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Friday, June 28, 2013

Women's Suffrage - 100 Years of the Right to Vote

On June 26, 1913, the State of Illinois approved women’s suffrage. Illinois was one of many states to approve women’s right to vote in advance of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on August 18, 1920, which granted all women the right to vote in all elections.

Suffrage pageant featuring German actress, Hedwig Reicher as "Columbia" in front of 
U.S. Treasury Building in Washington, D.C., March 13, 1913. (Library of Congress)

Before women received the right to vote, they were considered second-class citizens with limited rights and privileges, and were beholden to their husbands. It was the Anti-Slavery Movement of the early 1800s that spurred progressive-minded women, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), to begin a women’s rights movement.

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 
prominent civil rights and women's rights leaders. 
(Library of Congress)

In 1848, Stanton held a convention in Seneca Falls, NY to discuss the “social, civil and religious rights of women.” This was the official beginning of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) joined the movement in 1850, and became a central figure. Anthony was famously arrested for trying to vote for Ulysses S. Grant for president in 1872.

In the "Portrait and Biographical Album for Lake County, Illinois" 1891, each man's church and political affiliations are listed, but for their wives only a church affiliation, since their political views were inconsequential without the right to vote. The sketch for Mark Bangs of Wauconda notes: "In politics he was a Whig and cast his first Presidential vote for William Henry Harrison... Both he and his wife [Clarissa Hubbard Bangs] are faithful members of the Baptist Church of Wauconda." 

Anti-Women's Suffrage postcard, circa 1918. 
Even George Washington got in on the act! (Curt Teich Company postcard BB302)

The Suffrage Movement spread, and in 1910, chapter houses of the American Woman’s League were built in North Chicago and Zion, Illinois. The league worked to “advance, protect and uplift American womanhood,” and spun off into the American Woman’s Republic, which educated women about government in preparation for when they had the right to vote.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, circa 1893.
African-American journalist and activist, Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931), fought for women's suffrage and civic education. In order to ensure the rights of Black women, Wells-Barnett worked to make them aware of their rights and established the Alpha Suffrage Club in January 1913 for African American women in the Chicago area. She encouraged women of color to become involved in politics. 

The club sent Wells-Barnett and followers to the national suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. in early March 1913. To their dismay, they were asked to march at the back of the parade or not at all. Segregating the marchers was a strategic move to win the support of Southern states who opposed having more black voters on the rolls.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett marching with the Illinois delegation at the suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., March 1913. Capper's Weekly (Topeka, KS) August 1, 1914, pg. 3

Unable to gain support from the white Illinois delegation, Wells-Barnett refused to march. Halfway through the parade, she mustered her strength and took her rightful place with the Illinois delegates, completing the march between two white supporters. 

A leading activist, Grace Wilbur Trout (1864-1955) was president of the Chicago Political Equality League, which published pamphlets and circulated petitions to lobby the state legislature to grant women voting rights.  When she became president of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, the organization started focusing on creating local organizations and lobbying individual legislators. 

Grace Wilbur Trout, 1913. (Library of Congress)

Trout mobilized a public show of support in getting Illinois's partial suffrage bill passed. The bill permitted women to vote for "Presidential elections and for all local offices not specifically name in the Illinois Constitution," but not for state representatives, congressional representatives, or governor. The bill passed on June 11 (83 votes for and 58 votes against) and was signed by Governor Dunne on June 26, 1913.

The new law made Illinois the first state east of the Mississippi River to grant women the right to vote for President of the United States. 

Interestingly, the first woman to vote in Illinois in a town election did so twenty-two years before the Illinois law was passed. In 1891, Ellen Martin of Lombard noticed that the town's charter did not mention gender as a factor in who could vote. After she and 14 other women voted in that year's elections, the charter was quickly amended. 

Clara Colby of Libertyville, 
the first woman to legally vote in Illinois.
Courtesy of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society. 

On July 5, 1913, Clara A. Colby (1878 - 1962) became the first woman to legally vote in Illinois, casting her historic ballot for a new town hall in Libertyville. Colby said, “I’m a very happy woman to have had this opportunity.” 
Headline from the "Chicago Tribune," the day after Clara Colby's historic vote. (above)

The paper noted that Clara's husband, Wayne Colby, was very proud of her. He was quoted as saying: "Just to show that it is not such a terrible thing for a man to stay at home and do the housework on the occasional voting day."
Anti-Women's Suffrage postcard, circa 1918. Men at home doing the laundry and 
looking after babies was a prominent theme of naysayers. (Teich Postcard Archives, BB342)

After returning home briefly, Clara Colby went back out to encourage more women to vote. She spoke to women on the street telling them, "Do go and vote. I don't care if you vote in favor of the new hall or against."

Daisy E. Morse (1876 - 1946) headed a delegation of half a dozen women who applied for ballots. She was quoted in the paper: "My husband told me not to vote, but you see I am here."

Libertyville's Mayor Schnaebele's wife and daughter, Caroline and Della, preferred to finish their morning housework before casting their vote. The paper noted, "They were on hand first thing in the afternoon and cast a ballot in favor of the new town hall."

The Tribune noted that Clara Colby "more than hinted that the balance of power rested in their [women's] hands and the men had best take care and keep Libertyville clean or the women would show their strength and make demands."

Commemorative plaque at Clara Colby's gravesite, Lakeside Cemetery, Libertyville, Illinois. 

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