Top 10 Women's Suffrage Activists

They influenced voting rights movements around the world

Suffragettes Demonstrate in London Street, 1912

Corbis/Getty Images 

Many women worked to win the vote for women, but a few stand out as more influential or pivotal than the rest. The organized effort for women's suffrage began most seriously in America and then influenced suffrage movements around the world.

Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony
circa 1897.

L. Condon/Underwood Archives/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Susan B. Anthony was the best-known women's suffrage proponent of her time, and her fame led to her image gracing a U.S. dollar coin in the late 20th century. She wasn't involved in the 1848 Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention that first proposed the idea of suffrage as a goal for the women's rights movement, but she joined soon after. Anthony's most prominent roles were as a speaker and strategist.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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Elizabeth Cady Stanton worked closely with Anthony, lending her skills as a writer and theorist. Stanton was married, with two daughters and five sons, which limited the time she could spend traveling and speaking.

She and Lucretia Mott were responsible for calling the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, and she was the primary writer of the convention's Declaration of Sentiments. Late in life, Stanton stirred up controversy by being part of the team that wrote "The Woman's Bible," an early women's rights supplement to the King James Bible.

Alice Paul

Alice Paul
(MPI/Getty Images)

Alice Paul became active in the women's suffrage movement in the 20th century. Born well after Stanton and Anthony, Paul visited England and brought back a more radical, confrontational approach to winning the vote. After women succeeded in 1920, Paul proposed an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst
(Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel Pankhurst and Sylvia Pankhurst, were leaders of the more confrontational and radical wing of the British suffrage movement. Emmeline, Christabel, and Sylvia Pankhurst were major figures in the founding of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and are often used to represent the British history of women's suffrage.

Carrie Chapman Catt

Carrie Chapman Catt

Interim Photos/Getty Images

When Anthony stepped down as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1900, Carrie Chapman Catt was elected to succeed her. She left the presidency to care for her dying husband ​and was elected president again in 1915.

She represented the more conservative, less confrontational wing that Paul, Lucy Burns, and others split from. Catt also helped found the Women's Peace Party and the International Woman Suffrage Association.

Lucy Stone

Lucy Stone

Archive Photos/Getty Images

Lucy Stone was a leader in the American Woman Suffrage Association when the movement split after the Civil War. This organization, considered less radical than Anthony and Stanton's ​National Woman Suffrage Association, was the larger of the two groups.

Stone is also famous for her 1855 marriage ceremony that renounced the legal rights that men usually gained over their wives upon marriage and for keeping her last name after marriage.

Her husband, Henry Blackwell, was the brother of Elizabeth Blackwell and Emily Blackwell, barrier-busting women physicians. Antoinette Brown Blackwell, an early female minister and a women's suffrage activist, was married to Henry Blackwell's brother; Stone and Antoinette Brown Blackwell had been friends since college.

Lucretia Mott

Lucretia Mott

Kean Collection/Getty Images

Lucretia Mott was at a meeting of the World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 when she and Stanton were relegated to a segregated women's section though they had been elected as delegates.

Eight years later they, with the aid of Mott's sister Martha Coffin Wright, brought together the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention. Mott helped Stanton draft the Declaration of Sentiments endorsed by that convention.

Mott was active in the abolitionist movement and the wider women's rights movement. After the Civil War, she was elected the first president of the American Equal Rights Convention and tried to hold the women's suffrage and abolitionist movements together in that effort.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Millicent Fawcett

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Millicent Garrett Fawcett was known for her "constitutional" approach to gaining the vote for women, compared with the more confrontational approach by the Pankhursts. After 1907, she headed the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).

The Fawcett Library, repository for much women's history archival material, is named for her. Her sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, was Britain's first female physician.

Lucy Burns

Lucy Burns in Jail

Library of Congress

Lucy Burns, a Vassar graduate, met Paul when they were active in the British suffrage efforts of the WSPU. She worked with Paul in forming the Congressional Union, first as part of the NAWSA and then on its own.

Burns was among those arrested for picketing the White House, imprisoned at Occoquan Workhouse, and force-fed when the women went on a hunger strike. Bitter that many women refused to work for suffrage, she left activism and lived a quiet life in Brooklyn.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells, 1920

Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

Known more for her work as an anti-lynching journalist and activist, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was also active for women's suffrage ​and critical of the larger women's suffrage movement for excluding Black women.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Top 10 Women's Suffrage Activists." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2021, July 31). Top 10 Women's Suffrage Activists. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Top 10 Women's Suffrage Activists." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2023).