100 Years Ago – The Constitution Originally Denies Suffrage to Women


One hundred years ago, women won the right to vote.

Though its first sentence begins “we the people,” the U.S. Constitution’s principles didn’t include all people. When it came to apportioning representatives, enslaved people counted as three-fifths of a person; Native Americans were excluded altogether; and it would be 143 years before the word “sex” appeared in the Constitution.  

In the early 1770’s, British colonists in North America met to consider rejecting royal edicts as a form of government. In July 1776, the delegates to the Continental Congress signed a declaration of independence asserting “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Ironically, they also degreed that governments should derive their powers from the consent of the governed.

Following the war for independence, the thirteen states met to discuss rules on which they could jointly agree to form a single nation. Delegates gathered in Philadelphia in 1787, successfully producing a constitution. A new form of government, representative democracy, was born. Despite the lofty aspirations of the new laws, women and many others were not included in in their protections and privileges, nor were they represented in the new government. It would be nearly a century and a half before they were. Government—to be credible—must derive their powers from the consent of the governed.  

This series, 100 Years Ago,  is produced by the Kanawha Valley National Organization for Women with funding from the West Virginia Humanities Council.