This is the question often posed by those who examine the history of American women following the passage of the Suffrage Amendment in 1920. A powerful coalition of women’s groups had been forged in the early decades of this century to press for the right to vote, yet by 1924 little remained of a nationally organized women’s movement. The common wisdom is that only a shared focus on the amendment held such a diverse collection of groups together, so that once suffrage was gained, few other issues or interests linked women across regional, class, age, and cultural divisions. Leaders of the suffrage movement never generated a broadly feminist consciousness among its various constituents and failed to attack the roots of women’s inferior status in all areas of social life, particularly in the family. For these and other reasons, broad-based organizations for women’s rights ceased to be a major political and social force throughout the next four decades.
Yet we must distinguish its organizational form from the deeper impulses that constitute a “social movement.” As defined by McCarthy and Zald (1977), “social movements” consist of opinions and beliefs in favor of changing the structure of a society and its system of allocating scarce rewards. “Social movement organizations”