While Women’s Suffrage was a country-wide event, the effects of it were widely seen at the local level as well. The 19th Amendment was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919 and ratified on August 18, 1920. The amendment guaranteed the right to vote for women after decades of protest and agitation. And even then, it seemed like it came much later than it should’ve. The Suffrage Movement was discussed as early as 1848 with the first attempt to organize occurring in Seneca Falls, New York. It was decided that this meeting began the suffrage movement. “The Declaration of Sentiments” was written by Elizabeth Candy Stanton during this time which created an agenda for women’s rights. Because of the federal system, the women’s right to vote could be achieved via either a federal or state constitutional amendment. However, since the electorate was composed of a mostly hostile white male constituency, there was no hope for women’s suffrage. In 1869, the movement became a national organization known as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), founded by Elizabeth Candy Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, which favored lobbying congress to pass a federal amendment. A more conservative organization called the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) was founded the same year and favored to amend individual state constitutions. It wasn’t until around 1910 when the women’s suffrage movement, among other reform issues like prohibition, started to move to the forefront of American politics. We see the suffrage movement now as uncontroversial while prohibition became somewhat of a political aberration.
The State of Ohio had a lot of early suffrage activity along with two women’s rights conventions. At the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Sojourner Truth delivered her memorable speech “Ain’t I a woman?” Harriet Taylor Upton, mentored by Susan B. Anthony, served as treasurer for NAWSA and as president of Ohio Woman Suffrage Association from 1899 up until 1920. In 1916, Suffragists were certain of Democrat’s help and understood that the suffrage movement couldn’t win as a partisan issue. In the 1916 presidential election, it was pointed out that Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, voted for suffrage claiming, “We recommend the extension of the franchise to the women of the country by the States upon the same terms as to men.”1“Wilson’s Stand on Votes for Women Contrasted with Hughes’ Wabbling.” The Delaware Daily Journal-herald, November 4, 1916. His opponent Charles E. Hughes, a Republican, did not vote for suffrage and stated that “suffrage is the result of social unrest, that it will cause sex antagonism, and that it raises a disturbance which might as well be stopped.”2Ibid.
On October 15, 1914, Mrs. Dora Sandoe Bachman gave a lecture in Richwood in the “public square” on Women’s Suffrage. The Richwood Gazette reported that, “Mrs. Backman is a prominent Columbus woman, being vice president of the school board of that city. She is considered the foremost suffragette speaker in Ohio. A good crowd of people gathered around the band stand, from which she spoke and many of the thoughts expressed by her were echoed in the minds of the listeners. Mrs. Bachman’s arguments were sensible and showed the plausibility of her side of the question. She was here under the auspices of the local W.C.T.U. of which Mrs. E.A. Schambs is chairman. Mrs. Bachman was introduced by C.E. Kagay, an old school mate. She is a practicing lawyer in the Capital City. A conservative estimate of the number gathered around the platform is between 500 and 600. This is the largest crowd attracted by a political speech here for some time.”3Richwood Gazette, Oct. 15, 1914.
Ohio had, at least twice, attempted to pass a Women’s Suffrage measure in Ohio’s Constitution. The first attempt was held at the 1912 state election. Citizens of Richwood and the state of Ohio voted on a total of 42 different amendments. They adopted various initiatives and referendums including judicial reform, municipal home rule, minimum wage, eight-hour public work day, compulsory primaries, and the abolishment of prison contract labor. 34 of the amendments passed while 8 of them did not. The ones that didn’t pass included Amendment 2: the abolishment of capital punishment (death penalty), Amendment 23: gives women the right to vote, Amendment 24: deletes the word “white” from voter qualifications, Amendment 25: allows the use of voting machines and Amendment 36: allows women to hold certain offices. The Richwood Gazette headlined the election results as saying, “Early Returns Indicate That Ohio Will Have One of the Most Radical of Constitutions.”4Richwood Gazette, Sept. 5, 1912. Amendment 23 was defeated with 57.46% of the vote.
The second attempt occurred in the Ohio 1914 ballot measure. There were only four constitutional amendments appearing on the ballot. Amendment 1 provided home rule on alcohol and was the only amendment to pass. Amendment 3 would have provided women the right to vote in Ohio. However, it was defeated with 60.71% of the vote, a 3.25% increase since the 1912 election.
The March for Suffrage parade happened in Cleveland, Ohio on October 3, 1914. More than 10,000 women marched down Euclid Avenue for the cause of woman suffrage. Many of them carried signs that read “Votes for Women” and wore modest, ankle-length dresses. The march was to promote the Ohio Women’s Suffrage Amendment which appeared on the November 1914 ballot. The measure would have given voting rights to women, but it was defeated by 180,000 votes.
The Reynolds’ presidential suffrage bill was passed by the Ohio senate on February 21, 1917 by a vote of 19 to 17 and followed the house, 20 to 16, in passing the bill. The bill allowed women voters to vote in presidential elections. A presidential election wouldn’t happen in Ohio until November of 1920. Three Republican senators voted nay— Harding, O’Brien, and Shohl. The other eight Republicans voted for it. 14 Democratic senators voted against the bill and 11 voted for it. The bill was signed by Governor Cox and was to be included on the ballot in November of 1917 for voters to decide if this veto referendum was to pass.
The Richwood Gazette reported that the 1917 election brought out a large vote in Richwood, although no one seemed to show much enthusiasm. The rural vote in Claibourne Township was heavy as the farmers came in during the late afternoon in large numbers. Reports indicated that while Ohio did adopt a state-wide prohibition on alcohol (which was also on the ballot), the suffrage referendum which would have allowed women to vote in presidential elections was defeated with 57.37% of the vote. In the Richwood Village, the results for the referendum was 251 for, 222 against. In Claibourne Township, the results were 155 for, and 111 against. Despite local support, the referendum did not pass state-wide.
It wasn’t until the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920 that Women in Ohio were finally allowed the right to vote. Curiously, the Richwood Gazette only mentioned the passing of the 19th Amendment on the second to last page of their Aug 19, 1920 issue. Even then, they only included a short article written by the Toledo Blade acknowledging the work that suffrage movements went through to pass the amendment. After the federal constitution was amended in 1920 to give women the right to vote, Ohio voters approved Amendment 2 in 1923. It eliminated the phrase “white male” from the Ohio Constitution in order to provide universal suffrage and conform with the U.S. Constitution.
- 1“Wilson’s Stand on Votes for Women Contrasted with Hughes’ Wabbling.” The Delaware Daily Journal-herald, November 4, 1916.
- 3Richwood Gazette, Oct. 15, 1914.
- 4Richwood Gazette, Sept. 5, 1912.