Teacher's Guide

Women’s History in the United States

The women of the 116th Congress, House of Representatives.
Photo caption

The women of the 116th Congress, House of Representatives. 

House Creative Services

The 116th U.S Congress that began its two year session in January 2019 is historic for a few reasons. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is not only the first woman to hold the position, but is the first person to return to the Speaker’s office in the House of Representatives since Sam Rayburn in 1955. On another historical note, 102 women were elected to the House of Representatives and 25 serve in the Senate—the most women ever elected to Congress. With 2020 marking one hundred years since ratification of the 19th Amendment that gave some women the right to vote in the United States, women’s history is about more than just looking back.

Guiding Questions

How have debates over women’s rights shaped U.S. politics and culture?

What role does media play in the ongoing debate over gender roles?

Who’s missing from the popular stories included within women’s history?

How have major events in U.S. history transformed the status and rights of women in society?

How have women contributed to U.S. cultural institutions and practices?

The Right to Vote

The movement to expand the franchise to women built momentum during the 19th century, achieved part of its goal with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, and continues to press on to ensure protection of voting rights for all. This section provides compelling questions for teaching about the long road to women's suffrage rights and activity ideas for teaching about this topic across U.S. history. A collection of lesson plans can be found at the bottom of the page. 

Compelling Questions

  • To what extent did the strategies of the Suffrage Movement change between Seneca Falls (1848) and ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920?
  • Who did the Suffragettes represent?
  • Why was there resistance to granting women the right to vote?
  • To what extent was passage of the 19th Amendment a turning point in U.S. history?
  • Why were the Suffragettes finally successful in achieving the right to vote?
  • How have women participated in elections since 1920?
  • To what extent do issues raised by 19th and 20th century Suffragettes remain?

Student Activities

In the interest of fostering inquiry-based teaching and learning that utilizes primary source materials and offers students space for creative application, consider the following strategies when engaging students in research on the 19th Amendment and women’s history across your curriculum:

  • Construct a digital timeline that centers on women’s writings, speeches, publications, artistic creations, and performances to avoid limiting discussion to an era or topic of study. Combined with storyboard software, students can record voice overs and use images to construct a response to a compelling question while addressing change over time analysis.

  • Create a digital or hard copy commonplace book when reading biographies, literature, poetry, reviewing art, films, or other multimedia produced by women across U.S. history. From time to time students can be asked to synthesize what they record around themes, concepts, topics of study, and the inquiry questions they have designed. 
  • Use digital mapping software in combination with EDSITEment’s Chronicling America to plot stories and connections within and across time and place on topics chosen by students (i.e. Suffragette meetings, women’s organizations, education, sports, fashion, entertainment, the travels of characters in a novel or short story, historic homes, etc.). 
  • Create a short documentary film using storyboard software and primary sources, including audio-visual resources, on a theme or concept that spans beyond a single unit or era. 
NEH Resources and Lesson Ideas

The resources provided highlight the contributions of women in the U.S., but their use should not be relegated to a single month during the school year. Educators are asked to reflect on how these and other stories can be integrated across curriculum and invited to share how they and their students do so by visiting the EDSITEment Facebook page or sharing on Twitter (@EDSITEment). 

NEH HUMANITIES magazine

"How Black Suffragists Fought for the Right to Vote and a Modicum of Respect: Hallie Quinn Brown and Other "Homespun Heroines"" by Martha S. Jones, HUMANITIES, Summer 2019, Volume 40, Number 3.

"Winning the Vote: A divided movement brought about the Nineteenth Amendment" by Lisa Tetrault, HUMANITIES, Summer 2019, Volume 40, Number 3.

"The Forgotten Suffragists: How the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment is being remembered and how, for decades, it was not" by Kimberly A. Hamlin

"Old Friends Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Made History Together: In their last days, the suffragist pioneers look back" by Katy June-Friesen, HUMANITIES, July/August 2014, Volume 35, Number 4.