Today in Feminist History: Suffrage Is Not Sufficient, The Lucretia Mott Amendment (July 21, 1923)

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.


July 21, 1923: The National Woman’s Party’s campaign for a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women and men has officially been kicked off in Seneca Falls, New York!

The Lucretia Mott (Equal Rights) Amendment’s author, Alice Paul.

It’s an appropriate part of the National Woman’s Party celebration of the 75th anniversary of the women’s rights convention held here on July 19-20, 1848.

Of course, even three years ago, Alice Paul realized that suffrage would not be enough. On August 18, 1920, the day Tennessee became the 36th and final State needed to ratify the 19th Amendment, she noted:

“With their power to vote achieved, women still have before them the task of supplementing political equality with equality in all other fields. In state and national legislation, as well as in other fields, women are not yet on an equal basis with men.”

The first substantive step toward the launching of this campaign occurred on February 16, 1921. At the National Woman’s Party’s first convention since ratification of the 19th Amendment six months earlier, Nora Blatch Barney, granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, called for “absolute equality,” and the delegates enthusiastically endorsed turning that ideal into a legal guarantee as the group’s post-suffrage goal.

A committee of lawyers was quickly formed to come up with something that would ban all forms of discrimination based on sex. On December 11th of that year they submitted a first draft of a Constitutional amendment: “No political, civil or legal disabilities or inequalities on account of sex, or on account of marriage unless applying alike to both sexes shall exist in the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

A considerably more streamlined text was submitted to the convention today by the amendment’s author, Alice Paul, then unanimously approved: “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” Her resolution, as she read it from the pulpit of the local Presbyterian church to the assembled delegates said:

“Whereas, only one point in the equal rights program of 1848, that of equal suffrage, has been completely attained; and whereas, the National Woman’s Party, as stated in its Declaration of Principles, is dedicated to the same equal rights program as that adopted on this spot seventy-five years ago, be it resolved, that in order to bring the complete equal rights ideal to the victory that was won for suffrage we undertake the following program: The securing of an amendment to the United States Constitution stating men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.”

In speaking for the resolution, Alice Paul said:

“We began this campaign for equal rights a year ago. In one State we obtained without difficulty a law establishing equal guardianship, and in another States a law making women eligible for jury duty. If we keep on this way we will be here in another seventy-five years celebrating the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the 1848 convention. I think we ought to start immediately on another campaign similar to that which won suffrage. We should demand a Constitutional amendment of Congress and the President. We are not safe until we have equality guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.”

Paul then suggested a nickname for her amendment in the same tradition as the 19th (woman suffrage) Amendment was often referred to as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment:

“We tie up this amendment to the 1848 movement. It is easier to get support for something with tradition behind it and which has grown respectable with age than for something new-born from the brain of the Woman’s Party. We are going to call this amendment the Lucretia Mott Amendment, because to Lucretia Mott more than to anyone else the feminist movement in the United States owed its start.” 

This was not the only stirring speech to the delegates. For instance, in last night’s opening address to the convention, Alva Belmont said:

“In Seneca Falls we stand on consecrated ground, the birthplace of women’s emancipation … The Woman’s Party today is working for nothing more than the complete fulfillment of the demand for equality made here in 1848.

Discriminations continue to exist in education, in industry, in the professions, in political office, in marriage, in personal freedom, in control of property, in guardianship of children, in making contracts, in the church, and in the double moral standard. We have carried out only a part of the command. The fight must go on. Let every woman here consecrate herself to toil to the end that women as well as men shall be free in the United States.”

Today ended with a pageant consisting of a fifty-voice choir, 300 banner-bearers, and fifty more participants costumed in the same manner as those who were here in 1848, playing the parts of the original attendees in re-enacting the highlights of that previous convention. It was a fitting tribute to the pioneers of 75 years ago and clearly inspirational to all who must now go out and finish the fight begun so well so long ago.


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About

David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.