Mar 04 2019

Ohio Women Voting Rights Struggle

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex”–Nineteenth Amendment, U.S. Constitution.

The struggle for women rights were first noted during the American Revolution but it did not come came to recognition until the Seneca Falls New York Women’s Convention in 1848. Then the suffrage movement gained momentum in Ohio. Ohio now became a battleground for women with major meetings taking place. In 1850, a convention was held Salem, OH and it then took on a life of its own with a meeting held in Akron in 1851. Frances Dana Barker Gage organized the Akron convention that escalated the fight for women’s rights and she led the next major National Woman’s Rights Convention held in Cleveland in 1853. Martha Coffin Wright presided over the 1855 women’s rights convention held in Cincinnati.

In 1869, the 15th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was proposed and ratified in 1870. The amendment read:

“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 on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.”

It did not include women. Newspaper editorials repeatedly noted that letting women vote would “derange” the social and political structure, “granting women suffrage is repugnant to instincts that strike their roots deep in the order of nature” and “men are doing the fighting, they should do the voting.”

In 1869 the American Suffrage Association formed by Lucy Stone & other conservative activists went to work exclusively for women’s suffrage, focused on amending individual State constitutions. From 1871 to 1876 the women in South Newbury, OH cast their votes in state, local & presidential election. Their votes were rejected. Ohio women who actively participated in this reform movement included Lucy Stone & Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Woman suffrage amendments to the Ohio Constitution were proposed by this group but were defeated by the Ohio General Assembly in 1888, 1890 & 1891. In 1894, Ohio women got the right to vote & serve on school boards. Cleveland women took a very active role in 1910 with women such as Belle Sherwin & Marie Jenny Howe to elect delegates to the Ohio constitutional convention. East Cleveland voters adopted a new charter that allowed women to vote in municipal elections. The Board of Elections challenged the charter provision but the Ohio Supreme Court decided that the Lakewood women had the right to vote in municipal elections. The lead attorney for the suffragist case was Florence E. Allen. Florence Allen became the first woman elected to the Ohio Supreme Court in 1920. In 1917; the Ohio Assembly passed an amendment giving Ohio women the right to vote in presidential elections. The anti-suffragists got the referendum on the ballot. The referendum lost by very small margin & it provided the women the encouragement that they needed to pursue their voting rights.

In 1918, the US House voted in favor of 19th amendment to the Constitution and the Senate passed it in June 1919. It now was sent to the States to ratify the amendment. In order for the amendment to the Constitution to pass it needed approval by 36 of the 48 States. Ohio was the 5th State to ratify the amendment on June 16, 1919.

By the summer of 1920, 35 of the 36 necessary to ratify the 19th amendment was before the Tennessee General Assembly. The State Senate had voted to ratify it & it was sent to the House. On August 18, 1920 the Tennessee House voted “Yes” granting women the full right to vote.

The work of these women took 52 years of mounting 277 campaigns to get State party conventions to include woman suffrage planks in party platforms & 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses.

The first 6 women elected to the Ohio Legislature in 1922 were:
Nettie Mackenzie Clapp, Cleveland
Lulu Thomas Gleason, Lucas Cty
Nettie Bromley Loughead, Cincinnati
Adelaide Sterling Ott, Youngstown
May Martin Van Wye, Cincinnati
Maude Comstock Waitt, Cleveland

Written by: Mary Anne Christie

Ohio women voting rights struggle