Lesson Plan

Women's Suffrage: Why the West First?

The Awakening by Hy Mayer
Photo caption

Illustration by Hy Mayer shows a torch-bearing female labeled "Votes for Women," symbolizing the awakening of the nation's women to the desire for suffrage, striding across the western states, where women already had the right to vote, toward the east where women are reaching out to her.

"Women's suffrage succeeded in the West for reasons as diverse as the people and places of the West itself."

—From "This Shall Be the Land for Women" 

The 19th Amendment, granting suffrage to women, was ratified by Congress in 1920. It was over fifty years previously, however, that Wyoming had entered the Union as the first state to grant some women full voting rights. The next eight states to grant full suffrage to women were also Western states: Colorado (1893); Utah and Idaho (1896); Washington (1910); California (1911); and Oregon, Kansas, and Arizona (1912). Why was the West first? 

Focused on efforts in support of women's suffrage in Western states, this lesson can be used either as a stand-alone unit or as a more specialized sequel to the EDSITEment lesson, Voting Rights for Women: Pro- and Anti-Suffrage, which covers the suffrage movement in general. The latter lesson also contains activities and resources for learning how the movement to gain the vote for women fits into the larger struggle for women's rights in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Guiding Questions

Why were the Western states the first in the nation to grant full voting rights to some women?

Learning Objectives

Compare the dynamics of the West with other territories and states in the U.S. to determine why suffrage rights were granted in several Western states.

Analyze the role played by women in advancing suffrage rights and evaluate the short and long term impact of these events on the national suffrage movement. 

Evaluate the role geography, culture, and history played and continue to play when it comes to advancing rights for groups in the United States.