With the merger of the National (NWSA) and American (AWSA) Woman Suffrage Associations in 1889 into the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), the movement changed direction. The NWSA heralded a broad array of women's issues, from “equal pay for equal work” (a common phrase by the 1850s) to a woman’s right to be, in Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s words, “the absolute sovereign of herself.” While more conservative, the AWSA nonetheless concerned itself with issues like the conditions of working women. The merger changed everything.
The vote increasingly became the single issue of the movement, and with it, an often covert, sometimes overt racist pandering to gain the support of Southern states, and a blatant xenophobia appealing to anti-immigrant sentiment. State suffrage organizations were allowed to segregate and work for the vote for white women only. Give native-born women the right to vote, the argument went, because white women outnumber all African-Americans and immigrants, and woman suffrage is a way to maintain white, native-born supremacy. Superficially, suffragists appeared to be friendly to black women, but the movement utilized racism and xenophobia as a strategy. W.E.B. Du Bois, a prominent civil right activist and supporter of women’s rights, argued strongly that such tactics were self-defeating. He believed that civil rights could not be truly gained by any group by denying the rights of others.