When Women Lost the Vote Timeline
Women voted in Revolutionary America, over a hundred years before the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution guaranteed that right to women nationally in 1920. This timeline explores women’s political activism, their changing rights, and the history of the woman suffrage and women’s rights movements in New Jersey and across the nation from 1754 to 1920. It also traces some of the major events that shaped the state of New Jersey, the new nation and the world from the mid-18th century through the early 20th.
How Did Women Gain the Vote?: The Promise of 1776 for Women
The French and Indian War — also known as the “Seven Years War” — begins. This conflict put Britain and her colonies against the French and Native American nations. The war ends in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris, greatly expanding Britain’s empire in North America.
Lydia Chapin Taft votes in Uxbridge, Massachusetts.
Sir William Blackstone publishes Commentaries on the Laws of England, reinforcing the tradition of “coverture” — that once married, a woman’s property belongs to her husband and she has no legal rights. “Coverture” was brought over by the British colonists who followed the traditions of English Common Law.
The Stamp Act is passed by the British Parliament, placing a direct tax on newspapers, playing cards, and pamphlets. Some colonists view this as unfair taxation without representation and formed organizations called the Sons and Daughters of Liberty. These groups begin to organize boycotts of British goods. Women take an active role in the protest movement by producing homespun cloth and other items.
And be in known unto Britain, even American daughters are Politicians and Patriots, and will aid the good work with their female efforts.”Hannah Winthrop to Mercy Ottis Warren, January 1, 1774
Mercy Otis Warren publishes plays advocating for independence from Great Britain by mocking British Colonial Officials and urging colonists to resist British policies.
Phillis Wheatley, the first enslaved person to publish a book, writes Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Wheatley uses her pen to show white colonists that enslaved African Americans have souls and minds, and thus deserve liberty.
Fifty-one women gather in Edenton, North Carolina, to sign a protest resolving to boycott English cloth, tea and other goods. This event is later called the Edenton Tea Party.Explore Women in the Revolutionary War
The Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, issues a proclamation stating that any enslaved people who are owned by rebels and who will fight with the British will be given their freedom. Thousands of men and women flock to his position, but many die of disease.
April 19, 1775
War begins when British forces fight Massachusetts militia at Lexington Green, Concord’s North Bridge, and on the roads back to Boston.
March 31, 1776
Abigail Adams writes to her husband John Adams, urging him to “Remember the Ladies” in the new Code of Laws.Explore
...in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.”Abigail Adams, March 31, 1776
July 2, 1776
The New Jersey State Constitution is adopted. It uses the gender-neutral pronoun “they” and does not include racial categories in its election law.
That same day, the Second Continental Congress votes to break all political ties with Great Britain.Explore the New Jersey State Constitution
July 4, 1776
Public announcement and publication of the Declaration of Independence.
December 10, 1777
New Jersey passes an Act ordering the confiscation of Loyalist’s personal property.
April 20, 1777
The New York State Constitution defines voters as “male inhabitants.”
The Vermont Constitution becomes the first to provide for universal male suffrage and outlaw slavery.
The Georgia State Constitution becomes the first constitution to abolish the inheritance practices of primogeniture. This practice had ensured that the eldest son in a family inherited the largest portion of his father's property.
Martha Washington visits her husband at Valley Forge as the Continental army faces a harsh winter, 20 miles from British occupied Philadelphia. Women camp followers help the army with domestic chores and nursing the sick.Explore Camp Followers
June 28, 1778
The Battle of Monmouth, where “Molly Pitcher” or women like Mary Ludwig Hays and Margaret Corbin supposedly served, takes place. There is no clear winner.
Washington agrees to begin accepting some soldiers of African descent into the Continental Army. These men are already represented in many state militias and navies, as well as on privateer ships.
April 30, 1779
Massachusetts passes the Confiscation Act. Their Act explicitly encourages wives of Loyalist men to break from their husbands and in doing so, protect the family’s property.
October 22, 1779
New York passes the Forfeiture Act empowering the state to seize and sell Loyalists’ forfeited property.
Pennsylvania passes the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery. It is the first state to pass such a law, but others follow.
