Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate

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Author: Robert J. Dole  | Date: September 30, 1918

President Wilson Speaks Out for Woman Suffrage

On the afternoon of September 30, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson made a surprise visit to Capitol Hill to address the Senate. The subject of the president’s speech was votes for women, and, in a dramatic turnabout, he strongly urged the senators to approve the suffrage amendment then before them.

The president had inadvertently added impetus to the suffrage movement by casting World War I as a crusade for democracy. It was unconscionable, argued suffragists, for America to deny its female citizens the right to participate in government while at the same time fighting a war to "make the world safe for democracy." Wilson saw the issue differently. He opposed a constitutional amendment granting women the vote and favored state action instead. His opposition sparked stormy demonstrations by suffragists. Hundreds of women protesters, who chained themselves to the White House fence and blocked its entrances, were arrested and jailed at the direction of the Wilson administration.

In January 1918, the president experienced a change of heart. He endorsed the suffrage amendment, explaining his conversion in terms of the war. The House quickly approved the amendment, but the Senate remained opposed. Its intransigence prompted the president’s September 30 visit, on the eve of another vote. In his impassioned plea, Wilson urged adoption of the amendment as "virtually essential to the successful prosecution of the great war of humanity in which we are engaged." Yet, while the senators had cheered as Wilson entered their chamber, they voted down the amendment after he left and rejected it again in February 1919. It wasn’t until a new Congress convened in the spring of 1919 that the House and Senate finally approved the suffrage amendment. In August 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote became a part of the Constitution of the United States.

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Chicago: Robert J. Dole, "President Wilson Speaks Out for Woman Suffrage," Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress (Washington, D.C.: U.S Government Printing Office, 1989), in Original Sources, accessed July 11, 2020, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=T3CRZA4IM2R5CAD.

MLA: Dole, Robert J. "President Wilson Speaks Out for Woman Suffrage." Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress, Washington, D.C., U.S Government Printing Office, 1989, in , Original Sources. 11 Jul. 2020. originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=T3CRZA4IM2R5CAD.

Harvard: Dole, RJ 1989, 'President Wilson Speaks Out for Woman Suffrage' in Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress, U.S Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.. cited in , . Original Sources, retrieved 11 July 2020, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=T3CRZA4IM2R5CAD.