The Split in the Women’s Suffrage Movement of the late 1800s

Added February 16, 2012

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Number of Teaching Blocks Required: 1

Lesson Topic

This lesson examines the split in the women’s suffrage movement following the Civil War. Students will have already learned about the emergence of the women’s suffrage movement in the 1840s, particularly the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. In this lesson, students will look at a selection of primary source documents from the late 1860s and 1870s to explore how the women’s suffrage movement redefined its goals following the Civil War and the passage of the 14th and 15thAmendments.


Essential Question

1. What internal challenges do groups (activists?) face when fighting for human rights?  How can these challenges be overcome?

2. Who should have the right to vote?


Key Learning Goals

  1. Students will understand the different opinions and approaches of women’s suffrage leaders during the years directly following the Civil War
  2. Students will analyze how the split in the women’s suffrage movement impacted the struggle for voting rights.


USII.9 Analyze the post-Civil War struggles of African Americans and women to gain basic civil rights.

Common Core Standards

Key Ideas and Details. English Language Arts Standards - History/Social Studies Grades 11-12

  • RH.11-12.1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • RH.11-12.2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • RH.11-12.3. Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Historical Context

The roots of the American women’s suffrage movement can be traced to women’s participation in other reform movements of the early 1800s, particularly the anti-slavery movement and the temperance movement. When Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott met at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840, they formed a close bond after being denied the ability to participate in the convention by the convention's male attendees. By 1848, Cady Stanton and Mott organized the Seneca Falls Convention, one of the earliest women’s rights conventions. The Declaration of Sentiments codified the major goals of the convention including a firm commitment to gaining women the vote. During the 1850s, Susan B. Anthony began to gain prominence in the women’s suffrage movement but, with the start of the Civil War, the movement lost momentum as its participants focused more on supporting the Union and the abolition of slavery. In 1868, Anthony and Cady Stanton began publishing The Revolution, which criticized the Republican Party for focusing primarily on African American suffrage. They then organized the National Woman Suffrage Association, which condemned the 14th and 15th as injustices to women. In contrast, Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe organized the American Woman Suffrage Association, which supported the passage of the 15th Amendment. By the 1880s, divisions within the ranks weakened the movement.  After years of negotiations, the AWSA and the NSWA merged in 1890 to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Instructions and Primary Sources

Homework before class: Students will have read one selection from a compilation of documents from women’s suffrage activists, each which addresses the conflict in the suffrage activists. There will be four selections, and student will be divided into groups so that at least five students will have the same document.

Students will write down the answers the following questions and bring them to class.

  1. What argument does your document(s) give regarding extending suffrage to women?
  2. Based on what you know about the author, why would he/she have these beliefs?
  3. Choose three quotations from your document(s) that you think specifically illustrate your author’s beliefs about women’s suffrage.

The documents are:

  • On Women’s Right to Vote by Susan B. Anthony
  • Two selections from Frederick Douglass
  • A selection from Sojourner Truth
  • A selection from Elizabeth Cady Stanton

In class instruction:

Activity One: Review of prior knowledge on the women's suffrage movement and the background of 14th and 15th Amendments (5-10 minutes)

Have students take a minute or two to write down what they remember learning about the early women's suffrage movement and the 14th and 15th Amendments, and then lead a whole-class discussion on their thoughts.

  • Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the World Anti-Slavery Convention
  • Seneca Falls Convention/Declaration of Sentiments
  • Actions of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth for Women’s Suffrage movement
  • How the women’s suffrage leaders supported the abolition movement and put aside their own goals during the Civil War
  • Reasons why the 14th Amendment was passed - to formalize the rights of citizenship extended to African Americans in the 1866 Civil Rights Act,  and to ensure that African Americans receive "due process" before the law
  • Reasons why the 15th Amendment was passed - many states refused to extend the right to vote to former male slaves, despite the fact that they had been granted citizenship by the 14th Amendment

Activity Two: Jig-Saw Activity - 30 minutes

The teacher will instruct students to meet with others who read their homework document. In small groups, students will share their answers for approximately 5 minutes, and will then re-shuffle based on the letters at the top of their readings. (5 minutes).

In the new groups, each student will have a different document. Each student will have two minutes to share the major facts about their document with their peers. Students will be instructed to write down what they learn from their classmates. (10 minutes)

When the Jig-Saw is complete, the teacher will re-convene the class and ask the class to come up with the major points of each document, as well as similarities and differences among the documents.  (15 minutes).

Activity Three: Final reflection/discussion - 10 minutes

Following the Jig-Saw, the teacher will ask students to write down summaries of two differing viewpoints and to explain why they think these views caused conflict among women's suffrage leaders in the post Civil War era. Students will then be encouraged to share their thoughts with the class and will turn in their summaries as a "ticket-out."


As part of their end of unit exam, the students will be given the following short answer/essay question:

"Explain the different viewpoints of the major leaders of the women's suffrage movement during the period following the Civil War.  How did these differences affect the course and progress of the movement?"


  • Anthony, Susan B. “On Women’s Right to Vote.” The History Place. Accessed on Feb 1, 2011.
  • Davis, Angela. Women, Race and Class. Vintage Books, 1983.
  • Douglass, Frederick. “Letter, To Josephine Sophie White Griffing.” September 27, 1868. Excerpt from The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Written by himself, from the revised edition of 1892. 
  • Zinn, Howard. People's History of the United States New York : HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.



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