The suffragists

World War I helped American women win another battle underway for decades: securing the right to vote.

The war “marked the beginning of a new era in the history of women,” Lettie Gavin says in American Women in World War I: They Also Served.

Vintage photo of men and women making and eating doughnuts during WWI (Library of Congress)
Making doughnuts for U.S. soldiers at American Red Cross headquarters, Paris (Library of Congress)

“Many believed that those four years of war liberated women from old molds and stereotypes,” Gavin writes, “and laid the foundation for higher wages, better jobs, [and] improved working conditions.”

During World War I, women went to Europe to help out with the humanitarian effort — running canteens, entertaining soldiers and aiding suffering civilians in Europe.

Back in the United States, they entered the workforce in new ways — making parts for rail cars and aircraft, operating cranes and working as trolley conductors.

Once the war was over, some were summarily dismissed when discharged soldiers came back to reclaim jobs. But by that point, change in society was inevitable.

Women gathered around a flag they are sewing (Library of Congress)
Women sew stars on suffrage flag in 1920. (Library of Congress)

President Woodrow Wilson, once a target of suffragists’ protests, became a champion, telling Congress that extending suffrage to women is “vitally essential.”

Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote, seven months after Armistice Day; states ratified it in 1920.

— Reporting by Christopher Connell