Today is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment — which guaranteed women the constitutional right to vote.
The ratification of the 19th Amendment occurred after decades of conflict and struggles, and involved both women and men all over the country fighting to make it happen including in Fayette County. Following the ratification, women in leadership positions increased although those numbers are still low today.
Woman suffrage, also known as Women’s suffrage, is the right for women to vote. The word suffrage comes from the Latin term, “suffragium,” which can be translated to “vote” in English.
The woman suffrage movement began in 1848, when a women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. The Seneca Falls meeting was not the first in support of women’s rights, but suffragists later viewed it as the meeting that launched the suffrage movement.
For the next 50 years, woman suffrage supporters worked to educate the public about the validity of woman suffrage. Under the leadership of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other women’s rights pioneers, suffragists circulated petitions and lobbied Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to enfranchise women.
During those days, married women could not own property nor sign legal contracts on their own behalf. So the most ardent suffragettes remained single in order to be independent.
By 1868, a newspaper, “The Revolution,” was published. It carried the motto, “Men, their rights and nothing more. Women, their rights and nothing less!”
That same year, the 14th Amendment was ratified which stated that “citizens and voters” are men only.
In 1870, the 15th Amendment granted black men the right to vote.
By 1871, an Anti-Suffrage party was founded. Groups working against women’s suffrage were well organized and well funded.
Among women’s unforeseen opponents was the liquor lobby fearing that women, if given the right to vote, would utilize it to prohibit liquor sales.
Women began to turn up at polling locations and cast votes, only to be arrested and brought to trial.
In 1876, women disrupted a program at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to present a “Declaration of Rights for Women.”
In 1887, the first Congressional vote on women’s suffrage was defeated.
Women reformers wanted to pass reform legislation; however, many politicians were unwilling to listen. Women began to realize that in order to achieve reform, they needed to win the right to vote. For these reasons, at the turn of the century, the woman suffrage movement became a mass movement.
The state of Wyoming was admitted to the Union, with a state constitution allowing women to vote. The American Federation of Labor declared support for women’s suffrage. Colorado became the next suffrage state in 1893, and then the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs was formed. Next came Utah, then Idaho.
Women’s trade unions were then formed for middle and working class women. Washington State passed suffrage in 1910.
The 20th Century:
In the 20th century, leadership of the suffrage movement was led by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), which reached millions of members during its prime. NAWSA focused on women in individual states and lobbied to pass a woman suffrage Constitutional Amendment.
The National Woman’s Party (NWP) picketed the White House in order to convince Wilson and Congress to pass a woman suffrage amendment. California passed suffrage at this point.
In 1912, approximately 20,000 suffrage supporters marched in unison in New York City. Marches of 40,000 and higher begin.
Next came Oregon, Kansas, Arizona, Nevada and Montana.
The movement had now grown to millions of supporters, gathering petitions for Congress.
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts continued to reject suffrage.
Women protested in front of the White House, holding signs that stated, “Mr President, how long must women wait for liberty?”
Indeed opponents took grave action, arresting suffragette leaders and subjecting them to mental wards, electric shock therapy and forced feeding.
At this point, Michigan, South Dakota and Oklahoma passed suffrage.
Finally, in 1918, Democratic President Woodrow Wilson addressed the United States Senate about adopting suffrage at the end of World War I.
In 1920, due to the combined efforts of the NAWSA and the NWP and millions of women and men, the 19th Amendment was finally ratified. This victory is considered the most significant achievement of women in the Progressive Era. It was the single largest extension of democratic voting rights in our nation’s history, and it was achieved peacefully, through democratic processes.
Indeed we would be remiss not to acknowledge the many men who took part in advancing women’s suffrage and their continued importance to the advancement of women as leaders.
What changed? What did women do with their new rights?
Women established and formed legislation on social welfare, education, mother’s pensions programs, and state health programs — child mortality notably dropped 15 percent after suffrage.
Suffrage increased local education expenditures by 9 percent on average and school enrollment increased. This was particularly pronounced (as noted in a Dartmouth University study released in 2018), for black students whose full exposure to suffrage led to nearly an additional year of education.
Broadly speaking, women’s influence at the polls led to labor market productivity in the economy.
The legendary 1851 speech by African American suffragette Sojourner Truth took place in Akron, Ohio, where she famously stated, “Ain’t I a woman?” in advocating for women of color to also be a central, embedded part of women’s suffrage.
In 1912, the Women’s Suffrage Headquarters Office in Cleveland, Marquee read: “Men of Ohio! Give women a square deal. Vote for Amendment 23 on September 3, 1912. Come in and learn why women ought to vote.”
Central Ohio women marched in Columbus and demonstrated on the Statehouse steps in 1914. Women across the country frequently wore all white, with a purple sash for suffrage, and carried pennants that read “votes for women.”
Ohio ratified its suffrage in June of 1919.
Here are examples of six Ohio women who were actively involved in leadership for women’s suffrage:
-Harriett Taylor Upton, of Warren, brought the National American Woman Suffrage Association headquarters to Warren, Ohio.
-Florence E. Allen, of Cleveland, started a rare woman-owned law practice.
-Hallie Quinn Brown, of Wilberforce, was born to freed slaves and became a skilled teacher and public speaker.
-Pauline Perlmutter Steinem, of Toledo, was the first Jewish woman elected to the Toledo School Board and was likely the first Jewish woman to hold office in the U.S.
-Bettie Wilson, of Cincinnati, was a teacher known for being a convincing speaker for women’s rights.
-Belle Sherwin, of Cleveland, was known for soap box speeches while being heckled and was the first president of the National League of Women Voters.
-Rosetta Zimmerman, of Fayette County, became the first woman to be Deputy Fish and Game Warden in Ohio in 1920.
-Predating Zimmerman, Hattie Fossette Riley, born in Fayette County in 1847, was noted in the 1914 “Woman’s Who’s Who of America” as a “favorer of woman’s suffrage, President of the Woman’s Relief Corp, and foreman of the first woman’s jury ever impaneled in the state of Kansas.”
-The 1914 book “Fayette County, Ohio, Her People, Industries and Institutions” by Frank Allen, reported that 1912 saw “bitter fighting” at a national convention with regards to women, with suffrage losing along with other issues cited as “good roads, advertising, and injunctions.”
-That same year, the Journal of the Constitutional Convention of the State of Ohio stated, “Mr. Jones presented the woman’s suffrage petition on behalf of Mrs. T.L. Haas and 130 women citizens of Fayette County, asking for the submission to the electors of the state granting full and equal suffrage to women.”
A few ways to take action and be involved today:
-Follow the women’s suffrage centennial Commission and learn more at www.womensvote100.org/.
-Take daughters, nieces, granddaughters to register to vote and to the polls.
-Talk to sons, grandsons, nephews and other boys about the importance of women’s history and women’s leadership, and participation in the democratic process.
-Sign up to work the polls this year.
-Organize a local event.
-Name a road in a woman’s honor.
While the numbers of women in leadership positions and elected office today are still far too low, 2018 was a good year for women. The largest number of women were elected to the Ohio House of Representatives: 28 more than 25 percent for the first time ever (19 Democrats and 9 Republicans).
Still, this pales in comparison to the 51 percent majority that women have as a population in the United States and across the world.
The information in this article was shared by guest speaker Hollie Hinton at a prior Fayette County Democrat Party dinner and was authorized for use in the Record-Herald. It was edited and reorganized for clarity by journalist Jennifer Woods. Reach Woods at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @JennMWoods.