Constitution of National Woman Suffrage Association and Note from Susan B. Anthony, May 17, 1874
The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was created on May 15, 1869, when a number of women of the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) broke off to form their own organization focused exclusively on enfranchising women. This splinter movement arose out of debates surrounding whether women's suffrage activists should support the 15th Amendment, which extended the vote to African American males. The leaders of this splinter movement, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, had argued that no suffrage legislation should be passed unless it also gave women the right to vote.
The NWSA began holding annual conventions in New York City and Washington, DC, soon after it was formed. Anthony presided over the New York meeting of 1874 from her room at the Westminster Hotel. A number of rousing speeches were given in Irving Hall, countering many popular arguments against women suffrage, such as the claim that women's brains were incapable of understanding politics.
During the convention, Anthony sent a note to a "Miss Boothe," requesting that she become involved with the NWSA. Evidence suggests that this woman was likely Mary Louise Booth, editor of Harper's Bazaar, secretary of the Woman's Rights Convention, and longtime friend of Anthony's. There is no indication that Booth attended the convention or accepted a position in office as Anthony requested.
Anthony's note was written on the back of the NWSA's Constitution—a document adopted on May 15, 1869, and initially printed in Anthony’s short-lived but influential women's rights newspaper, the Revolution, on May 27—which explained the organization’s mission and established the offices of its members. In 1883, the NWSA revised the constitution with very minor changes, including the addition of a new article. The version of the constitution displayed here is a slightly altered version of the first version printed in the Revolution sometime between 1869 and 1883.
The NWSA believed that the most effective route to obtaining women’s suffrage involved lobbying for an amendment to the Constitution. The American Woman Suffrage Association, another influential interest group, wanted to bypass the federal government altogether by pushing for women's enfranchisement on a state-by-state basis. Although these organizations had ideological differences, they were fighting for the same cause, and they merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) in 1890.
Thanks in part to the work of the members of the NWSA and, later, the NAWSA, Wyoming became the first territory to grant suffrage to women in 1869. Many more states followed, but the battle for women's suffrage would not be won until well into the 20th century.
Ann D. Gordon, ed., The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, vol. 2, Against an Aristocracy of Sex, 1866 to 1873 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000.
Ida Husted Harper, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, 3 vols. (Indianapolis: Hollenbeck Press, 1898).
"Women in Council: National Woman Suffrage Association," New York Times, May 15, 1874.