National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)

Working for Women's Vote 1890 to 1920

Inez Milholland Boissevain at NAWSA parade
Inez Milholland Boissevain at 1913 NAWSA parade.

US Library of Congress

The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was founded in 1890.

Preceded by: National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA)

Succeeded by: League of Women Voters (1920)

Key Figures

Key Characteristics

Used both state-by-state organizing and push for a federal constitutional amendment, organized large suffrage parades, published many organizing and other brochures, pamphlets, and books, met annually in convention; less militant than the Congressional Union / National Woman's Party

Publication: The Woman's Journal (which had been the publication of the AWSA) remained in publication until 1917; followed by the Woman Citizen

About the National American Woman Suffrage Association

In 1869, the woman suffrage movement in the United States had split into two main rival organizations, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). By the mid-1880s, it was apparent that the leadership of the movement involved in the split was aging. Neither side had succeeded in convincing either many states or the federal government to adopt women's suffrage. The "Anthony Amendment" extending the vote to women through constitutional amendment had been introduced into Congress in 1878; in 1887, the Senate took its first vote on the amendment and soundly defeated it. The Senate would not vote again on the amendment for another 25 years.

Also in 1887, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Susan B. Anthony and others published a 3-volume History of Woman Suffrage, documenting that history mostly from the viewpoint of the AWSA but also including history from the NWSA.

At the October 1887 convention of the AWSA, Lucy Stone proposed that the two organizations explore a merger. A group met in December, including women from both organizations: Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Stone Blackwell (Lucy Stone's daughter) and Rachel Foster. The next year, the NWSA organized a 40th-anniversary celebration of the Seneca Falls Woman's Rights Convention and invited the AWSA to take part.

Successful Merger

The merger negotiations were successful, and in February 1890, the merged organization named the National American Woman Suffrage Association, held its first convention, in Washington, DC.

Elected as the first president was Elizabeth Cady Stanton and as vice president Susan B. Anthony. Lucy Stone was elected as the chairman [sic] of the Executive Committee. Stanton's election as president was largely symbolic, as she traveled to England to spend two years there right after being elected. Anthony served as de facto head of the organization.

Gage's Alternative Organization

Not all suffrage supporters joined the merger. Matilda Joslyn Gage founded the Women's National Liberal Union in 1890, as an organization that would work for women's rights beyond just the vote. She was president until she died in 1898. She edited the publication The Liberal Thinker between 1890 and 1898.

NAWSA 1890 to 1912

Susan B. Anthony succeeded Elizabeth Cady Stanton as president in 1892, and Lucy Stone died in 1893.

Between 1893 and 1896, women's suffrage became law in the new state of Wyoming (which had, in 1869, included it in its territorial law). Colorado, Utah, and Idaho amended their state constitutions to include women's suffrage.

The publication of The Woman's Bible by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage and 24 others in 1895 and 1898 led to a NAWSA decision to explicitly disavow any connection with that work. The NAWSA wanted to focus on women's vote, and the younger leadership thought criticism of religion would threaten their possibilities for success. Stanton was never invited to the stage at another NAWSA convention. Stanton's position in the suffrage movement as a symbolic leader suffered from that point, and Anthony's role was stressed more after that.

From 1896 to 1910, the NAWSA organized about 500 campaigns to get woman suffrage on state ballots as referenda. In the few cases where the issue actually got on to the ballot, it failed.

In 1900, Carrie Chapman Catt succeeded Anthony as president of the NAWSA. In 1902, Stanton died, and in 1904, Catt was succeeded as president by Anna Howard Shaw. In 1906, Susan B. Anthony died, and the first generation of leadership was gone.

From 1900 to 1904, the NAWSA focused on a "Society Plan" to recruit members who were well-educated and had political influence.

In 1910, the NAWSA began to try to appeal more to women beyond the educated classes and moved to more public action. That same year, Washington State established statewide woman suffrage, followed in 1911 by California and in 1912 in Michigan, Kansas, Oregon, and Arizona. In 1912, the Bull Moose / Progressive Party platform supported woman suffrage.

Also at about that time, many of the Southern suffragists began to work against the strategy of a federal amendment, fearing it would interfere with Southern limits on voting rights directed at African Americans.

NAWSA and the Congressional Union

In 1913, Lucy Burns and Alice Paul organized the Congressional Committee as an auxiliary within the NAWSA. Having seen more militant actions in England, Paul and Burns wanted to organize something more dramatic.

The Congressional Committee within NAWSA organized a large suffrage parade in Washington, DC, held the day before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. Five to eight thousand marched in the parade, with half a million onlookers―including many opponents who insulted, spit on and even attacked the marchers. Two hundred marchers were injured, and Army troops were called in when police would not stop the violence. Although Black suffrage supporters were told to march at the back of the march, so as not to threaten support for woman suffrage among white Southern legislators, some of the Black supporters including Mary Church Terrell circumvented that and joined the main march.

Alice Paul's committee promoted actively the Anthony Amendment, re-introduced into Congress in April of 1913.

Another large march was held in May of 1913 in New York. This time, about 10,000 marched, with men making up about 5 percent of the participants. Estimates range from 150,000 to half a million onlookers.

More demonstrations, including an automobile procession, followed, and a speaking tour with Emmeline Pankhurst.

By December, the more conservative national leadership had decided that the Congressional Committee's actions were unacceptable. The December national convention expelled the Congressional Committee, which went on to form the Congressional Union and later became the National Woman's Party.

Carrie Chapman Catt had led the move to expel the Congressional Committee and its members; she was elected president again in 1915.

The NAWSA in 1915 adopted its strategy, in contrast to the continued militancy of the Congressional Union: the "Winning Plan." This strategy, proposed by Catt and adopted at the organization's Atlantic City convention, would use the states that had already given women the vote to push for a federal amendment. Thirty state legislatures petitioned Congress for women's suffrage.

At the time of World War I, many women, including Carrie Chapman Catt, became involved in the Woman's Peace Party, opposing that war. Others within the movement, including within NAWSA, supported the war effort or switched from peace work to war support when the United States entered the war. They worried that pacifism and war opposition would work against the suffrage movement's momentum.


In 1918, the US House of Representatives passed the Anthony Amendment, but the Senate turned it down. With both wings of the suffrage movement continuing their pressure, President Woodrow Wilson was finally persuaded to support suffrage. In May of 1919, the House passed it again, and in June the Senate approved it. Then the ratification went to the states.

On August 26, 1920, after the ratification by the Tennessee legislature, the Anthony Amendment became the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

After 1920

The NAWSA, now that woman suffrage had passed, reformed itself and became the League of Women Voters. Maud Wood Park was the first president. In 1923, the National Woman's Party first proposed an Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution.

The six-volume History of Woman Suffrage was completed in 1922 when Ida Husted Harper published the last two volumes covering 1900 to victory in 1920.

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Your Citation
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2023, April 5). National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).