The right of
citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the
United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to
enforce this article by appropriate legislation The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified August 18th, 1920
A Promise Finally Fulfilled
By Al Owens
I wonder what must have taken them so long. It had been 144 years since our
founding fathers had declared that “all MEN were created equal,” when women
could officially appreciate the equality and the power of the vote.
According to The Uniontown Herald Standard in December of 1920, America’s women
had not been, until that year, afforded the same voting rights that women
already had in Austria, British East India, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Hungary,
Iceland, Poland Netherlands, Italy, Lithuania, Sweden, Ukraine and even in
Russia (where women could not only vote – but they served in the parliament and
in the cabinet).
Women had, however, long engaged in the political process in many parts of this
country, but in August of 1920, women were told there no longer be any bar to
their full participation the government matters that had, to that point,
The beginnings of the woman’s right to vote can be traced to 1869. That’s when
the Wyoming Territorial Legislature unceremoniously passed a law that decreed,
"That every woman of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this Territory,
may at every election to be holden under the law thereof, cast her vote."
The following September, when in Uniontown, a throng of well-wishers had
appeared at the front door of the home Honorable Andrew Stewart to offer their
rousing support for his Republican candidacy for congress.
But just four days earlier, on September 6th, there had been an event out west
that would be far more important, yet with none of the fanfare as the Uniontown
revelry. Eliza A. "Grandma" Swain voted.
Swain, of Laramie, had cast the first vote ever cast by a woman in this country.
It had only been an election involving the Laramie town council, but it
certainly caught the eye of Susan B. Anthony, who saw the significance of
Wyoming’s voting laws regarding women, and publicly encouraged the women of the
east to move west to take advantage of them.
Hardly any women moved west as a result of Anthony’s encouragement. As it turned
out, those women didn’t have to move anywhere in order to eventually be able to
vote. The vote would come to them.
Utah Territory followed Wyoming Territory in passing into law the right of women
to vote. Then Kansas and Nebraska followed. By 1889, with the increasing fears
of men, that women would get the vote and lead the charge to end their ability
to indulge in the consumption of alcoholic beverages, the press of the day would
freely acknowledge those fears.
In the late fall of 1889, a poem was published across the country that was meant
to be sung to the popular tune, Yankee Doodle: “They’re good enough to raise our
To teach them what is right, sir
But then the lady should not vote,
Because she don’t get tight, sir”
Yet, there were many other voices at that time that did not reflect a fear for
the country if women could simply have an official say in matters that had
always affected them.
In 1890, in the Kellogg Iowa Tribune, an editorial was published that indicated
that the inevitability of the women’s vote, if only for certain functions, could
have a truly positive effect on governments: “In Wyoming women can vote and hold
office, and at the recent election there a lady was elected in every county in
the state for school superintendent, and they will make good ones too we are
By 1910, the women’s vote reached Pennsylvania. The Titusville Herald chronicled
the November elections in Pittsburgh that year, with a distinct degree of
reverence for the democratic milestone that had just taken place: “Gray-haired
women, who had been advocating woman's suffrage for two score years, accompanied
by their granddaughters just turned the legal
age, were registered and given their ballot and instructed in its use.”
Many other parts of Pennsylvania, and more specifically, Fayette County had
still not followed the move toward suffrage to that point, but there were many
signs that it wouldn’t be long.
In November of 1915, The New Castle News in New Castle, Pennsylvania carried one
story about the young women of New York City who were engaging in an activity
that is still going on today: “Another new fad is now in use by young women in
New York. They are having the names of their fiancée’s tattooed on their—er—limbs.
be all right to start with but those tattoo" affairs are mighty hard to get off
in case one of them gets a divorce.”
But on the same page as that story, you could find something of a much more
serious note: “The women will not vote in Pennsylvania. We sincerely regret
that, but it will come later on,” it read.
Congress proposed the 19th Amendment on June 4th, 1919. Pennsylvania became the
seventh state to pass it on June 24th.
On August 18th, 1920 the readers of The Monessen Daily Independent opened their
evening newspapers and found the words: WOMEN SUFFRAGE NOW A REALITY. The state
of Tennessee had passed the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment” that day by a slim
vote. (One report says it had been 49-47. Another report said it had been 50-46)
Regardless of the final tally, election officials in Fayette County announced
they were fully prepared to register the county’s new voters.
On August 24th, the Uniontown Morning Herald’s lead headline read: ENROLLMENT OF
FAYETTE COUNTY WOMEN FOR THE FALL ELECTION IS UNDER WAY.
Charles Fee, the county’s election registrar at the time, said he’d registered
80 women that first day. He did admit to a few anecdotes, when he’d gone to the
homes of some women in order to place their names on the voter rolls. One, he
recalled, asked him, “Do I have to decide this thing right now? I haven’t it
over with my husband yet, and I don’t want to take any action until I talk to
him.” Another was engaged in another activity, when he knocked on her door. “You
will have to come back in the evening. I have been busy washing all day, and
haven’t the children cleaned up yet.”
Fee did seem quite pleased with the response of most of the women he encountered
locally. And in Washington, D.C. election officials would later offer statistics
that showed the impact of the new amendment. While 17 million women had already
been registered to vote nationwide because of prior legislative actions in their
state legislatures, there would be an increase of 10 million new women voters.
As the presidential election approached that year, there was some degree of
anxiety regarding the resultant swell brought about by the increase in the
The Morning Herald reported on its front page in mid-October that Fayette County
Commissioners Hibbs and Rush were warning of potential log jams at local polling
places by signaling that, in effect, women should vote and then get out of the
way. “Women who can vote in the early morning - should do so without fail for
there will be large delegations of men who will he obliged to work during the
day and who will vote at the very last minute,” came a joint statement from the
Yet, their fears were allayed on Election Day – November 2nd, 1920. All had
apparently gone so well, that Harriet Upton Taylor, the vice-chairman of the
executive committee of the Republican national committee was quoted in the
Monessen Daily Independent as proclaiming, “Lots of folks were apprehensive
about the women vote. Of course we knew such people were foolish but there were
lots of them.”
One can easily see the significant, yet ironic, impact 1870 had on what is
happening today. That was the year, by the way, that the 15th Amendment to the
U.S. Constitution was passed – that gave voting rights to the descendents of
It was also the year that a woman nicknamed “Grandma” became the nation’s first
woman to vote in an election.
This year, with the distinct possibility that either Barack Obama or Hillary
Clinton can become the leader of this nation – you too just may ask, “What took
us so long?”