Lesson 6: It’s a Right to Vote (Grades 4-5)
Objective for the Lesson: This lesson will look at the historic voting patterns and the methods that have been used successfully to address voting rights.
When examining recent elections, the percentage of eligible voters who did not vote is significant. The historical struggles for equality by minorities and women can explain why some groups did not vote in the past. This lesson will look at the historic voting patterns and the methods that have been used successfully to address voting rights.
Background Knowledge for Teachers:
The roots of Jim Crow laws began after the end of the Civil War. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery. However, some wanted to continue to control the lives of the newly freed African American population. State and local governments created the Black Codes. These were laws that dictated when, where, and how formerly enslaved people could work. They set limits on how much they could be paid for their work. These Black Codes were also designed as a legal way to take away voting rights, to control where African Americans could live, and where they could travel.
In the 1880s, many African Americans migrated to large cities where they could experience more freedom. However, as the African American populations grew, white citizens began to demand laws to limit the opportunities of African Americans. These new laws, called Jim Crow laws, went even further than the Black Codes had in restricting the rights and lives of African Americans. Public parks banned African Americans. Restaurants, theaters, and even bus and train stations became segregated. Specific restrooms, water fountains, elevators, and building entrances were set apart and labeled. Laws designated specific neighborhoods where African Americans were permitted to live. Separate schools, hospitals, jails, and other institutions and facilities were designated for African Americans to segregate them from white citizens. These facilities were underfunded, and they were relegated to the oldest buildings with hand-me-down supplies. Despite years of efforts by African Americans and whites, these restrictions persisted in the North as well as the South until the late 1960s when laws were passed guaranteeing civil rights and ending institutionalized segregation.
The Seneca Falls Convention
The Seneca Falls Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. It was the first woman’s rights convention in the United States. The convention was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a strong advocate for the rights of women, along with four other leaders in the cause. They were Lucretia Mott, Mary M’Clintock, Martha Coffin Wright, and Jane Hunt. Only 300 people, mostly from the local area, showed up to the meeting.
At this time in history, women could not vote in elections. Married women became the property of their husbands. Married women could not own their own land. In cases of divorce, children were also considered the property of the father and the mother would lose any rights to them. There were very few opportunities for women to earn a living and live independently. Most women had to depend on whatever male in the family would take responsibility for them.
Though the first convention started small, it was a catalyst for a continuing movement toward equal rights for women. The movement grew, not only in the United States, but in Europe. It eventually led to women getting the right to vote in America in 1920. The Declaration of Sentiments was the document expressing the Seneca Falls Convention’s list of grievances and demands.
- Understand that laws and society prevented women and minorities from voting for many years.
- Recognize that even after amendments were passed to ensure the right to vote, state laws and social pressure prevented people from voting.
- Understand the various methods that individuals and groups used to achieve voting rights.
- Consider why individuals choose not to vote, even when there are no impediments.
abridge: to reduce or lessen in duration, scope, authority, etc.; diminish; curtail
franchise: a privilege of a public nature conferred on an individual, group, or company by a government
hitherto: up to this time; until now
inalienable: not capable of being taken away or denied
resolve: to come to a definite or earnest decision about; determine (to do something)
sentiments: an attitude toward something; regard; opinion
suffrage: the right to vote, especially in a political election
Think Deeply: There are some people in the U.S. that would like to lower the voting age to 16. Have students discuss with a partner or small group whether they think this is a good idea and why or why not. Have a class discussion and create a T-chart of the pros and cons of lowering the voting age.
- Have students find dictionary definitions for each of the vocabulary terms.
- Have students create flashcards for the words and quiz each other until they understand the terms.
- Add the terms to the social studies word wall in the classroom.
- Review the 15th Amendment giving African American men the right to vote in 1870. Review the 14th Amendment, which restricted civil rights to males. (The apportion of representation in Congress was determined by maleseligible to vote.)
- The Declaration of Sentiments is a document presented at the Seneca Falls Convention, the first woman’s rights convention, in 1848. The Declaration was signed by 100 of the nearly 300 people who attended the convention. Have students read the excerpts from the Declaration of Sentiments out loud in class. Have students identify the similarities and differences between the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of Sentiments.
- Have a class discussion.
- Why would the author of the Declaration of Sentiments pattern it after the Declaration of Independence?
- Working with a partner, have students rewrite the three “resolved” statements in modern language.
- Identify Susan B. Anthony as one of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement in the 19th century. [Picture provided]
- In the 1872 presidential election, Anthony voted. She was later arrested and put on trial. She was fined $100.
- Have a class discussion.
- Should Susan B. Anthony has tried to vote, knowing that she might be arrested? Why do you think she did this?
- Should the suffragettes have staged rallies and parades to make their demands known?
- Should the suffragettes have expected violence during their rallies?
- How did the police react?
- Would you have participated in such a rally, knowing you might be injured?
Have students write a one-paragraph letter to the editor on one of the following topics:
- Susan B. Anthony’s attempt to vote
- Picketing the White House by the National Women’s Party
- Staging a parade in Washington DC to support suffrage
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