We Will Vote!

Susan Chaffin

Every citizen of the United States who has attained the age of eighteen years and who resides in the voting area in which he or she seeks to vote shall be deemed a qualified elector.
          Article 5. Constitution of the State of Kansas.

IT SEEMS SO SIMPLE ... thirty-five words opening the present day article of the Kansas Constitution addressing suffrage. It seems so harmless; it's hard to imagine what all the fuss was about. Yet the words making up that sentence are the result of radical ideas. Ideas whispered about behind tightly sealed parlor doors and shouted about from pulpits. Ideas decried as potentially leading to war. What a commotion those ideas caused!

     In 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft wrote Vindication of the Rights of Women. It was her treatise of the value and necessity of female independence and is usually heralded as the beginning of the modern women's rights movement. However, some years before that date a woman living in Glouchester Massachusetts, Judith Sargent Murray, wrote of the disparity in the lives of men and women. As Revolutionary War battles raged across newly declared American soil, Ms. Murray held high hopes for the future. She wrote essays about the need to educate women in more than pianoforte and embroidery. As hostess for her father, a well-to-do sea captain, merchant and Massachusetts Convention delegate, she entertained President George and First Lady Martha Washington. One can imagine the lively dinner table conversation that took place during and between long seven-course dinners. And at the end of those dinners, do you think she withdrew to the drawing room with the ladies or stayed with the gentlemen for cigars and port? While that question goes unanswered, it is known that Judith Murray continued to hold to her dream of education and equality for women. Soon after the acrid cannon smoke cleared and the new nation was on firmer ground, she penned, "I expect to see our young women forming a new era in female history." Unbelievably, it was almost seventy years before a significant equal rights step was to occur. And it didn't occur in Boston or Philadelphia or New York City, but in an area of the country barely known at the time Ms. Murray began to write......... Kansas.

Women's Suffrage Timeline     The United States of America began the nineteenth century with the seeds of economic and social rights movements sprouting in the minds of its citizens. In addition to suffrage, the educators, labor activists, abolitionists and teetotalers were gaining ground with each new day. In the East, Hannah Mather Crocker published a pamphlet called "Observations on the Real Rights of Women" in 1818, and Emma Hart presented the governor of New York with a plan to improve female education. In 1824, the first endowed female institution of education opened. 1826 brought the first free public female school and 1833 the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. The 1840's saw the organized activity by the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Industrialization was well underway in the 1850's and the Civil War increased the pace. Ohio women banned together to petition President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 The agendas of these various organizations, while different on the surface, had the fundamental rights of women at their core. The cause of equality swept the nation. People of the eastern United States may have spoken the first words, but once the ideals and beliefs were articulated, they found loud and strong voices of support in the West. The forward-thinking women and men of Kansas joined the equality process in full measure.

     In preparation for Kansas to be admitted to the Union as a state, the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention was held in what is now Kansas City. The year was 1859. The convention drafted a document to establish state boundaries and to prohibit slavery. It also took a step forward in women's rights. Three feminists, Clarina Nichols, Mother Armstrong and Mary Tenney Gray, attended the gathering. They represented Shawnee and Douglas County women's groups. The trio was seeking equal suffrage's inclusion in the new state's constitution. The men in charge of the convention did not allow the women to speak. However, the new constitution did allow the unprecedented right of women to acquire and possess property. It also gave them the right to retain the equal custody of their children. The document was accepted by a vote of the people in October. It was a victory. December saw a provisional state government elected and women of Kansas doubling their efforts to acquire the vote.

Women in KanColl     29 January 1861: Kansas was admitted into the Union as the 34th state. Topeka became the state capitol. Women of the new state won another victory. Kansas entered the Union as a free state. Not only did the first state legislature recognize the need for abolishing slavery, it gave women limited suffrage. Although the lawmakers declined general suffrage, women gained the right to vote in school elections. It was another first. Leaders of the women's rights movement knew Kansas was the place to be.

