Women's Suffrage: Adding Up the Ratification Column

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
by Carrie Chapman Catt and Nettie Rogers Shuler
The Legal Tests Begin
Last of All Suffrage Conventions

Adding Up the Ratification Column

The year 1920 opened with the National Suffrage Association wrestling with a difficult problem in arithmetic: Twenty-two States had ratified; three more, Rhode Island, Kentucky and New Jersey, were expected to ratify at regular sessions, and the Governors of eight more, Oregon, Wyoming, Indiana, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico and West Virginia had promised special sessions in order to ratify. But 22 and 3 and 8 to do not make 36. It was believed that the two enfranchised States of Washington and Oklahoma would not hold out against the appeal of their parties for special sessions when so many States should have been won that only the mysterious unknown 36th must be found. But 22 and 3 and 8 and 2 do not make 36. The Governors of Vermont and Connecticut, both anti-suffragists but with Legislatures favorable to suffrage, might succumb to party appeal and thus bring the last State without a battle. If their hostility should continue, there was still Delaware to offer hope of completing the sum in suffrage addition.

On the other hand, there was the possible Supreme Court decision which might make State referendum laws apply to federal amendments, in which case ratification by November, 1920, would undoubtedly be prevented. With this very object in view the fight of the wet forces was still going on. The president of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage sent frequent wires to the Governors, one of which read:

?In behalf of this organization of women determined to uphold the constitution of the United States and the federal principle embodied in State's Rights doctrines upon which our government rests, I express profound respect to you for withstanding the pressure to which suffrage leaders boldly proclaim they are subjecting you and to which they boast you must eventually accede. We infer, you understand, that ratification cannot stand the legal tests bound to ensue in the courts, and that these cases, should ratification be obtained in time for women to vote this year, would hold up the election result and throw the country into political chaos, possibly necessitating a second election.?

In the meantime to show that the predictions of ?political chaos? were not taken too seriously, five States ratified in rapid succession in January-Rhode Island, Kentucky, Oregon, Indiana and Wyoming.

In Rhode Island the State auxiliary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association had asked for a special session as soon as the Federal Amendment was submitted. Governor R. Livingston Beeckman objected to a special session because of expense and because other issues might be presented, but he agreed to do as Republican leaders of the State should decide. On June 27, 1919, these leaders had met in Providence and by an overwhelming majority had voted to recommend to the Governor that no session be held. The Governor had then issued a statement containing the following: ?The calling of a special session is a power that should be used in a most careful manner and only at a time of grave necessity. . . . Within the short period of six months the resolution will come before the General Assembly in regular session and I believe there is no public necessity of calling a special session at this time or that the cause of woman suffrage will be in any way delayed or hindered by this course. Personally I am earnestly in favor of ratification.?

By coming out for early action two influential Rhode Island Republicans, Colonel Colt and ex-Senator Lippitt, threw consternation into the ranks of the leaders. Moreover, to remove the Governor's objections the Providence Journal twice offered, in writing, to defray the expenses of an extra session, while the Democratic State Central Committee agreed not to press the property qualification for voters and the soldiers' bonus if the session were held. Through July and August of 1919 suffragists had worked on the State indefatigably. Interviews were held with the Governor, and the Governor in turn had conferences with the Republican State Central Committee, all apparently to no purpose. On September 29, seventy women, representing various State organizations, visited the Governor. While admitting that offers had been made to meet his two objections, he professed not to see any difference between an early session and one in January.

By this time women all over the country had become suspicious of the good intent of the major parties to put ratification through quickly, and in none of the States more so than in Rhode Island. Rhode Island papers began to discuss ?the hidden forces? that were preventing ratification. The good faith of Mr. Will Hays, chairman of the National Republican organization, was impugned by the Providence papers. Women in the political organizations were warned editorially to be on guard against putting party before principle if they wanted suffrage to win.

At all events there was no special session in Rhode Island, and the date of the regular session, January 6, found the women keyed up to press hard for ratification on the first day, lest there be some contretemps. When Senate and House came together to receive the Governor's message on that first day, he said to them: ?I unqualifiedly approve the ratification of this amendment and urge that it be accomplished without a day's delay.?

One of three dissenting votes in the House was cast by the Speaker, Hon. Arthur P. Sumner, a life-long enemy of woman suffrage, who asked the privilege of casting the first vote against. In the Senate Lieut.-Governor Emery J. San Souci, a friend of suffrage, was in the chair and within a few moments, with no speeches and only one vote against, that of John H. McCabe, Democrat, of Burrillville, ratification was accomplished.

