The Spanish Flu and the American Suffrage Movement

The recent pandemic has given many people interested in suffrage history pause to look back at the Spanish Flu of 1918 to 1920 to see how it impacted upon the women’s movement. Even though some places in the world had granted women the right to vote by the time that pandemic hit – think of South Australia in 1894 – women in other jurisdictions around the world were not so fortunate. One place was The United States where, despite consistent agitation, women waited until 1920 for the Nineteenth Amendment to be passed that paved the way for female suffrage there.

One article that caught our attention appeared recently in National Geographic. It details the hardships that American suffrage organisers underwent during the outbreak. They navigated personal illness, depleted resources, and bans on public gatherings in clever ways to maintain momentum for the campaign. In 1920 American women, despite all the adversity they faced, managed to secure the passage of female suffrage – a democratic freedom that is enjoyed to the present day. Who knows what the women of the world will achieve both during and after the current pandemic has passed?

You can read the National Geographic article by clicking here

Here are some links to other resources that discuss the American suffrage movement during the midst of the Spanish Flu pandemic created by New York Public Radio, the Smithsonian Magazine, and the New York Times.

While on the topic of suffrage and outbreaks of disease across the world it is worth keeping the name of Muriel Matters’ friend, Violet Tillard, in mind. She selflessly traveled to Russia during a famine of 1920-21 on behalf of a relief effort organised by the Quakers. While deployed she fell ill during a typhus epidemic nursing her sick co-workers. You can read more about Tillard’s life, suffrage agitation, and selfless nature here.