Esther Reed publishes “Sentiments of an American Woman.” Reed’s work encourages women in Philadelphia and other cities to fundraise for the Continental Army.
August 22, 1781
Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman secures her freedom from slavery in Massachusetts.Explore
Any time while I was a slave, if one minute's freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told that I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it just to stand one minute on God's earth a free woman.”Elizabeth Freeman
October 18, 1781
The Continental Army, with the help of the French Navy, defeats the British at the Battle of Yorktown. Although Yorktown is the last major battle of the Revolution, the war continues for two more years.
Deborah Sampson disguises herself as a male soldier and enlists in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment to fight with the Continental Army. Sampson takes the name Robert Shurtliff and fights for two years. Although her identity is eventually discovered, she receives an honorary discharge. Sampson returns home and marries Benjamin Gannett in 1785.Learn more about Deborah Sampson
Peace talks begin in Paris and British forces begin evacuating American cities.
September 3, 1783
The United States and Britain sign the Treaty of Paris to bring the Revolutionary War to an end.
The New Jersey State Legislature prohibits bringing slaves imported into the country after 1776 into New Jersey. It does not prohibit interstate slave trading.
September 17, 1787
The U.S. Constitution is signed.
June 21, 1788
The U.S. Constitution is adopted. It gives states the power to establish their own voting qualifications.
April 3, 1789
George Washington is unanimously elected and inaugurated as the first President of the United States.
May 5, 1789
The French Revolution begins when citizens rise up against absolute monarchy and King Louis XVI.
How Did the Vote Expand?: A Revolutionary Decade
November 18, 1790
The New Jersey State Legislature passes an Act revising the regulations of the election law to include “he or she” in 7 of 13 counties in New Jersey (Bergen, Burlington, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Monmouth, Salem, and Sussex). This law also institutes township voting in these counties.Explore the 1790 Electoral Reform Law
Susanna Rowson publishes her bestselling novel, Charlotte Temple in England; it will not be published in America until 1797.
The United States Bill of Rights is ratified.
Judith Sargent Murray publishes “On Equality of the Sexes.”Explore
Are we deficient in reason? We can only reason from what we know, and if opportunity of acquiring knowledge hath been denied us, the inferiority of our sex cannot fairly be deduced from thence…”Judith Sargent Murray, “On the Equality of the Sexes,” 1790
Olympe de Gouges publishes The Declaration of the Rights of Woman (in France).
August 14, 1791
The Haitian Revolution begins when enslaved people revolt against French colonial rule.
Mary Wollstonecraft publishes Vindication of the Rights of Woman (in England).
Susanna Rowson writes and performs Slaves in Algiers in Philadelphia.Learn more about Susanna Rowson
Women were born for universal sway; Men to adore, be silent, and obey."Susanna Rowson, “Slaves in Algiers,” 1794
The Whiskey Rebellion, an uprising against the liquor tax in Pennsylvania, begins. The rebellion comes to an end in 1794 when the U.S. Marshals suppress the resistance.
February 22, 1797
The New Jersey Legislature passes a statewide Act revising the regulations of the election law to include “he or she,” lower the property requirement for voters from “fifty pounds proclamation money clear estate in the same” to “fifty pounds proclamation money,” and institutes township voting across the state.Explore the 1797 Electoral Reform Law
March 4, 1797
Washington leaves office. John Adams becomes the second president of the United States.
In Elizabeth, New Jersey, a bitter contest for a seat in the New Jersey State Legislature erupts between Jeffersonian Republican John Condict from Newark, and Federalist William Crane, from Elizabeth. Condict wins the election by a narrow margin.
This election introduces two factions of the Democratic-Republican Party, the radicals and moderates.
Susanna Rowson opens the Young Ladies’ Academy in Boston, Massachusetts.
November 15, 1797
Abigail Adams writes to her sister, Mary Cranch, supporting women voters in New Jersey.
John Adams recalls Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis having ridden to the polls on horseback in Virginia demanding her right to vote as a freeholder.Explore
The XYZ Affair occurs when diplomatic negotiations between American and French diplomats fail. The incident results in the undeclared Quasi-War, a naval war with France from 1798 to 1800.
