By Ann Cramer, Hocking County Historical Society.
This month we mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which established women’s right to vote, or suffrage. For almost a century of discussions, protests, and movements, the 19th Amendment passed both houses of Congress in 1919. But a majority of 36 states had to ratify it in order for it to become law.
Over the next year, states all across the country ratified the amendment. Ohio was the fifth state to do so on June 16, 1919. Finally, on August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, making women’s suffrage legal. It reads, “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”.
The movement for women’s rights became a concerted, organized effort during the 19th century. Local, state, and national women’s groups advocated for a variety of reform issues in addition to suffrage including temperance, the abolition of slavery, and morality. They believed that if women were responsible for raising virtuous children, they should play a role in helping immoral people redeem themselves.
In July 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first women’s rights convention at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, NY. Many of the 300 attendees were also abolitionists whose goals included universal suffrage – the right to vote for all adults.
The Seneca Falls Convention produced a list of demands called the Declaration of Sentiments. Modeled after the Declaration of Independence, it called for broader educational and professional opportunities for women and the right of married women to control their wages and property. After this historic gathering, women’s suffrage became a central issue in the emerging women’s rights movement in the United States.
OHIO’S WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT
After the Seneca Falls Convention in New York in 1848, Ohio women became increasingly interested in women’s rights issues. A Women’s Rights Convention was organized in 1852 and held in Massillon, Ohio where attendees voted to establish the Ohio Women’s Rights Association which held its first statewide meeting the following year. Anyone who was “interested in equal rights for all human beings in all endeavors” was invited to join the organization. Members submitted a petition to the state legislature in 1854 requesting legislation to grant women more rights. Similar efforts occurred across the country. Women’s rights issues were eclipsed by the abolitionist movement during the Civil War era but after the war, women reorganized to push for their suffrage.
IMPORTANT OHIO SUFFRAGISTS
Numerous Ohio Women participated in early reform movements in the 19th and 20th centuries, but those who significantly contributed to the passage of the 19th Amendment are highlighted here.
Harriet Taylor Upton
Harriet grew up in a political family, her Republican father a judge who was elected to Congress. This gave Harriet the opportunity to meet political figures such as Susan B. Anthony, a national activist for social reform. She joined the National Women’s Suffrage Association in 1890 and was elected President of the Ohio chapter in 1899.
Florence E. Allen
Florence Ellinwood Allen was the first woman to serve as a justice on the Ohio Supreme Court. In her youth, she had an avid interest in music and studied it in college. Unfortunately, a nerve injury prevented a career in music. She became interested in political science and law and received a master’s degree in 1908 and a law degree in 1913. She then started a law practice during a time when female lawyers were rare. Consequently, Florence constantly challenged discrimination against women. After the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, she won her seat on the Ohio Supreme Court. She was the first women to do so in the country. She went on to become the first woman to serve as a federal judge, appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934. She was active in the Women Suffrage Party and was a role model to women who wanted to pursue legal careers throughout her life.
Hallie Quinn Brown
Hallie Quinn Brown was an African-American author, educator, and equal rights advocate during the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. She was born in Pittsburgh where her parents, former slaves, were active with the Underground Railroad. The family moved to Xenia, Ohio where Brown attended and graduated from Wilberforce University in 1873. After an illustrious teaching career in African American schools (including Tuskegee Institute in Alabama), Brown became active in the Civil Rights and Temperance Movements in the 1890s. She travelled across the country and abroad lecturing on these movements. Brown also helped found and lead African American women’s rights groups, most notably the National Association of Colored Women. She returned to Ohio in the late 1890s where she became a professor at Wilberforce. Here she continued her reform efforts and helped organize the Ohio State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Hallie Quinn Brown was an unequalled champion of African American women’s rights and education.
Lucy Stone was a prominent orator, abolitionist and suffragist in the nineteenth century. After graduating from Oberlin College in 1847, she travelled across the country building support for abolition and women’s rights. She helped organize the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Massachusetts and sustained many other such conventions and organizations. Stone assisted groups who helped pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery and she helped found the American Woman Suffrage Association. She influenced Susan B. Anthony to get involved in women’s suffrage and was considered the heart and soul of the women’s rights movement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote that “Lucy Stone was the first person by whom the heart of the American public was deeply stirred on the woman question”.