Women's Rights and Roles in American History

When our Constitution was written, it was silent on women. Excluded from most of the rights and privileges of citizenship, women operated in limited and rigid roles while enslaved women were excluded from all. Yet women have actively participated as citizens—organizing, marching, petitioning—since the founding of our country. Sometimes quietly, and sometimes with a roar, women’s roles have been redefined.

Use this page to find primary sources and document-based teaching activities related to women's rights and changing roles in American history. Many of the documents, photographs, and other sources are also featured in the exhibits Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote, at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, and One Half of the People: Advancing Equality for Women, traveling the country.

Cover Image: 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade in Washington, DC 

Teaching Activities

Extending Suffrage to Women
The length of the woman suffrage movement, its techniques, and the arguments for and against giving women the vote

Why Did Women Want the Right to Vote?
Comparing and contrasting woman suffrage petitions

The Amendment Process: Ratifying the 19th Amendment
The steps in the amendment process leading to the ratification of the 19th Amendment

Evaluating the New Departure Strategy in the Fight for Women's Suffrage
Analyzing documents from Susan B. Anthony's arrest and trial for voting in the 1872 election

The 19th Amendment and the Road to Universal Suffrage
The struggles for and gradual expansion of voting rights following the 15th and 19th Amendments

Women of Color and the Fight for Women's Suffrage
Considering marginalized groups of women in the suffrage movement

The Suffrage and the Civil Rights Reform Movements 
Comparing a 1917 suffrage march with the 1963 March on Washington
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