State vs. Federal Campaigns

Lesson Plan

The student will debate the merits of the state vs. federal strategies for obtaining voting rights for women during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


60 minutes (The lesson can also be lengthened by having one day for prep and one day for debate.)


Students will understand the strengths and weaknesses of the state and federal campaigns in the women suffrage movement. 


For gifted/honors students or if class time is limited, have the students research the background information ahead of time (previous class period) and bring their research to class. You can also print out the websites and distribute to the collaborative groups (see below).

  • Laptops / Chromebooks (Class Set)
  • Notecards
  • Paper clips / binder clips
  1. Starter/Hook: Explain to students that as time passed, strategies for obtaining voting rights changed and that suffragists disagreed on whether to gain voting rights by state campaigns or a federal amendment.
  2. Direct Instruction:
    1. Provide background on women’s suffrage movement from 1848 to 1920 to the class. 
    2. Use the NWHM’s “Crusade for the Vote” to provide background information:
  3. Guided Practice: Explain to students that they are going to debate the merits of state vs. federal amendment for gaining voting rights for women.
    1. Divide the class equally into two sides: state by state and federal amendment
    2. Have students read the Handout from Library of Congress “Tactics and Techniques of the National Woman’s Party” and “National American Woman Suffrage Association” from Harvard University Library for additional background knowledge.
    3. Have students research primary sources via Library of Congress Suffrage Collections: 
  4. Have both teams construct their opening arguments and key points for the debate. They may make notecards or type their information. Inform students they must cite their sources during the debate. (Example: “According to the NAWSA pamphlet “Votes for Women,” state campaigns are effective because . . . .”)
    1. On the day of the debate, allow each team to give their opening argument prior to debate. It is recommended to follow Robert’s Rules of Order or Socratic Seminar for the debate period.
Future Research / Resources
  1. Students will vote on which side presented the better argument for giving voting rights to women. Have students explain their reasons.
  2. Optional: To extend this activity, have students write an essay on the topic and cite their evidence.

UCLA Social Studies Standard 1C: Specify the issues raised by various women and how mainstream Progressives responded to them. [Consider multiple perspectives]

UCLA Social Studies Standards Available Here

Common Core Alignment:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1 - Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

Common Core Standards for Social Studies Available Here