Women's suffrage protest in front of the White House, February 1917

Courtesy of Library of Congress

The Constitution did not specify who had the right to vote, leaving that decision to the states. At first, most states allowed only white males who owned property to vote; by the 1820s many property requirements were dropped. Only after the Civil War did the federal government enact laws specifying certain national standards.

Slowly suffrage was extended, generally applying today to citizens eighteen and older. But this did not happen without the dedicated struggle of those demanding inclusion. Controversy and discrimination has characterized the history of voting, as minorities, women, the poor, and young adults fought to obtain this basic right of citizenship.



"Votes for Women" pennant, 1915
After decades of protests, women gained the right to vote in national elections in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
Flag carried in the voting-rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965. The demonstration, along with numerous other protests, drew national attention to the discriminatory practices that barred many African Americans from voting, and led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Lent by Rev. and Mrs. Hosea Williams

"Yes 18" button
"Old enough to fight, old enough to vote" was the rallying cry for lowering the voting age to eighteen. First proposed in 1942, the change took effect during the Vietnam War era, with the Voting Rights Act of 1970 and the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the Constitution in 1971.
Canvas handbag produced as part of an effort to encourage newly enfranchised younger voters to participate in the 1972 election.


                 Home | Press | Site Map | Help | Credits
National Museum of American History