Few knew that when the measure was submitted to the Senate only a last minute compromise prevented its going to committee overnight. Fifteen Senators were bent on delaying action for a day in order to show the Governor that ?the Senate was not a rubber stamp for his office.? Such petty jealousies of authority had crippled the giving of suffrage from the beginning-and would cripple it to the end. In the Rhode Island case fortunately the leader of the insurgents gave up his plans and voted with others under suspension of rules.

In Kentucky the president of the State auxiliary of the National Suffrage Association had polled members of the Legislature at the time that they were up for election, and enough favorable replies had been then received to insure ratification. As early as June 6, Governor James D. Black publicly stated that he would not call a special session. He did not change his mind. September 3, the Democratic State Convention met in Louisville. It had been rumored that an effort would be made to ignore the amendment and substitute a plank favoring a State referendum. President Wilson sent the following telegram: ?Both as the leader of the party and as a student of existing conditions throughout the world, I venture to urge with the utmost earnestness that the State Convention include in its platform a plank in favor of the Suffrage Amendment. It would serve mankind and the party by so doing.?

Attorney-General A. Mitchell Palmer, later candidate for President of the United States, wrote to Senator W. A. Perry of Louisville earnestly urging ?early favorable action on the ratification resolution.? The only fight in the adoption of the entire platform was whether to call on the coming Legislature to ratify the Federal Suffrage Amendment or to submit suffrage to a State referendum. As finally passed the plank read: ?We favor the ratification by the Legislature of Kentucky at its next session of the amendment to the Constitution of the United States extending to women this right of suffrage and we urge our representatives in the Legislature of Kentucky and all executive or other officers to use their votes and influence, in every legitimate way, to bring about the ratification of same. We pledge ourselves to support in the next General Assembly, if the Federal Amendment has not become operative by that time, the submission of an amendment to the State Constitution granting suffrage to women on the same terms as to men and when the amendment is submitted to support it at the polls as a party measure.?

Ratification was completed January 6, 1920, during the regular session of the Legislature. There was little debate in the lower House, but Senate action was delayed until a proposition to submit the question of ratification to a statewide referendum was rejected.

In Oregon, from June to September of 1919, letters from legislators, organizations and individuals flowed into Governor Ben W. Olcott's office, to urge a special session which he persistently refused to call. It was on July 25 that the Governor named the conditions under which he would call a session as follows: ?In offering to call a special session in the event that a majority of members of both Houses request it and with the understanding that they pay their own expenses, I am taking into consideration the fact that the matter of ratification is one lying solely within the province of the Legislature. The executive officers have power neither to veto nor approve a resolution of ratification. . . . For this reason I feel if a majority of the members wish it they should be given an early opportunity to act upon the question, but in so doing they must act at their own expense and not at the expense of the State.? And, he added, ?no other legislation must be considered.? With these terms, which no other Governor had yet imposed, ratification met more serious difficulties in Oregon, a full suffrage State, than those presented by any other State.

The excuse of expense did not seem valid. As the legislators were paid only three dollars a day and mileage the entire cost would be within $5,000. Members of the Oregon auxiliary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association promptly agreed to raise $6,000, and proceeded with the roll of the legislators according to the Governor's demands. That they did not secure the required number of pledges was due to the fact that members resented the Governor's requirements to pay their own expenses and not take up other legislation. Mrs. Alexander Thompson, the only woman member of the Legislature, wrote the Governor at once, offering to waive her per diem and expenses, pointed out that if the Western Governors continued to say that they would call a special session ?if needed to complete ratification? no headway would be made, and concluded, ?By prompt action on your part we will help to inspire other States and pave the way for the settlement of this question.? The Governor's answer was an announcement in the press that he would call an extra session at State expense when and if Oregon was needed to make thirty-six ratifications.

On November 5, the president of the National Suffrage Association, who was making a western trip in the interest of ratification, speaking at the Multnomah Hotel, Portland, with reference to action in Oregon, said: ?One of the unfortunate things about our 48 States is the fact that each is so ignorant and so uninterested in the problems of each other. . . . The effect of your indifference is this: Our people are saying, 'These Western women don't care anything about the vote or they would see that we get it too.' Do you see the responsibility? I don't blame your Governor who says there is no demand. I ask you to create this demand, not boisterously, not bitterly. Don't try to force a special session but find out why he objects, and then meet conditions. If he doesn't want other legislation then let legislators confer with him.? Following this meeting a special committee interviewed the Governor appealing for a special session on the ground that they wanted women of non-suffrage States to receive whatever moral support there might be in early ratification.

