200 Plus

Would Women Be Able to Vote?

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Jan 15, 2020

Surf City, NJ — In the spring of 1919 when the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress finally passed the amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote, hopes were high that ratification would come in time for them to participate in the presidential election of 1920. New Jersey-born Alice Paul and her National Woman’s Party began the battle in each of the 48 states, hoping for quick ratification.

As 1920 began, the Philadelphia Record ran a feature updating the status of the amendment.

“After years of weary struggle, the suffrage hosts are now marching on to a victory that is almost within their grasp. The big offensive has been won, but there are some smaller engagements to be fought before the golden banners of suffrage are furled. And these smaller engagements are likely to be the hardest.”

The Record explained, “It is the amendment that must be ratified by the middle of February if 25,000,000 women in the United States are to help choose a President in 1920.”

Where did the amendment stand as 1920 began?

“Twenty-one states have ratified the amendment and 15 states must ratify in time for women voters to register in the primaries this year. Of these four are counted on definitely. They are New Jersey, Kentucky, Maryland and Rhode Island. They will hold regular sessions of their legislatures in January, the ratification of the amendment will come up in the regular order of business and suffrage leaders expect it to go through promptly in each state.”

The calling of special sessions of state legislatures was being used to delay the amendment. Paul and her followers discovered “it is ‘expensive’ to call the legislators into session. They are told the state can’t afford to call a special session ‘just now.’ They are asked to wait until 1921, when legislatures in most of these states will convene in regular sessions.”

The response: “That is the reason why you will find, in traveling hither and yon over our broad land many women carrying around miniature ballot boxes labeled: ‘If you want to put a vote in 1920 put a dollar in now.’ They are collecting a fund of $50,000 – rather a small amount in these days.”

There was one more unexpected roadblock for the amendment.

“Strange as it may seem, the greatest opposition to calling special sessions has been encountered in those Western states that already have full Presidential suffrage. These were the states counted on to ratify promptly. They have had woman suffrage – several of them for many years – and it was felt that they would be eager to help give the vote to all the women of the nation. But they didn’t seem interested. They had woman suffrage for so long that it was a dead issue with them. Call a special session of the legislature? Shucks! Women can vote here: let the other states pass suffrage legislature or ratify the amendment.”

In an attempt to energize her supporters, Paul sent them a letter saying, “The elections of 1920 may well prove the most critical in the country. If women are to have a voice in them the Federal Suffrage Amendment must be ratified in time for the first Presidential primaries. … Fifteen states are still to be won. In at least eleven special sessions must be called.”

This wasn’t the time to celebrate the past – “the hardest part of the ratification struggle is ahead of us. The failure of the executives of suffrage states to promptly summon special sessions deprived ratification of the momentum it needed for quick success and is now endangering our chance to vote in 1920. … All the energy of the women of the country must be put into this final struggle toward freedom if we are not again to suffer the disgrace of being excluded from all that concerns our country most deeply and denied a vote and denied a choice of those who are to represent and rule us.”

As January was coming to an end, it seemed the amendment was suddenly in trouble when papers ran “Jackson, Miss., Jan.21 – The federal woman suffrage constitutional amendment was rejected today by the lower house of this Mississippi legislature after 10 minutes debate. Cheers and laughter marked the announcement of the vote.”

It was followed by “Columbia, S.C., Jan. 28. – Possibility of favorable action on ratification of the Susan B. Anthony suffrage amendment was wiped out today when the senate of the South Carolina General Assembly declined to adopt a resolution proposing ratification and adopted a resolution rejecting the amendment. … The House of Representatives several days ago adopted a resolution rejecting the amendment. The Senate voted 31 to 4 against. … The vote in the House was 91 to 20 in favor of rejecting the amendment.”

Suddenly the tide seemed to be running against the ratification of the amendment. Inez Hayes Irwin, part of Paul’s inner circle, would later write, “The next State in the ratification line was New Jersey, and New Jersey gave the Woman’s Party a terrific fight. Mrs. J.A.H. Hopkins, State Chairman, realized that with both the Republican and Democratic bosses opposed to Suffrage, New Jersey would never ratify unless the Woman’s Party made it a matter of the greatest political importance to the majority Party – the Republican Party.”

The battle that was about to take place in Trenton isn’t as famous as the one in 1776, but in many ways it’s just as important.

Next Week: Dirty politics.


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