Women and the War Effort: The Timing of the Federal Suffrage Amendment


  • Christine A. Farrell Wichita State University


women's suffrage, women's voting rights, National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), wartime, women's war efforts


A question involved in the debate over women's enfranchisement was whether the right to vote should obligate the voter to military service.1 A not uncommon argument during the Gilded Age that "the ballot is the inseparable concomitant of the bayonet ... To introduce woman at the polls is to enroll her in the militia"2 eventually metamorphosed into an argument that women should be advocates for peace.3 Yet the advent of the Great War prompted the reverse question as to whether military service (albeit noncombatant) should qualify women for their enfranchisement. Woodrow Wilson eventually answered the latter question in the affirmative; however, he arrived at this conclusion in the context of war: the impact of U.S. mobilization against the Central Powers brought this issue to the fore. Wilson's reasons for endorsing the federal amendment were twofold. Not only did Wilson recognize that women had the potential to patriotically contribute to the war effort, he also strove to keep the Democratic Party in power by means of women's votes. The diplomatic National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was integral in swaying Wilson's convictions toward his active endorsement of the federal amendment for woman suffrage.