In August 1920, Sedalia women were concerned with many things. The Centennial Missouri State Fair was coming soon and many Sedalia women were preparing needlework, flowers, and garden produce for exhibit. Others were involved in the huge pageant detailing the history of Missouri that was to be presented at the fair. The Lona Theater was to open in September, and the Sedalia Democrat kept readers aware of the progress toward completion. School was to open the week after Labor Day, which would be celebrated by the local labor unions with parades and picnics.
The most important issue for many Sedalia women, however, was happening in Tennessee. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution that would give women the right to vote in national elections was close to becoming the law of the land. Wisconsin was the first state to ratify the amendment on June 5, 1919. Missouri had ratified the amendment on July 3, 1919. By August 1920, 35 states had ratified the amendment — one short of the 36 necessary for the amendment to become law.
The Democrat reported frequently on the progress of the amendment, which was stalled in the Tennessee legislature as Republicans and Democrats battled over whether to ratify an amendment that might give women of the other party — whichever party that was — the ability to vote in that year’s presidential election.
Ratification of the amendment had been districted by other political issues before. Manufacturers and sellers of alcohol beverages, including those in Sedalia, feared that voting women would pass a prohibition amendment, and campaigned vigorously against women’s suffrage. However, the issue became a non-issue when the 18th Amendment banning alcohol was passed in January 1919, five months before the states began to vote on women’s suffrage.
A Democrat editorial denounced as a “lamentable thing that great question like this should become a football for politicians.” Finally, however, the Tennessee legislature voted to ratify the amendment. Their decision was immediately questions by those opposed to ratification, but their objections were overridden.
The United States Secretary of State announced on August 26 that 19th Amendment was now a part of the Constitution.
Sedalia women organized themselves when it appeared that ratification might indeed happen. The women of the Democratic Party met on Aug. 3, 1920 at the various wards to select committee women for each precinct. On Aug. 10, the Democratic Party women met at the Odd Fellows hall at Fifth Street and Ohio Avenue to elect officers for the county Democratic committee. On Aug. 25, county chairwomen met at the Hotel Terry with Mrs. Felix Young of Lafayette County presiding; they elected Mrs. Young and Sedalian Mrs. G. W. Barrett to serve on the state committee.
Women of the Republican Party were a bit slower to organize. On Aug. 31, a large group of women met at Broadway School where they heard speeches by W. A. Collins, candidate for state senator, and J. W. Palmer. The Republican women of the Fourth Ward elected Martha Letts, principal of the Sedalia High School, as president of the county Republican women’s committee.
State and county officials had a great deal of work to do before the election in November. Next week’s column details the preparations made for Sedalia women to vote.
Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.