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Cited in article by Elizabeth Evans, “The Complex Role of Faith in the Women’s Suffrage Movement.” Religion News Service, 4 June 2019.


This week marks 100 years since Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote.

Passed in the wake of a cataclysmic world war, it wasn’t ratified until 1920.

Many of the women who had lobbied for it (it was first introduced in Congress in 1878), including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were dead.

Faith played a key role in the fight for women’s suffrage. Religious convictions compelled many to campaign on behalf of women’s suffrage — and many to fight hard against it.

Other supporters were drawn into the battle for women’s suffrage as part of the temperance movement led by educator and evangelical social reformer Frances Willard.

Adam Cuerden [Public domain]

In 1879, when the Methodist Willard became president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, she began to align domestic virtue with social change, according to Calvin College historian Kristin Du Mez.

For women affected by their husbands’ drinking, powerless to protect their own children, voting became a means to acquire political power and do good at the same time.

“Willard strategically draws more and more women into women’s rights activism, cautiously and incrementally,” said Du Mez. “Wives and mothers needed to vote. It’s a good Christian woman’s duty to vote. The needed to vote to protect their families.”

By the end of the 19th century, said Du Mez, suffrage had become a respectable cause in which Christian women could be engaged.

“I think Frances Willard would be heartbroken at the division between most of American Christianity and Christian feminism. That would cause her grief,” said Du Mez. “I wonder if our polarized framework right now isn’t hiding a quieter sphere worth holding on to.”

Kristin Kobes Du Mez
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Evans, Elizabeth. “The Complex Role of Faith in the Women’s Suffrage Movement.” Religion News Service. 4 June 2019.

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