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On May 21, 1919, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Two weeks later, on June 4, the Senate followed suit. On June 10, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin became the first three states of the 36 –three fourths of the then 48 states – needed to ratify the Amendment. Tennessee, the 36th state, ratified the amendment on Aug. 18, 1920. The Amendment 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. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
The 100th anniversary of this amendment, Aug. 18, 2020, and the many women who hold now hold elective offices in this country reflect that women can do more than vote – they can be voted for.
The RoundTable thanks Lori Osborne, director of the Evanston Women’s History Project at the Evanston History Center, and the Frances Willard House Museum, for this timely contribution.
Evanston women were integral to the local, state and national women’s suffrage movements. Here are my top five things to know about Evanston and the suffrage movement (much more can be found here and onsite exhibit at the Evanston History Center).
1. It took more than 70 years. It was a long battle, beginning in 1848 with the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Tactics and arguments changed over time.
The first arguments were for women’s equality as a right – and then slowly additional arguments were added as the movement sought to reach more supporters.
2. Suffragists were thinkers – especially Evanston suffragists. They were especially adept at finding ways to stay within women’s traditional role while expanding it.
Elizabeth Boynton Harbert was an early advocate for suffrage in Evanston and regularly gave lectures and wrote books and newspaper columns advocating for suffrage. She was a leading architect of the idea that women deserved the vote not simply because they were equal citizens, but because women would bring their benevolent natures with them to the voting booth and positively influence issues facing their communities and country with their votes.
Frances Willard served as President of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the largest women’s organization in the world in the 19th century, from 1879 until her death in 1898. She led the organization to become one of the strongest advocates for women’s rights and women’s suffrage.
Ms. Willard expanded on Ms. Harbert’s idea of women’s benevolent influence coming through in their votes and advocated for a “home protection” ballot for women. Her argument was that women had every right to be allowed to vote on matters related to protecting their homes and their children (school board elections, temperance laws, etc.), as that was simply a logical extension of their traditional role.
Ms. Willard’s “home protection” argument brought thousands of women to the suffrage cause who would have otherwise found it too radical. And, the WCTU was so large that its support of suffrage carried the movement into the 20th century.
3. Suffragists were strategists – especially Evanston suffragists. Catharine Waugh McCulloch was an attorney who moved to Evanston with her young family in 1890.
She and her husband, Frank, started a law firm together that focused on assisting women with problems related to their lack of legal status, such as wage discrimination, divorce, probate, child custody, and spousal abuse.
Throughout her life, Ms. McCulloch wrote and lectured extensively on women’s issues. She drafted the legislation for Illinois women to get the vote in 1893 and carried it every year to the legislature for 20 years.
Ms. McCulloch created the strategy of working for partial suffrage in Illinois – seeking access to those elections not constitutionally limited to men – which included some municipal and township offices, and presidential electors.
Note: At some point in 2020, an historic marker on the National Votes for Women Trail will be placed for Ms. McCulloch in the park named for her in north Evanston.
4. African American women were involved in the suffrage movement in Illinois, and Evanston women were connected. As the African American population in Evanston grew in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Black women formed clubs and organizations to work on various causes and advocate for their community.
The Black auxiliary of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the Julia Gaston Club, and the Iroquois League, among many others, all were women’s organizations engaged in philanthropic and political activities in Evanston.
Although work for women’s voting rights was not often mentioned, the Ladies Colored Republican Club of Evanston was actively working in this time period. Black women’s Republican clubs were one of the primary venues for activism on voting rights issues in Illinois, and it is likely that the Evanston group was very much engaged on this issue as well.
5. Partial suffrage worked. An important early expansion of women’s voting rights in Illinois occurred in 1891, when the state legislature passed a school suffrage bill, allowing women to vote in school board elections.
In 1892, Evanston held its school board election, and Louise Brockaway Stanwood won, making her the first woman elected to public office in Evanston.
Catharine Waugh McCulloch’s legislation for the partial ballot for women was introduced once again in 1913. New tactics worked, and in June of 1913 Illinois women won partial suffrage. Illinois women now had the right to vote in all elections where their voting was not specifically prohibited, including for presidential electors. This gave them national political power.
In the next national election, in 1916, more than 200,000 women voted in Chicago alone – and their votes influenced the outcome of the Presidential election.
After the 1913 Illinois law passed, Evanston women continued to work on the state and national level to achieve full suffrage rights throughout the U.S. Evanston women celebrated when the 19th amendment was ratified first by Illinois in June 1919 and again when it was made law in August of 1920.
While the 19th Amendment was a major victory and cause for celebration, it did not mean an end to the suffrage story. Many women still struggled to exercise their right to vote, especially women of color. Voting rights remained an important issue then and is the focus of concern for many Evanston citizens today.
The story of the long struggle for women’s right to vote helps promote understanding of the importance of citizenship and the struggle that women endured to attain it. In knowing this history of the long fight for the 19th Amendment, it is hoped, will encourage everyone to value their citizenship rights, to use and protect those rights, and not take them for granted.
All images, which were submitted by Ms. Osborn, have sources from the Evanston History Center collection or are from the Library of Congress.
Calendar of 19th Amendment Anniversary Activities
- Through Aug. 30, Suffrage Sundays video premiers from the Frances Willard House Museum – more here.
- Aug.17, 4-6 p.m., WTTW community screening and conversation of American Experience: The Vote – sharing the Illinois suffrage story and how it relates to issues today. More here.
- Aug. 18-26, Do-It-Yourself Suffrage March. More here.
- Aug. 25, 6-7 p.m., Voting Rights Symposium hosted by the Woman’s Club of Evanston in partnership with the Illinois Holocaust Museum. More here.
- Aug. 26 – “Evanston Women and the Fight for the Vote” exhibit reopening at Evanston History Center – more here.
10 a.m., Facebook live exhibit tour and Votes for Women Trail marker unveiling for Catharine Waugh McCulloch.
11 a.m. – 4 p.m., onsite exhibit open, reservations required.
- Sept. 17, 6-8 p.m., “Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers,” book launch with author Martha S. Jones. Hosted by Frances Willard House Museum, Northwestern University History Department, and Jane Addams Hull House Museum. More here.
- Additional events will be added through 2020 and into 2021.
Women’s Vote 100 Evanston is led by the Evanston Women’s History Project at the Evanston History Center and includes the following community partners: City of Evanston; Downtown Evanston; the Evanston Community Foundation; Evanston Made; the Evanston Public Library; the Frances Willard House Museum; the League of Women Voters of Evanston; North Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau; Northwestern University; Shorefront Legacy Center; the Woman’s Club of Evanston; the YWCA Evanston/North Shore.