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Words of law is a regular feature of Massachusetts Law Updates, highlighting a particular word or phrase and its meaning in law.

Today’s word is suffrage.

suffrage (sәf-rji). (14c) 1. the right or privilege of casting a vote at a public election. – Also termed right to vote.

“In the United States suffrage is a privilege, franchise or trust conferred by the people upon such persons as it deems fittest to represent it in the choice of magistrates or in the performance of political duties which it would be inexpedient or inconvenient for the people to perform in a body. The person upon whom the franchise is conferred is called an elector or voter. No community extends suffrage to all persons, but places such restrictions upon it as may best subserve the ends of government.” George W. McCrary, A Treatise on the American Law of Elections § 1, at 2. (Henry L. McCune, ed., 4th ed. 1897).

› women’s suffrage. (1868) The right of women to vote. • In the United States, the right is guaranteed by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. – Also termed female suffrage, female franchise.

2. A vote; the act of voting.

 –  Black’s Law Dictionary, 11th ed., Bryan A. Garner, Editor in Chief, Thomson Reuters, 2019.



Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Victory Parade: Instructions for Marchers, broadsheet [Boston, 1915], Massachusetts Historical Society,

“On 16 October 1915, supporters of women’s suffrage in Massachusetts held a parade and rally in downtown Boston in support of a ballot measure to amend the state constitution and grant women the right to vote. This broadsheet contains instructions and on the reverse, songs to be sung during the parade and rally.” The victory parade was premature, as the ballot measure failed in a November, 1915, vote.

Women gained the right to vote in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The National Archives has a new exhibit entitled “Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote”. The Library of Congress’ exhibit, “Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote”, has a robust web site. A Research Guide, “19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:  Primary Documents in American History” is available from the Library of Congress.

For more information about suffrage today, see “Massachusetts Law About Elections and Voting.”

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