This is a state-level analysis of the impact of state building on woman suffrage legislation in the United States. This study examines all states in which state legislatures were conferred the power to submit a constitutional amendment to the electorate for approval. I use a sequential random-effects logistic regression model to estimate the effects of state building on legislative outcome. Legislative outcome is measured in three stages: whether or not a bill is introduced in either the House or the Senate during a legislative session, whether or not a bill is voted on in either the House or the Senate during a legislative session, and whether or not a bill is passed in either the House or the Senate during a legislative session. The data used in this study were collected from legislative journals and other sources which represent the most comprehensive and accurate data that have been used to study woman suffrage legislation.

Most studies of woman suffrage explain success by concentrating on changing gender norms. While this may have explained eventual success, it overlooks barriers that existed within state governments. Only 15 states granted full woman suffrage prior to the Nineteenth Amendment, the majority of which were in the West. I argue that understanding the structure of state governments provides insight into the success of western states and also provides insight into the timing of success. I do this by moving beyond contemporary social movement theory and by adapting aspects of institutional politics theory and organizational theory. Specifically, I examine the dynamics of partisan politics, organizational characteristics of state government, and the legislative process. I find that partisan politics and organizational dynamics impact legislative success. Specifically, legislatures are more likely to pass suffrage bills in states that are more democratized, that are characterized by reform-oriented regimes, where woman suffrage advocates have a greater political presence, where there is less structural inertia, and where a smaller constitutional majority is required.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Sociology



Date Submitted


Document Type





Woman suffrage, institutional politics theory, organizational theory, state government, state building



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Sociology Commons