Tea parties to parades, Michigan women fought for the vote

January 5, 2007
Contact: umichnews@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—A leader in securing the vote for women, Michigan began a public campaign in 1849 advocating the right of women to vote—a natural right, the campaign espoused. Although women began petitioning the state legislature in the 1850s, it was not until 1867 that the issue of women’s voting rights was debated at the Michigan Constitutional Convention, and then it was voted down 31 to 34.

The long and arduous path to securing the right of women to vote saw the passage of the 14th Amendment to the country’s constitution in 1868, an amendment that defined women as non- voting citizens. Ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1869 gave the right to vote to all male citizens, leaving the women without a voice, and marked the emergence of the women’s suffrage movement.

That voice was not to be quiet for long. According to holdings in the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library, the Michigan State Woman Suffrage Association founded in Battle Creek by Lucinda Hinsdale Stone in 1870, brought nationally known figures such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to the state. But, still, only 23 percent of those voting favored allowing women to vote.

“The whole idea of women voting was too radical for the electorate,” said Ann Frantilla, an archivist at the Bentley Library. “Women were wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters, but not individuals with a role in the public sphere.”

Discouraged and broken, the Association died, leaving Michigan with no central organization between 1875 and 1884. But the women of Michigan didn’t give up. In the 1880s they argued that to care properly for her home, a woman needed the vote in municipal affairs, such as sewers, pure water and garbage collections. Though they were successful in getting the Michigan legislature to approve municipal suffrage for women in 1893, the Michigan Supreme Court did not support the decision. So the Michigan suffragists began work towards an amendment to the state constitution.

Michigan women joined with others across the nation who saw a need for change, to eliminate the corruption and saloon-based politics. Putting the vote in the hands of women, the defenders of the home and family, would ensure the triumph of morality, they said, arguing long and strong that in a rapidly changing society, women’s interests were often ignored. Women should be entitled to full representation in American life, they said.

Again in Michigan’s Constitutional Convention of 1907-08, the proposal giving women the right to vote was rejected by a 47- 34 vote. However, a revised form was overwhelmingly approved permitting women who were taxpayers to vote only on referendums involving the issuance of bonds or expenditure of public funds.

Four years later a referendum granting full suffrage to women was before the electorate again. Tea parties and public parades helped show the support of the effort among women. And publications and speeches, especially featuring prominent male supporters, helped bring their message to the electorate. And again the Michigan women lost, this time by a slight margin. Believing that victory was imminent, the movement’s supporters resubmitted the proposed amendment in the following off-year election in 1913. This time, the amendment’s opponents, especially the liquor interests who feared woman suffrage would ensure passage of statewide prohibition, were better organized, and the amendment lost by more than 96,000 votes.

Frustrated on the state level, Michigan women joined the national effort to secure adoption of a suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Prominent Michigan women went to Washington to lobby for submitting the amendment to the states for ratification.

During the Presidential campaign of 1916, the adoption of statewide prohibition in Michigan helped remove a major source of opposition in the state. Two years later, the Michigan electorate overwhelmingly approved granting women the franchise, and Michigan became the second state to ratify the amendment to the U.S. Constitution. On Aug. 26, 1920, more than a year after national prohibition was enacted, woman’s suffrage became the law of the land. 19th Amendment: Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex. Section 2: The congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. Dec. 18, 1917: The 18th Amendment (prohibition) adopted by Congress and submitted to the states for ratification.

Jan. 29, 1919: The 18th Amendment declared ratified.

to the states for ratification

Aug. 26, 1920: 19th Amendment declared ratified.