U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

end of header


You are here: Census.govHistoryHome Page Archive2020 › August 2020
Skip top of page navigation


August 2020

Visit https://www.census.gov/history every month for the latest Census History Home Page!

U.S. Census Bureau History: Ratification of the 19th Amendment

Suffrage Sheet Music

The U.S. Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing American
women the right to vote on June 4, 1919. On August 18, 1920, women's suffrage was approved
when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On August 18, 1920, American women celebrated Tennessee's ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. After many long and grueling years of lobbying, protests, marches, and civil disobedience, their right to vote in federal and state elections was finally guaranteed.

Following America's war to win its independence from Great Britain (1775–1783), all states—except New Jersey—adopted state constitutions that denied women the right to vote. By 1807, even New Jersey's women saw that right stripped from them. Throughout the 19th century, suffrage leaders like Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony urged state and federal governments to grant women voting rights. They organized local suffrage groups, planned marches (like the March 3, 1913, Suffrage Procession held in Washington, DC), protested in front of government buildings, and lobbied state leaders and federal officials.

In 1878, Stanton convinced California Senator Aaron A. Sargent to introduce a women's suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution that used language similar to that of the 15th Amendment which granted African American men the right to vote in 1870. Despite impassioned speeches before the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections, the proposal languished for 9 years before the full Senate eventually rejected it in 1887. Despite the Senate's dismissal of the amendment, many western states proceeded to grant women full or partial voting rights. For example, women had the right to vote in the Wyoming Territory and continued to vote there after it became a state in 1890. Colorado granted women partial voting rights in 1893, and Idaho legislated women's right to vote in 1896. By the start of World War I, Washington (1910); California (1911); Oregon, Arizona, and Kansas (1912); the Alaska Territory (1913); and Montana and Nevada (1914) passed legislation granting women the right to vote.

Following the end of the war, suffragists argued that their effort to aid the nation's war effort by replacing men in the labor force, nursing, driving ambulances, performing administrative work for the military, and many other vital activities earned them the right to fully participate in the nation's democracy. Although Senator Sargent died in 1878 (the same year the Senate rejected his proposed amendment), suffrage supporters in Congress reintroduced his 1878 amendment—since nicknamed the "Anthony Amendment" in honor of Susan B. Anthony—in 1914 and again in 1917. As momentum built, a growing crowd of women gathered in front of the White House to urge President Woodrow Wilson to support their right to vote.

Facing a challenging midterm election in 1918 and mounting pressure from the nation's wives, mothers, and sisters, President Wilson threw his support behind the suffrage movement hoping that doing so would earn Democrats additional support from voters in the states where women could vote. When the proposed amendment again failed to pass the Senate on September 20, 1918, the National Women's Party focused its attention on those senators who voted against the amendment. Congress repeatedly failed to pass the amendment. In response, Wilson called a special session of Congress on May 19, 1919. The amendment passed the U.S. House of Representatives on May 21, 1919. After dissenting senators abandoned their filibuster, Congress approved the woman's suffrage amendment on June 4, 1919.

Within days, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan ratified the amendment. Montana, Arkansas, and Nebraska followed by the end of July 1919. Several states voted against ratification, including Alabama and Georgia, while Louisiana and Maryland attempted to urge the remaining states to defeat its passage. Ratification required passage by 36 states, and by July 1920, 35 states had done so. The fate of the 19th Amendment rested with Tennessee. Supporters and opponents converged on Nashville, TN, to lobby the General Assembly. Assembly members found lobbyists greeting them at their homes, restaurants, and following church services desperately hoping to influence their decision.

Huge crowds gathered outside the state capital building when the Tennessee General Assembly convened on August 9, 1920. Following August 12 hearings, the assembly voted 24–5 in favor of ratification on August 13. Next, the Tennessee House of Representatives debated ratification. Dozens of legislators fled Nashville for Decatur, AL, believing it would prevent a vote in the Tennessee House of Representatives and defeat the amendments ratification. Their attempt to thwart a vote failed and 50 of 99 members of the Tennessee House of Representatives voted in favor of ratification on August 18, 1920.

Following ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, several states reconsidered their rejection of women's suffrage, including Delaware in 1923, Maryland in 1941, Virginia in 1952, Alabama in 1953, Florida and South Carolina in 1969, Georgia and Louisiana in 1970, and North Carolina in 1971. Mississippi was the last state to symbolically ratify the 19th amendment on March 22, 1984.

You can learn more about the 19th Amendment and the suffrage movement using census data and records. For example:

Suffrage Supporters

After a decades-long push for the right to vote spearheaded by notable suffragists, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton,
Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, and thousands of others, the American Suffragettes successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress to pass the
19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. After 14 months spent lobbying state governments, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify
the amendment, guaranteeing American women the right to vote.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Did You Know?

On October 15, 1872, St. Louis, MO, Registrar of Voters Reese Happersett stopped Missouri suffrage leader Virginia Minor from registering to vote.

Minor sued Happersett and later appealed a Missouri Supreme Court ruling against her suit before the U.S. Supreme Court.

On March 29, 1875, Link to a non-federal Web site, the Court ruled that voting was not a privilege of citizenship. As a result, women's suffrage was not guaranteed until ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on August 18, 1920.

Stella Goslin Cowan
View larger image

Census Activists

The U.S. Census Bureau was one of the earliest federal agencies to employ women. Hired as enumerators during the 1880 Census, women comprised more than 50 percent of the census workforce by 1909—11 years before passage of the 19th Amendment. By 1920, women supervised key census and survey operations.

In addition to census work, employees also participated in the Suffrage, Civil Rights, and Temperance Movements, including Emilia De Cordoba, Gertrude E. Rush, Emily I. Farnum, Julie R. Jenney, Jennie Baker, and Stella Goslin Cowan (pictured above).

Learn more about these and other notable Census Bureau employees at our Notable Alumni Web pages.

1790 Census Schedule
View larger image

230 Years of Census Taking

On August 2, 1790, the United States began the 1790 Census.

When U.S. marshals and their assistants completed the count, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson reported that the nation's population was 3,929,214.

The population grew to 62,979,766 in 1890 and 248,709,873 in 1990.

On July 1, 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the United States was home to 328,239,523.

Visit https://www.census.gov/history every month for the latest Census History Home Page!

[an error occurred while processing this directive] This symbol Off Site indicates a link to a non-government web site. Our linking to these sites does not constitute an endorsement of any products, services or the information found on them. Once you link to another site you are subject to the policies of the new site.
Is this page helpful?
Thumbs Up Image Yes Thumbs Down Image No
255 characters maximum 255 characters maximum reached
Thank you for your feedback.
Comments or suggestions?
Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: December 14, 2023