Federalist President John Adams signs the Alien and Sedition Acts into law. These acts, passed in four parts, increase the residency requirement for American citizenship from 5 to 14 years.Learn more about American fears of foreign influence
Judith Sargent Murray publishes The Gleaner, a book of essays advocating for women’s rights.
Charles Brockden Brown publishes Alcuin, a dialogue on women’s rights.
November 9, 1799
The French Revolution ends when Napoleon Bonaparte appoints himself France’s “first consul.”
How Did Women Lose the Vote?: The Backlash
New Jersey voters vote “no” on the question of whether to reconvene the state constitutional convention (and potentially amend the 1797 election law).
In Bedminster Township, Somerset County, New Jersey, a state election takes place. Three women vote in that election, and 2 vote against reconvening the state constitutional convention.
Twenty-nine women (of 217 voters) vote in a congressional election in Upper Penns Neck Township, Salem County, New Jersey. A total of at least 75 women vote in state or congressional elections in Upper Penns Neck from 1800 - 1806, some voting year after year.
March 4, 1801
John Adams leaves office. Thomas Jefferson, elected in 1800, becomes the third president of the United States.
New Jersey, for the first time, reports a Democratic-Republican legislative majority.Learn more about the Rise of Partisan Politics in New Jersey
October 13, 1801
A state election takes place in Montgomery Township, Somerset County, New Jersey. Of 343 total voters, at least 46 are women and at least four are free Black male voters.
Judith Sargent Murray helps open a female academy in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
Petitions taken in Maidenhead Township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey, urge the state legislature to overturn an 1802 election. Petitioners allege that married women, enslaved people, “aliens” and non-residents had voted illegally.
New Jersey residents began submitting petitions to the state legislature citing voter fraud and suppression as early as 1783. From 1783 to 1807, 73 petitions were submitted to the state (37 for voter suppression, 36 voter fraud).Explore the Petition
Congress repeals the Naturalization Act.
April 30, 1803
The United States acquires the territory of Louisiana (827,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi) from France.
January 1, 1804
The Haitian Revolution ends and the colony of Haiti wins its independence from France.
February 15, 1804
New Jersey passes a Gradual Abolition Act. The Act declares children born to enslaved women after July 4, 1804 to be “free” after reaching the age of 21 for women, and 25 for men.Explore
Martin v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts sets a legal precedent that married women did not have separate political identities or citizenship from their husbands under “coverture.”
March 2, 1807
Congress passes the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves, abolishing the international slave trade in the United States, while permitting the internal slave trade to continue. It is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 1808.
A state election takes place in Chester Township, Burlington County, New Jersey. Of 260 voters, 38 are women. The election marks one of the last elections in the state that women and free people of color are legally able to participate in.
November 16, 1807
A contested local election in Essex County over the location of a courthouse causes further disputes over voter fraud. As a result, the New Jersey State Legislature amends the State Constitution to define voters as free, white male tax-paying citizens.Explore the 1807 Electoral Reform Law
Be it enacted…no person shall vote in any state or county election for officers in the government of the United States, or of this state, unless such person be a free, white, male citizen of this state…”The New Jersey State Legislature, Acts of New Jersey, November 16, 1807
December 22, 1807
President Thomas Jefferson signs the Embargo Act into law. The law prohibits American ships from trading in all foreign ports.
How Was the Vote Regained?: Redemption
Connecticut becomes one of the first states to pass a statute granting married women contractual or testamentary control over property held at law.
New Jersey passes an Act freeing women from the possibility of debt imprisonment.
New Jersey State Constitutional Convention convenes and rewrites the New Jersey State Constitution; it defines voters as free, white male citizens. This same year, a group of Burlington men petition to reinstate women’s right to vote, but are unsuccessful.
New York passes the Married Women’s Property Act protecting women’s right to property in marriage.
The Seneca Falls Convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York. Elizabeth Cady Stanton delivers the Declaration of Sentiments, modeled after the Declaration of Independence. The women at Seneca Falls call for “all men and women” to be created equal.Learn more about Stanton and the Woman Suffrage Movement
Historian and author Elizabeth Ellet publishes the first history of women in the American Revolution, introducing figures like the legendary “Molly Pitcher.” She does not include any women of color.
