Montana Historical Society

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Montana: Stories of the Land

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Chapter 10 - Politics and the Copper Kings, 1889-1904

Woman Suffrage or Women's Suffrage?

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the movement advocating votes for women was called the woman suffrage movement, and its two main national organizations were the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association (italics added). Suffragists used the term woman rather than women to emphasize female unity and, in particular, the particular female virtues they believed all women shared. Advocates of woman suffrage believed that, once enfranchised, women would bring these virtues to bear on politics; thus, the fight for woman suffrage was not just to obtain the vote for individual (and individualistic) women but also to extend the virtues of womankind to the public realm.

In fact, it did not turn out that way. Women voters are as individualistic and politically diverse as their male counterparts, and today all major political parties and candidates count women among their supporters. For this reason, "woman suffrage" sounds awkward to modern ears, and in the textbook we use the ahistorical term "women's suffrage" to describe the movement.

May Day
May Day, 1916, photo by Edward Reinig, Montana Historical Society Photo Archives PAc 74-104