Brian Spangle

On Aug. 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote, was ratified. It was the conclusion of a long national battle for women’s suffrage. Next Tuesday marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification.

It was in 1848 that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the Seneca Falls Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, initiating the women’s rights movement, a key focus of which became voting rights. Susan B. Anthony was among those who took up the cause.

In 1869, the same year that the Wyoming Territory granted women over the age of 21 the vote, two national suffrage organizations were formed, the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association, merging into the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890. The latter organization, later led by Carrie Chapman Catt, aimed to institute suffrage in one state at a time. This strategy was successful, as more and more states extended voting rights to women, especially after the turn of the 20th century. Parades and marches also began at that time, helping publicize the movement.

Women’s clubs, such as the Vincennes Fortnightly Club, whose membership included the well-educated of a community, also supported suffrage and helped make the movement more acceptable to the general public.

In 1917, the Indiana General Assembly passed three laws sought by suffragists, one of which gave women in the state limited suffrage. That same year, the Indiana Supreme Court struck down that law along with a bill calling for a convention to draw up a new state constitution, as unconstitutional, a major setback

for the cause.

In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson gave his support to women’s suffrage, although an amendment proposal failed to pass the Senate that year. Finally, on May 21, 1919, the suffrage amendment passed the House. The Senate passed it two weeks later, and it went to the states for ratification. By March 1920, 35 states had ratified the amendment (Indiana did so on Jan. 16, 1920), but one more was needed for the two-thirds required.

Although most of the Southern states opposed the amendment, on Aug. 18, 1920, Tennessee ratified it by a single vote, and the U. S. Secretary of State certified the results on Aug. 26.

The bold headline of the Aug. 18, 1920 edition of the Vincennes Sun said simply “SUFFRAGE WINS!” and the headline of the following day’s Vincennes Commercial read “RATIFICATION OF EQUAL SUFFRAGE COMPLETED.”

Of course, 1920 was a presidential election year, with the Republican, Ohio Senator Warren Harding, taking on the Democrat, Ohio Governor James Cox, so just over two months after suffrage was achieved, women would be going to the polls.

In Knox County, the first day of voter registration was Sept. 4, and women turned out in force, surpassing the number of men at one precinct by 50 and nearly matching their number at some others. As the Sun-Commercial reported: “While the experience was novel to the women, there was no evidence of timidity, or lack of being informed and the women walked into the rooms where the registration boards were at work, and carried out their task without the least indication that the experience was their first.”

Anyone who thought that women would simply vote as their husbands did, were soon disavowed of that notion. Many expressed their resolve to vote in the opposite way. They showed themselves well versed on the issues. One local woman, whose husband was an avowed Democrat, was going to vote Republican, outraged that, under the Democrats, the price of sugar had skyrocketed to 30 cents a pound.

Women also flocked to the polls that Election Day, Nov. 2, causing the Sun-Commercial to comment on the: “straightforward and industrious way in which the women marched to the polls like great patriotic American citizens and cast their ballots.” The paper went on to say: “Very few lagged behind or stayed at home.”

The Republican Harding took the presidency in a landslide. Harding carried Knox County, 10,011 votes to Cox’s 8,052. Knox County saw a Republican sweep that year, with the party taking every county office.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until 1984, 64 years after women’s suffrage was instituted, that Mississippi ratified the 19th Amendment, becoming the final state to do so.

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