It was just after this call on the Governor that there developed ?other and more important reasons? for calling a session than to approve the Suffrage Amendment. The provisions of the Roosevelt Highway Bill, as it had passed the previous State Legislature, were in conflict with those of the Government Road Aid Bill. With this discovery newspapers urged Senators and Representatives to use their influence to induce the Governor to call the session, which he finally did for January 12, 1920. Within twenty minutes from the time the two branches met, each had adopted unanimously a joint resolution to ratify the Suffrage Amendment.

When Governor James P. Goodrich of Indiana was importuned to call a special session early in June of 1919 by members of the Indiana auxiliary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association he replied that if thirty-five other States would call their Legislatures he would do so. He submitted a plan to the president of the National Suffrage Association, which she approved, and on June 13, he wired the Governors of thirty-one States as follows: ?The sentiment here is for ratification but before deciding upon the advisability of calling the Indiana Legislature, I am anxious to obtain the sentiment of other States whose Legislatures do not meet in ordinary session this year. . . . Are you willing to call a special session of your General Assembly in the event that a sufficient number of other States decide to take the same action in order to insure early ratification?? On June 28, the Governor wrote Indiana legislators regarding a special session for the first week in September and asked whether by proper resolution or by general agreement action could be limited to matters contained in the call.

Uneasiness immediately began to manifest itself among State officials and Republican leaders. They feared efforts would be made to amend or repeal the new tax law, that other questions would be injected, that it might be difficult for the Republicans to organize satisfactorily, since half a dozen candidates for Speaker of the House had appeared, and so on.

No public statement followed as the result of the Governor's correspondence and when, July 30, it was found that he had postponed the call indefinitely suffragists in turn became uneasy and then indignant. To all demands he replied, ?There is no need for a session at this time. Further than that I have nothing to say.? Women all over the State held indignation meetings and the Governor was deluged with protests from all kinds of Indiana organizations. July melted into August, August had been replaced by September and in turn by October, November and December. Still no action. On December 30 the Governor gave a plan to the officers of the Indiana auxiliary of the National Suffrage Association. It was: if the women could pledge two-thirds of the members of both Houses to come for a day and to consider nothing but ratification he would call the session.

Public sentiment was tremendously aroused over the Governor's proposal, and press and people commented freely and often fiercely on it.

Yet what was demanded the women did, and on January 13, 1920, they presented to the Governor written pledges from thirty-six Senators and seventy Representatives, and the session was called for January 16. The Senate and House met that day in joint session to hear the Governor's message. In the Senate, action was delayed for two or three hours by the final wails of three antis, Oliver Kline, Huntington; Charles A. Hagerty, South Bend; and Franklin McCray, Indianapolis. The vote silenced them. As soon as the House passed the resolution a waiting band struck up ?Glory, Glory, Hallelujah.?

Robert D. Carey, Governor of Wyoming, polled the Legislature himself for a voluntary session, although no one but suffrage leaders knew that it was being done and that on the result depended the call. The session was held January 26, and the vote was unanimous in both Houses.

When the envoys sent by the National American Woman Suffrage Association had called upon Governor Emmet D. Boyle of Nevada they had found him opposed to a special session because of expense. One of the envoys suggested the plan, which was afterwards put into effect, of securing the consent of the entire Legislature that only a quorum of members from nearby communities should be assembled, to consider ratification only, the women to serve as clerks. The Governor agreed to write the members and assured the women that if the one-day plan was not feasible, another would be made. Again at a meeting held in Reno in November, 1919, attended by the president of the National Suffrage Association, the Governor publicly announced that he would call a session.

Finally the call was issued and the Legislature met February 7, 1920, after an agreement to which the women were a party that the cost was not to exceed $1,000. To meet the expense the women of Carson City arranged to give legislators free room and board during the session. In his message to the Legislature the Governor said: ?While no certainty exists that the favorable action of Nevada will in 1920 assure to the women of the United States the same voting privileges which our women enjoy by virtue of our State law, it does appear certain that without our favorable action the cause of national suffrage may be delayed for such a time as to withhold the right to vote at a Presidential election from millions of the women of America.?

In the Senate the vote was unanimous. In the House Mrs. Hurst, the one woman member, introduced the resolution to ratify and presided during roll call. Representative W. O. Ferguson cast the one vote against, announcing that he ?was opposed to having the people of Nevada tell the women of the Union whether or not they should vote.?

The ratification column now footed up 28-and only 28.