AS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN, the U.S. Constitution did not address voting rights, which were left to the states. In early U.S. history, the vast majority of voters were property-owning white men. Women were largely prohibited from voting — or disenfranchised — as were nonwhite men.


The property-owning requirement faded by the Civil War. In 1870, the 15th Amendment said states couldn’t deny voting rights to citizens because of race or color — although some states erected barriers such as poll taxes and literacy tests. But it was silent on women, who were still disenfranchised.

In 1920, the 19th Amendment cleared the way for most white and black women to vote. But there were exceptions. Until 1922, an American-born woman couldn’t vote if she was married to an immigrant (foreign-born and not yet naturalized, or a citizen). And even after 1922, she couldn’t vote if she had married an Asian immigrant.

In 1924, Native American men and women were granted voting rights, although, again, some states created obstacles to exercising those rights.

But it would be several decades before prohibitions on Asian immigrants becoming citizens were removed. A 1943 law sponsored by U.S. Rep. Warren G. Magnuson of Washington allowed Chinese immigrants already residing in the United States to become naturalized citizens with voting rights. Federal law three years later extended citizenship and voting rights to Filipino and Indian immigrants. And the federal McCarran-Walter Act did the same for Korean and Japanese immigrants in 1952.

African American women and other women of color struggled for the right to vote for decades after the passage of the 19th Amendment because some states passed discriminatory laws.