Women may not have always had the right to vote, but that doesn't mean they didn't wield any political influence prior to the 19th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which cracked down on racial discrimination in voting laws. When you don't have the right to vote, you have to resort to other means to make your voice heard and enact political change. These courageous women helped the suffrage movement and shaped the course of history before it was legal for them to do so.
The ways women influenced politics before they could vote vary. Some used more covert, tacit influence, and others exmployed outright protest and civil disobedience. Progress is made through the efforts of all of these women in politics, whether they played by the rules or fought tooth and nail for equality.
The history of women's rights in politics is part struggle for recognition, part trailblazing for the future. And when you don't have rights guaranteed to you, sometimes you have to get a little wily to get the job done. These women paved the way for future generations to influence politics on their own terms.
Though Aristophanes' comedy Lysistrata is probably fiction, it has served as a model for women who want to exert political power without having the right to vote more than once. How? Through a sex strike.
Sex strikes, such as the one in Lysistrata, encourage women to take a stand by refusing to have sex with their husbands until desired actions are taken. In the case of Aristophanes' play, the women of Athens seize the treasury and refuse sex until the men end the Peloponnesian War. In real life, sex strikers are believed to have denied their husbands sex to punish them for widespread bad behavior, while some people have even suggested that sex strikes can be credited with forming civilization as we know it. Because the method of the strike borders on NSFW, it's impossible to know how many times it's been used as a proxy for women in politics.
When you can't vote, you have to resort to other methods of inserting your voice into the conversation. Lucy Stone, a suffragette and abolitionist, used a wagon. After finding the abandoned wagon in her barn, Stone and other suffragettes painted it with slogans and information that provided an eye-catching backdrop to their normal demonstrations.
While it might seem like just a prop compared to their more important face-to-face activism, it served the same purpose that many billboard advertisements do. Suffragettes transported flyers and other information back and forth in this wagon, which served as an additional conversation starter and reminder that women were seeking equal rights. Even if the wagon itself didn't convert anybody to the suffragette mindset, it got people talking, and talking is just one of many steps to action.
People are suckers for good stories, even when said stories are activism in disguise. Though Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin popularized many of the most pervasive stereotypes about black people in American culture and has been rightly criticized for it, the novel was also a poignant anti-slavery work that galvanized abolitionist thinking among the American people. Slavery was often thought of as a Southern problem, and Stowe's novel brought a human component to the plight of the very real people suffering as slaves.
Stowe's novel has not stood the test of time because of its harmful stereotyping, but, in its day, it was credited with kickstarting the Civil War, including the legend that Abraham Lincoln, on meeting Stowe, remarked, "[so] this is the little lady who started this great war."
While conversation may be the preferred method of affecting change, sometimes those in power aren't willing to listen. To get the attention of the government, people like Carrie Nation, a prominent Prohibitionist, sometimes had to get destructive.
Nation's preferred method of getting attention was with a hatchet. She famously attacked bars with her favorite tool, even selling souvenirs to raise funds for more work. Though Prohibition was ultimately a failure, it was an important part of many women's movements because so much of a woman's life was dependent on her husband – when Nation's husband was killed by their alcoholic son, she was left alone to care for herself and her other child. She didn't live to see Prohibition enacted but was still an important part of the movement, which also included women's suffrage.