New Jersey passes “An Act for better securing the property of married women.”
Monmouth Assemblyman Henry Lafetra petitions the New Jersey State Legislature to revise state statutes to establish a “legal equality of women and men.” He is unsuccessful.
The New Jersey State Legislature defeats “An Act securing Equality of Rights to Women & Men” (which included women’s custody rights to children).
Universal white male suffrage is granted in all states.
Lucy Stone refuses to pay her property taxes, claiming she is not represented in her government. Her calls for “no taxation without representation” remind Americans of the rallying cry used to protest British policies in the years leading up to the war.
Quaker Harriet Lafetra leads Monmouth County residents in petitioning the state legislature on behalf of women’s rights and woman suffrage.
New Jersey grants women the power to dispose of property by will.
Lucy Stone addresses the New Jersey State Legislature claiming her right to vote and to property, citing women voters in New Jersey from 1776 to 1807.Explore
Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown Blackwell petition the New Jersey Legislature asking for the enfranchisement of women and reforms in married women’s property rights.
Portia Gage and 171 women, White and Black, in Vineland, New Jersey organize a public demonstration and protest at the presidential election. They bring a ballot box built from blueberry crates to cast their votes.Explore the Vineland Ballot Box
The 14th Amendment is passed extending citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, including formerly enslaved people.
The Territory of Wyoming passes woman suffrage.
The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified granting the right to vote to African American men. Some Black women suffragists, like Sojourner Truth, and women’s rights organizations are angered that the amendment does not include women.Explore
…and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be the masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before. So I am for keeping the thing going while things are stirring; because if we wait till it is still, it will take a great while to get it going again.”Sojourner Truth, Address to the First Annual Meeting of the American Equal Rights Association, 1867
Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth are arrested for attempting to vote.
New Jersey passes a more comprehensive Married Women’s Property Act.
July 4, 1876
Susan B. Anthony and National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) members stage a protest at the 1876 Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia. Suffragists interrupt the reading of the Declaration of Independence at Independence Hall to read their own Declaration of the Rights of Women.Learn more about women and the 1876 Centennial Celebration
New Jersey passes an Act Protecting Women’s Earnings Under Marriage.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton attempts to vote in Tenafly, New Jersey, where she references early women voters in New Jersey as a precedent for women’s suffrage. She is turned away and does not cast a ballot.
On the sacred soil of New Jersey, where we now stand, women voted thirty-one years, from 1776 to 1807.”Elizabeth Cady Stanton, November 1880
The State of Wyoming passes woman suffrage, becoming the first state to permanently grant women the right to vote.
The Indian Naturalization Act allows Native Americans to apply for citizenship. Native Americans are not granted the right to vote until passage of the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924, though many remain disenfranchised.
Colorado passes woman suffrage.
Utah and Idaho pass woman suffrage.
In the Carpenter v. Cornish case lawyer Mary Philbrook argues that New Jersey’s elimination of female suffrage is illegal. The case rejects Philbrook’s stance and upholds the 1844 election law limiting the vote to male citizens in the state.
Voters in New Jersey defeat a state referendum that would pass woman suffrage in the state.Explore the Stamp
Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first woman elected to the House of Representatives in Congress. She uses her position in Congress to push for an amendment that will guarantee women the right to vote.
New York grants the right to vote to women in a state referendum. It is the only northern state to do so.
The United States enters World War I. Women’s contributions help drive actions to pass a national woman suffrage amendment.
Alice Paul, a New Jersey Quaker, forms the National Woman’s Party (NWP), a more militant suffrage organization that sought to pass a national suffrage amendment.Learn more about Alice Paul
Oklahoma and South Dakota pass woman suffrage.
The United States Congress approves the 19th Amendment, which grants suffrage to women, and it is sent to the states for ratification.
August 26, 1920
The 19th Amendment is adopted nationally, granting most American women the right to vote. Building on this and all earlier efforts, women who do not immediately get to enjoy this right continue their fight to have this Amendment apply to them.