Section 5: The Legacy of the American Civil War

In the aftermath of the American Civil War, women outnumbered men in Tennessee for years. As a result, women moved into occupations previously held by men, and for the first time in history, nursing and teaching became female-dominated professions. Despite this progress, working women were still stigmatized. To combat these inequalities, professional organizations for women were formed, such as the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) which was established in 1866.

In 1868, Americans (read: white males) voted for the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, extending liberties and rights granted by the Bill of Rights to formerly enslaved people. In 1869, they voted for the 15th Amendment, granting Black men the right to vote. The political approach to the 15th Amendment fractured the AERA into a pro-amendment faction (which became the American Woman Suffrage Association or AWSA) and an anti-amendment faction (which became the National Woman Suffrage Association or NWSA). However, both factions believed Black suffrage and white suffrage were different issues.

To the surprise of women who had worked so hard in the Anti-Slavery Movement, the 14th Amendment specifically excluded women from voting, granting that privilege only to “male” citizens. There was wide political support for ending slavery but not for giving women the right to vote. As a result, Section 2 of the amendment was worded: 

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote … is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States … the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State” (emphasis added).

With the insertion of the word “male” into the amendment, the US Constitution was no longer technically gender-blind.