This week marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.
Though the U.S. Congress approved the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919, it was not ratified until Aug. 18, 1920. The nationwide movement started more than two decades before the issue landed in Congress when women across the country launched protests, rallies, marches and even acts of civil disobedience.
The suffrage march took root in the 1800s with the amendment finally getting introduced in 1878. Some women pushed for passing voting laws in each state, with nine western states adopting suffrage legislation by 1912. Others worked to expand state laws that limited voting to men. The first states to ratify the 19th amendment were Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin on June 10, 1919. Ohio ratified it on June 16, 1919. The last hurdle was cleared a year later in Tennessee when it became the 36th state to vote yes.
Women from Ohio played an important role in the suffrage movement. Two of the earliest women’s rights conventions were held in Ohio. The Ohio Women’s Convention of 1850 was the first women’s rights gathering outside of New York State and the first statewide women’s rights convention. More than 500 attended, including many anti-slavery activists.
A year later, during the Ohio Women’s Rights convention in Akron, Sojourner Truth spoke about black women and equality. As a first step, women in Ohio won the right to vote in board of education races in 1894. But they were unable to take part in other statewide or national elections.
Down the road in Warren, Ohio, a house that suffragette Harriet Taylor Upton called home has been preserved as a museum. Mrs. Upton, mentored by Susan B. Anthony, was a leading advocate in Ohio for women’s suffrage. Her father, Ezra B. Taylor, was a Republican congressman. Her house in Warren became the temporary center of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1903 before the group moved its headquarters to New York City. Mrs. Upton was one of the first women elected to a local school board in 1898, four years after Ohio allowed women to run for this office.
Florence E. Allen of Cleveland was a lawyer and suffragette. She traveled to 66 of Ohio’s 88 counties to speak to farmers and union members to raise money for the women’s movement. In 1914, she opened her own law practice – unheard of in those days. When women finally got the right to vote, she was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court and in 1934 was appointed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Also active in the movement was Hallie Quinn Brown of Wilberforce, Ohio, who was born to freed slaves. She graduated from Wilberforce University, worked as a teacher in Dayton and later became dean of women at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. A gifted speaker, she spread the word about civil rights, temperance and women’s suffrage.
Pauline Perlmutter Steinem was the first woman elected to the Toledo school board in 1904. After the Ohio amendment failed in 1912, her voice was heard during national marches, along with thousands of other women.
Bettie Wilson of Cincinnati was a public school teacher and won a school board seat in Hartwell, Ohio in 1896.
Belle Sherwin of Cleveland was a founder of the Consumers League of Ohio, a group that pushed for fair wages and safe working conditions for women in the 1900s. She was known to give passionate soap-box speeches as women pushed for the ratification of the 19thAmendment.
These are just some of the women from Ohio who took part in the national suffrage movement. It is a momentous anniversary that reminds us all of the importance of voting. Regardless of your political party or personal beliefs on issues, voting is the cornerstone of our democracy.
Voting is your constitutional right and your civil duty. Voting is your voice.
Honor the women who fought for this right and remember to cast your ballot on Nov. 3.