     Unfortunately, the Civil War interrupted this momentum. In the years from 1861 to 1865, every effort was channeled into the war. Women's rights were not forgotten, but definitely took a second seat to the battle to completely abolish slavery and keep the United States a unified nation. Women worked diligently, believing they would be rewarded by support from the Republican party in the bid to become fully enfranchised. They expected that the enlargement of the electorate that was created by the emancipation of slaves would be the ideal time for women to also receive the vote. It would be a joint victory. What a shock they received!

     Republican politicians, glassy-eyed with the prospect of two million Negro men as new voters in the South alone, had no plans to create further turmoil by linking women's suffrage to the already daunting task of initializing the vote for freed slaves. Women were stunned by the proposed wording of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The word "citizen" was replaced by another: "male." It was the first time any mention of gender was entered into this instrument of democracy. It became apparent that abolitionists, historical partners of women's suffrage, were deserting the women in mass. The rationalization for this betrayal was that nothing should be allowed to interfere with "the Negroes' hour."

     Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone, well known leaders of in the fight for equality for all people, were horrified. Until now, the right of women to vote had been the province of state governments. An ever-widening path was about to narrow sharply with the adoption of The Fourteenth Amendment. When passed, women would be allowed to vote for the President and Vice-president, Representatives of Congress, federal and state judicial officers and legislators, only after the addition of still another Constitutional Amendment. The fight for suffrage was about to take its place in the national arena. The effort needed to win this campaign on that level was overwhelming. Elizabeth Cady Stanton announced that women's suffrage would be set back a century if the Fourteenth Amendment were adopted.

     Kansas again came to the forefront of national, if not world attention, when, in 1867, equal suffrage became a statewide debate. The young state's legislature submitted two amendments to the Kansas electorate. The first would remove the word "male" from voting requirements and the second would remove the word "Negro." This made Kansas the first state in the Union to consider women's suffrage. Leaders of the women's movement flocked to the thirty-fourth state to work for passage of the amendment to allow women's suffrage.

Charles Robinson     Lucy Stone and her husband Henry Blackwell were among the first to arrive. They went to Salina, where they set about working for suffrage. They met in a newly built Methodist church. Soon after Stone's arrival, Olympia Brown, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton followed. The small group worked tirelessly, with the help of former Kansas governor Charles Robinson, to win support for women. They lived on coffee with sorghum instead of sugar, greasy bacon, no milk, a lack of fruits and vegetables, dried herring, slippery elm, crackers and gum arabic. They slept wherever they were welcomed. Ms. Stanton writes about spending a long night in a carriage surrounded by wild long-nosed black pigs. She chose the carriage to try to avoid bed-bug infested bunks that were nightly fare. However, almost immediately after dark, the portly, grunting beasts attacked the metal steps of the carriage. The hard surface made a perfect scratching post! Stanton's carriage was cast to and fro all night. Stanton, realizing that scratching probably meant fleas, stayed awake and on the lookout most of the night.

     Despite the dogged efforts, the amendment removing the word "male" was defeated. In retrospect, it shouldn't have been a complete surprise. The women had been set adrift by Lincoln's party, and Kansas was a staunch Republican state. They were also abandoned by the big Eastern liberal newspapermen (including Horace Greeley's Tribune) until it was too late to do any good. Even Frederick Douglas, who had been a longtime ally, forsook them. However, what was astounding was that the Negro wording also was defeated.

     The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in July of 1868. Soon after, the Fifteenth Amendment was proposed. Wording for this amendment stated "the right of Citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged ... on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude." Suffragettes argued that it would have been so easy to include the word "sex." They still did not seem to grasp the depth of the chasm that existed between those groups supporting equal rights. It was soon to become apparent that in order for the women's suffrage movement to remain viable, the wording of the Fifteenth Amendment was to be left as written and another amendment for women's suffrage would need to be drafted.

