A Pennsylvania Centennial Celebration
Photo courtesy of Kenneth Florey

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of the Vote

#PAWomensSuffrage100 June 24, 2019

One hundred years ago, suffragettes wore white to show their support for “Votes for Women.” On June 24, we are asking all Pennsylvanians to wear white to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the date the commonwealth approved the 19th Amendment. Join us, and spread the word on social media using #PAWomensSuffrage100.

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More Ways to Celebrate

Women’s suffrage centennial events will take place across Pennsylvania through the anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s full ratification next fall, 2020. One of the first is Game Changers: Pennsylvania Women Who Made History, hosted by the PA Commission for Women at the Governor's Mansion in Harrisburg.

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Votes for Women Pennant

The Pennsylvania Suffrage Story

From its early Quaker roots through the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, Pennsylvania was at the forefront of the women’s suffrage story as women and men statewide inspired and advanced some of its most significant chapters.

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Suffrage’s Quaker Roots

The origins of the women’s suffrage movement (as well as the abolition of slavery and other social justice causes) can in large part be traced to the Quakers and their belief that all people are equal and worthy of respect. When Quaker William Penn received ownership of Pennsylvania from King Charles II in 1681, it was the only colony where religious freedom was promised to all who settled here. Philadelphia became a model of tolerance, attracting a growing and influential Quaker population in the colonial period and beyond.

The American Women's Movement Begins

Philadelphia Quaker Lucretia Coffin Mott was a leading thinker and driving force behind the rise of women’s suffrage as a national movement in the early 19th century. Together, she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton conceived and directed the first Women’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. She authored Discourse on Women, became the first president of the American Equal Rights Association in 1866, and was instrumental in establishing Swarthmore College as a coeducation institution.

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"Let our lives be in accordance with our convictions of right, each striving to carry out our principles." — Lucretia Mott
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A Bold Move at the Centennial Celebration

Local and national suffragists united to make a bold move in 1876, seeking attention for their cause at the U.S. Centennial Exhibition, held in Philadelphia. After being denied a location at the exhibition, the women insisted on making their presence known during ceremonies before a crowd of 150,000 at Independence Square. Susan B. Anthony gained access to the platform and read A Declaration of Rights for Women, which was also distributed to onlookers.

Hard-fought Progress Across Pennsylvania

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, countless Pennsylvania women, most of them forgotten to history, worked tirelessly to spread the suffrage movement across the state, many putting their lives and liberty on the line. Philadelphia’s Carrie Burnham was arrested for attempting to vote, then unsuccessfully argued her case before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Erie resident Augusta Fleming organized the state’s first suffrage march in Perry in 1913. In Pittsburgh, Daisy Lampkin hosted meetings and gave street-corner speeches to promote the cause and organize participation by African-American women.

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Push for Women's Votes Graphic Photo courtesy of Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

A Push for Women’s Votes Flounders

Many Pennsylvania suffragists — primarily those in the western and northern counties — saw a statewide referendum as the best path to women’s suffrage. After successfully lobbying the Pennsylvania legislature, they took their campaign for 1915 referendum statewide with a memorable tactic. Chester County native Katherine Wentworth Ruschenberger commissioned a “Justice Bell,” which was cast as a full-size replica of the Liberty Bell with the promise that it would not ring until women had the vote. Although Pittsburgh’s Jennie Bradley Roessing drove the bell to campaign events in all 67 of the state’s counties, the referendum was defeated.

Taking the Cause to Congress

Alice Paul, a descendant of William Penn, graduated from Swarthmore College and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. She was a driving force in bringing women's suffrage to the national stage by pushing Congress for a constitutional amendment. Paul was imprisoned multiple times and is credited as one of the first Americans to access the power of grassroots activism — including the 1914 march her Congressional Union organized on Rittenhouse Square.

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Women Win the Vote — The Justice Bell Rings

After Congress approved the 19th Amendment granting women the vote, ratification required approval by a minimum of 36 states. Pennsylvania acted quickly, ratifying on June 24, 1919. However, women's suffrage didn't become the law of the land until August 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th to ratify the amendment. The Justice Bell rang for the first time on September 25, 1920, on Independence Square in Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania women voted for the first time later that fall. A century later, Pennsylvania is proud to honor their important legacy.

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PA Centennial Events

If your Pennsylvania group or company is organizing a public event or activity to celebrate the suffrage centennial in 2019-20, please send us your contact information, a brief description, and a URL or social media address, if available. Thank you!

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Continuing the legacy - Register to vote

All Pennsylvanians are encouraged to register to vote. Quick and convenient Online Voter Registration is available for eligible citizens and can be found at VotesPA.