Why Movements Succeed or Fail: Opportunity, Culture, and the Struggle for Woman Suffrage

Why Movements Succeed or Fail: Opportunity, Culture, and the Struggle for Woman Suffrage

Why Movements Succeed or Fail: Opportunity, Culture, and the Struggle for Woman Suffrage

Why Movements Succeed or Fail: Opportunity, Culture, and the Struggle for Woman Suffrage


Wyoming became the first American state to adopt female suffrage in 1869--a time when no country permitted women to vote. When the last Swiss canton enfranchised women in 1990, few countries barred women from the polls. Why did pro-suffrage activists in the United States and Switzerland have such varying success? Comparing suffrage campaigns in forty-eight American states and twenty-five Swiss cantons, Lee Ann Banaszak argues that movement tactics, beliefs, and values are critical in understanding why political movements succeed or fail. The Swiss suffrage movement's beliefs in consensus politics and local autonomy and their reliance on government parties for information limited their tactical choices--often in surprising ways. In comparison, the American suffrage movement, with its alliances to the abolition, temperance, and progressive movements, overcame beliefs in local autonomy and engaged in a wider array of confrontational tactics in the struggle for the vote. Drawing on interviews with sixty Swiss suffrage activists, detailed legislative histories, census materials, and original archival materials from both countries, Banaszak blends qualitative historical inquiry with informative statistical analyses of state and cantonal level data. The book expands our understanding of the role of political opportunities and how they interact with the beliefs and values of movements and the societies they seek to change.


As a college senior I spent a semester in Basel, Switzerland, during the battle for an equal rights amendment. I was shocked when Swiss mentioned that women still could not vote in several cantons. Like most women coming of age in the late 1970s, I took my political rights for granted and assumed that all “democratic” countries had enfranchised women generations ago. I knew nothing about the American woman suffrage movement, but as I learned more (episodically at first, systematically later), I was struck by the fact that many histories of the U.S. suffrage movement noted the early adoption of women's voting rights in Wyoming. Yet none attempted to explore state differences in a systematic fashion. Social movement theories seemed a good place to start to unravel the mysteries of the timing of suffrage, but as I enthusiastically examined one theory after another, each left some aspects unanswered or raised more questions. I was also astonished by the way that many theories ignored the decisions, statements, and values of movement activists in trying to derive a theoretical framework to understand movement success and failure. This seemed to bypass other developments in political science. Chief among these were increased understandings of how beliefs and values affect individual behavior, rational choice explorations in decision-making behavior, and examinations of the mechanics by which macro-level contexts influence the individual. This work contributes both to our understanding of woman suffrage movements and to ways that we can examine movement success and failure more generally.

While many consider academic scholarship to be a solitary pursuit, I have not found this to be so. Like the activists I write about, I have been influenced by a rich and supportive context of family, friends, and colleagues. To all of them, I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Because this project has evolved and grown over a period of years, many institutions provided material support that enabled me to develop this work. The initial research utilized in my dissertation was supported by a Swiss Government Grant and a Washington University Dissertation Fellowship. Iowa State University and the American Political Science Small Grant Award provided additional financial support that allowed me to return to Switzerland to collect additional data and interviews. In addition, Iowa State University, Pennsylvania State University, and the Alexander von Humboldt Bundeskanzler Program furnished release time from teaching, which allowed me to code data, develop theoretical arguments, and mold the research into its final form.

I am especially indebted to my colleagues, friends, and mentors who . . .

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