Kansas in the Suffrage Movement     Once again, Kansas played a significant role in the fight. It was not a short contest. Resolute in their ideals, Kansas suffragettes continued for twenty years to gain the vote. A women's convention was held in Topeka in 1869 to revive the cause. In 1874 the state's Prohibition Party endorsed women suffrage. 1879 brought the state's first woman suffrage organization. It was established in Lincoln. The Equal Suffrage Association (ESA) became a driving force in Kansas suffrage. Five years later, in 1884, a statewide very well organized ESA came into being. In 1885 a bill was introduced to grant women municipal voting rights

     The battle was on! In 1887 Municipal Suffrage was for Kansas women was achieved. This allowed women to run for office in all city elections. Quickly following this landmark event, the small town in Sumner County, Kansas become the first community in the nation to elect a woman mayor when Susannah Salter was elected mayor of Argonia on April 4, 1887. Ms. Salter, who was born Susannah Medora Kinsey in Ohio in 1870, attended Kansas State Agricultural College. While receiving her education, she met and married Lewis Salter, son of former Lt. Governor Melville J. Slater. The newlyweds settled in Argonia, where her father had been the town's first mayor. Salter became an activist in the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and was nominated for the post of mayor by a group of Argonia men who thought it would be an immense joke. Much to their surprise, and possibly dismay, Susannah Medora Kinsey Salter received a two-thirds majority and was elected to the office of mayor at the age of twenty-seven. Town records show that she served well, although for only one term. Soon after the end of her term, the Salters moved to Oklahoma. Mayor Salter lived there until her death, at 101 years, in 1961.

     Other Kansas towns followed Argonia's lead. In 1888-89 Oskaloosa, Cottonwood Falls, Rossville, Elk Falls, and Baldwin also elected women mayors in that order. In fact, Oskaloosa had an all-woman government at one point. 1890-99 found Canton, Edgerton, Kiowa, Haddam, Pleasanton, Gaylord, Ellis, Jamestown, and Beattie electing women mayors. Women celebrated each victory as a step towards general suffrage. However, not everyone was pleased with this progress.

Susan B. Anthony     Susan B. Anthony deeply distrusted any form of partial suffrage. She often pointed to the problems Kansas women experienced after municipal suffrage. She frequently used the failure of the general suffrage in Kansas in 1894 as an example of the harm wrecked by partial suffrage. Kansas women, confident with their success in the late 1880's and early 1890's, aligned themselves with political parties. Laura M. Johns, head of the Kansas State Suffrage Association, became President of the Republican Woman's Association This meant that she was forced to defer to party wishes. The immediate consequence of this action meant that, in her capacity as President, she conceded to Republican party leaders in their requirement that a women's suffrage endorsement would not be included in the party platform. It went against a previous agreement of support the Kansas Republicans guaranteed. National suffrage leaders Carrie Chapman Catt and Susan B. Anthony were livid. They demanded that the Kansas women stand with them instead of the Republican party. However, led by Mrs. Johns, Republican women of Kansas positioned themselves firmly with their party and virtually guaranteed the failure of general suffrage in 1894. It was a less than stellar moment.

     Catt and others did not give up on Kansas. They continued to work for suffrage for the decade and a half. In 1912, the suffrage amendment was presented for ratification in six states: Arizona, Kansas, Ohio, Michigan, Oregon and Wisconsin. Suffragettes were certain of passage of the amendment in Kansas, Arizona, Michigan and Oregon. However, some tricky maneuvering by politicians in Michigan defeated the amendment in that state. It won in the remaining three. Kansas women celebrated once again!

     Catt stressed the continued importance of keeping the suffrage movement intact and viable in the states that achieved the vote. She knew that swift action would be needed by those states when the amendment was submitted. For that purpose, she kept sympathetic Kansas political figures as involved as possible. One of those figures was Governor Henry Allen. Gov. Allen volunteered to speak in New York in 1915, during that state's campaign. He continued to be a vocal enthusiast of suffrage throughout his terms. In 1920, when at last ratification was insight, Kansas was among the first three states to do so. On June 16, 1920, Kansas, Michigan and Oregon ratified "Anthony's Amendment." It was a painfully slow process to achieve the balance of the states needed for adoption. Suffragettes held their breath until, after the dramatic intervention of President Wilson's administration, Tennessee held a special session on August 18 and ratified the amendment. On August 26, 1920 -- fifty-three years after the first state suffrage referendum was voted on in Kansas -- the Nineteenth Amendment, or the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, became law. Kansas played its part in this national drama well.

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