When lesbians led the women’s suffrage movement

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01/24/2020

As Americans commemorate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which granted voting rights to some – but not all – women, it is important to acknowledge the lesbian leaders of the suffrage movement. A leadership team of three women with “lesbian-like” relationships – Jane Addams, Sophonisba Breckinridge and Anna Howard Shaw – took control of the suffrage movement in 1911. Suffrage scholarship has long acknowledged a shift “from justice to expediency” – from an emphasis on natural rights to an emphasis on gender distinctions – in the movement at the turn of the century. The 1848 Declaration of Sentiments, a founding document of the suffrage struggle, proudly insisted that “all men and women are created equal.” However, by the early 20th century, many of the movement’s new adherents emphasized women’s differences from men. To gain support, they argued that female voters would engage in “social housekeeping” and “clean up” corrupt politics.

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