Follow by Email

Friday, October 19, 2012

1920 - Women Get the Vote

My grandparents married in 1910.  American women were given universal suffrage by the passage of the 19th Amendment shortly before the national election in 1920.  My grandfather wouldn't allow my grandmother to vote . . . until . . . in 1936, he was afraid Franklin D. Roosevelt wouldn't be reelected.  He made sure Grandma voted that year.  It was a heady experience for her and she never allowed him to keep her from voting again.  She took her right to vote seriously.

So did a lot of women who had fought for that right, decade after decade. . . state by state.

Women's suffrage laws before passage of the Nineteenth Amendment
  Full suffrage
  Presidential suffrage
  Primary suffrage
  Municipal suffrage
  School, bond, or tax suffrage
  Municipal suffrage in some cities
  Primary suffrage in some cities
  No suffrage

Why did the western states give women equal suffrage before the rest of the country?  Wyoming women began voting while it was still a territory in 1869.  And the territorial legislature put women's suffrage into its new state constitution (after much lobbying by women).  When the U.S. Congress, strongly opposed to women's suffrage, threatened to withhold statehood from Wyoming, Cheyenne officials sent back a a staunchly worded telegram stating that Wyoming would remain out of the Union 100 years rather than join without women's suffrage.  On July 10, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed the bill approving Wyoming as the nation's "Equality State."

 In 1893, voters of Colorado made that state the second of the woman suffrage states and the first state where the men voted to give women the right to vote. In 1896 Idaho approved a constitutional amendment in a statewide vote giving women the right to vote.

Apparently, a majority of western men, who shared pioneering hardships with women, viewed them as equals.

California women's suffrage campaign poster

Iowa women's suffrage campaign poster.

Today we might wonder, "What was the big fuss about? Why would men east of the Mississippi and in the South keep women from voting?"

Because men in power do not share that power easily.  Any change is a threat to the status quo which gives men comfort.

Men used ridicule. . . 

arrest and imprisonment . . . and painful forced feeding when their female prisoners went on hunger strikes . . . which some men found humorous.

On January 12, 1915, a suffrage bill was brought before the House of Representatives, but was defeated by a vote of 204 to 174. President Wilson opposed women's suffrage. And then World War I came along, bringing social change with it.  Another bill was brought before the House on January 10, 1918. On the evening before, President Wilson, who had been pressured to change his mind, made a strong and widely published appeal to the House to pass the bill. It was passed by two-thirds of the House, with only one vote to spare. The vote was then carried into the Senate. Again President Wilson made an appeal, but on September 30, 1918, the amendment fell two votes short of passage. On February 10, 1919, it was again voted upon, and then it was lost by only one vote.
There was considerable anxiety among politicians of both parties to have the amendment passed and made effective before the general elections of 1920, so the President called a special session of Congress, and a bill, introducing the amendment, was brought before the House again. On May 21, 1919, it was passed, 42 votes more than necessary being obtained. On June 4, 1919, it was brought before the Senate, and after a long discussion it was passed, with 56 ayes and 25 nays. Within a few days, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan ratified the amendment, their legislatures being then in session. Other states followed suit at a regular pace, until the amendment had been ratified by 35 of the necessary 36 state legislatures. After Washington State on March 22, 1920, ratification languished for months. Finally, on August 18, 1920, Tennessee narrowly ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, making it the law throughout the United States. The deciding vote in the Tennessee legislature was cast by a state legislator, who had voted against it earlier, but on this day had 

received a note from his mother, imploring him to "be a good boy" and vote for ratification.  

He did.

American women fighting for equal suffrage endured hostility, humiliation, assault and battery to gain your right to vote, ladies.  Please exercise your full citizenship by voting on November 6th.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know about the west vs. east and south. Interesting stuff, and it doesn't seem that long about. Less than 100 year years...So much has changed, thank goodness.