The Political Economy of Women's Suffrage and World War I

Madison Arnsbarger, University of Pittsburgh

After nearly a century of activism, American women won suffrage rights within one month of WWI's close with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Wartime mobilization drew thousands of women into traditionally male-dominated industries, altering society's view on the suitability of women in the workplace and public sphere. This paper studies the effect of women's labor force participation (LFP) during WWI on political support for the Nineteenth Amendment. I introduce newly-digitized data charting the allocation of women's labor across war-related industries throughout WWI to show that a 3.65pp (1SD) increase in women's LFP from 1910-20 was associated with a 14pp increase in the probability that a congressman supported the Nineteenth Amendment. I implement two identification strategies, difference-in-differences and shift-share instrumental variables, to verify the causality of this relationship. My findings imply that LFP and civic engagement are complements, and that market labor may offer means to widened political rights.

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 Presented in Session 95. Women in Politics and the Labor Force