The question of which United States citizens are given the privilege of voting in local, state, and national elections has occupied the nation since the Revolutionary War.
Abigail Adams, wife of Revolutionary War patriot and later second president of the United States, was, according to historian Thomas Bailey, one of the first Americans to see the implication of the Revolution on the status of women. In March 1776, even before the battles of Lexington and Concord, she wrote to her husband that those making a code of laws for the new nation should “remember the ladies” and be more favorable to women than earlier generations of men had been.
Unfortunately, Abigail’s words went unheeded. In 1848, a group of women met in Senaca Falls, New York to discuss the issue of women’s rights. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the leaders of the convention, paraphrased the Declaration of Independence and proclaimed that “all men and women are created equal.” The convention, whose attendees also included Lucretia Mott and Lucy Stone, formally demanded that women be allowed to vote.
The resolution passed in Senaca Falls also went unheeded. Although African American men were given the right to vote by the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, women were still denied the ballot. During late 19th and early 20th centuries, women continued to demand the right to vote.
In 1869, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton organized the National Women’s Suffrage Association. In 1880, this organization became the National American Suffrage Association, and continued to campaign for the right of women to vote.
Missouri women were active in the women’s suffrage movement. Two years before the National Women’s Suffrage Association was organized, Virginia Minor of St. Louis organized the Women’s Suffrage Association of Missouri. Other suffrage organizations included other issues in their platforms, such as divorce, child welfare, and property rights, but the Missouri organization was the first to make women’s voting rights its exclusive goal.
The year 1872 was pivotal for women seeking to vote. A few states, such as Wyoming and Utah had given women the right to vote, but most refused. That year, Susan B. Anthony was arrested in New York for casting a ballot in an election. Virginia Minor attempted to register to vote in St. Louis but was denied. She and her husband Francis Minor filed a suit against the county registrar for his refusal to allow her to register. The Minors contended that under the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, women were citizens and thus should be allowed to vote.
The courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, disagreed, saying that citizenship and the right to vote were not consistent. The states, not the federal government, were to determine who was allowed to vote.
Minor continued to work for women’s suffrage, appearing before the United States Senate committee on woman suffrage in 1889. She served as honorary vice president of the Interstate Woman Suffrage Convention in Kansas City in 1892.
Sedalia women were also involved in the issue of woman’s suffrage. Next week’s column details the work of Sedalia women to insure that they and all other women could vote.
Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.