domain
  • 1912: Theodore Roosevelt Supports Women’s Rights
    • Theodore Roosevelt pursues the presidency, including woman suffrage in his platform.
      • Woodrow Wilson wins the 1912 presidential election.
  • 1916: First Woman in Congress
    • Jeannette Rankin, who hails from Montana, becomes the first woman elected to Congress.
      • Rankin runs as a progressive, promising to work for a woman suffrage amendment and to improve social welfare. She is also a pacifist and the only congressperson to vote against US engagement in the two World Wars.
  • 1932: First Female Senator
    • Hattie Caraway becomes the first woman in the Senate. She represents Arkansas.
      • Before taking office, Caraway influences her husband’s political career as a close and trusted advisor. When he passes away, Arkansas Governor Harvey Parnell appoints her to fill the empty spot.
Members of the House, representatives from organized labor and professional organizations, and the Cabinet (that’s LBJ, of course, looming in the back) stand with President John F. Kennedy as he signs the Equal Pay Act. Photo by Abbie Rowe, courtesy the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. Public Domain
  • 1964: Civil Rights Act
    • Congress passes the Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
      • Representative Howard W. Smith added the word “sex” very late in the game. It is disputed whether he added the word in a genuine effort to prevent sexist discrimination or in attempt to weaken the bill’s chances for success.
  • 1984: First Woman to Run as Vice President of a Major Party
    • Geraldine Ferraro runs with Walter Mondale, becoming the first vice presidential candidate on a major-party ticket.
      • Ferraro starts her career as an assistant district attorney and later serves in the House of Representatives.



Al Jazeera: Hilary Clinton accepts Democratic Party nomination

National Park Service: Woman’s Suffrage History Timeline

Nat Geo: Happy Birthday, Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Nat Geo: Woman Suffrage

Nat Geo: Women’s Lib

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