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“When Women Do Military Duty”: The Civil War’s Impact on Woman Suffrage

Exercise 4: Woman Suffrage and Military Service

During the Civil War, almost two hundred thousand African American men served in the Union army and navy. Supporters of giving African American men the vote used that military service to argue for enfranchising African American men. Since women did not do military service, they could not make the same argument for the vote. Although wartime is often seen as a time when marginalized groups can use the national government’s need for their support to increase their rights, this did not happen for women in the Civil War. During World War I, however, Carrie Chapman Catt succeeded in persuading President Woodrow Wilson to reward women’s war work with support for the Nineteenth Amendment, which said the right to vote could not be denied on the basis of sex.


According to Frederick Douglass, why does military service entitle African American men to the vote? Is basing the right to vote on military service consistent with the natural rights philosophy?

In what ways were George William Curtis and Mary Livermore claiming that women did military service in the Civil War?

Why can women do or not do military service? Did the idea of how women can contribute during wartime change between the Civil War and World War I? In what ways?

How did Carrie Chapman Catt and President Woodrow Wilson define patriotism, especially for women? How do their definitions compare to how Civil War–era politicians spoke of patriotism?

How did the arguments for woman suffrage in the period after the Civil War and during World War I draw on or differ from the natural rights arguments?


Frederick Douglass, “Address of the Colored National Convention to the People of the United States,” Proceedings of the National Convention of Colored Men, Held in the City of Syracuse, N.Y., October 4, 5, 6, and 7, 1864; with the Bill of Wrongs and Rights, and the Address to the American People (Boston, 1864), 44–62. http://coloredconventions.org/items/show/282

George William Curtis in New York Constitutional Convention of 1867, History of Woman Suffrage, vol. II: 1861–1876, ed. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage (Rochester, 1887), 302.

Francis Silvester in New York Constitutional Convention of 1867, Proceedings and Debates of the Constitutional Convention of the State of New York, Held in 1867 and 1868, in the City of Albany (5 vols., Albany, N.Y., 1868), I, 441–42.

Address by Mary A. Livermore at American Woman Suffrage Association convention, Woman’s Journal, May 21, 1870, pp. 157, 160.

[Carrie Chapman Catt], “Woman Suffrage Now Will Stimulate Patriotism” typescript speech, no date, roll 7, Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Manuscripts Division (Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.). https://www.loc.gov/resource/mss15404.mss15404-007_00506_00507/?sp=2

Woodrow Wilson, “Sixth Annual Message,” Dec. 2, 1918, The American Presidency Project. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/sixth-annual-message-6

Further Reading

Carl Becker, The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas (New York, 1953).

Ellen Carol DuBois, ed., The Elizabeth Cady Stanton–Susan B. Anthony Reader: Correspondence, Writings, Speeches (Boston, 1992),

Ellen Carol DuBois, Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote (New York, 2021).

Faye E. Dudden, Fighting Chance: The Struggle over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction America (New York, 2011).

Eleanor Flexner and Ellen Fitzpatrick, Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States (Cambridge, Mass., 1996).

Laura E. Free, Suffrage Reconstructed: Gender, Race, and Voting Rights in the Civil War Era (Ithaca, 2015).

Elna C. Green, Southern Strategies: Southern Women and the Woman Suffrage Question (Chapel Hill, 1997).

N. E. H. Hull, The Woman Who Dared to Vote: The Trial of Susan B. Anthony (Lawrence, 2012).

Martha S. Jones, All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830–1900 (Chapel Hill, 2007).

Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (New York, 2000).

Aileen S. Kraditor, Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890–1920 (New York, 1965).

Corrine M. McConnaughy, The Woman Suffrage Movement: A Reassessment (New York, 2013).

Michael Perman, Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888–1908 (Chapel Hill, 2001).

Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920 (Bloomington, 1998).

Elaine Weiss, The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote (New York, 2018).