Sedalia women head to the polls

Rhonda Chalfant - Contributing Columnist

Rhonda Chalfant

Contributing Columnist

After the passage of the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, Sedalia women began planning to use their newly won privilege. Democratic and Republican women had formed organizations and elected party committeewomen. They had studied the issues in the upcoming federal and state elections.

At stake in the election was the presidency, with Warren G. Harding running on the Republican ticket and James Cox running on the Democrat ticket.

One of the most hotly contested issues was whether the United States would join the League of Nations, a multinational organization dedicated to eliminating future world wars. For the most part, Democrats favored membership, while Republicans did not.

The Republican party women attended meetings at which speakers campaigned against the United States becoming part of the League. Democratic women organized meetings at local schools at which local osteopath Dr. Nancy Hain spoke in favor of the League of Nations.

Democratic women also brought an out-of-town speaker to address the issue. Mrs. Peter Oleson was an authority on the League of Nations and a dynamic public speaker. Organizers of her speaking engagement sent invitations to the members of several women’s clubs, including Sorosis, the Helen G. Steele Music Club, the Chautauqua Club, and the women’s groups from local churches. Expecting a large crowd, the organizers reserved Convention Hall and planned a reception before the speech.

On Oct. 27, Mrs. Oleson spoke to a “monster crowd,” according to the Sedalia Democrat. Listeners heard her point out that membership in the league should not have become a political party issue, but was instead a “crusade for humanity and the betterment of the world.”

Election judges had been chosen for each voting place. The state had decided not to print separate ballots for women and for men. Heavy voter turnout was expected, with nearly twice as many voters due to the women’s participation in the election. The Democrat printed a statement from election judges urging people to vote early in the day so as to allow workers at the Missouri Pacific and MK&T railroad shops to vote in the evening after they left work.

On Nov. 2, Election Day, banks and county offices were closed. Employers gave workers time off to vote. Women’s suffrage advocates stationed women at the polls to collect money for a memorial to Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, a leader in the women’s suffrage movement. Many voters heeded the judges’ advice and came to the polls early.

The Democrat speculated that the election had generated a great deal of interest, not only because of the issues but also because women were voting. Some commentators predicted that women would vote in the same way as their husbands, but the Democrat noted that many women “voted according to their own convictions.”

The election results were a surprise to many. Republican Warren G. Harding and vice presidential candidate Calvin Coolidge won in what was described as a “landslide vote.” In a surprising change, Republicans won many of the state and county elections.

After the election, many pundits commented on why the Republicans had won by such a wide margin. Next week’s column details some of these explanations.

Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.

Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.

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