Women Could Vote Before The 19th Amendment

“I know nothing of man’s rights, or woman’s rights, human rights are all that I recognise.” —Sarah Grimke

In A Nutshell

We’ve all heard about the women’s suffrage movement and how women were finally given the right to vote with the approval of the 19th amendment. But in truth, many states had already granted women the right to vote—just not all states. Women in Wyoming had been voting since 1890, with Colorado following close behind in 1893. The 19th amendment, approved in 1919, forced all states to follow what many were already doing.

The Whole Bushel

Passing the 19th Amendment was a long and tedious journey. The process started in 1878 with the introduction of the amendment to Congress, but it wasn’t until May 21, 1919 that it was finally passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Tennessee ratified the amendment on August 18, 1920, and that’s when it became official.

Most of our history lessons leave it at that: With the 19th Amendment, all women were given the right to vote.

While that’s true, that also gives the impression that no women in the United States were allowed voting privileges before that—and that’s very, very far from the truth.

Fifteen states had already granted women the right to vote, starting with Wyoming in 1890 and Colorado in 1893. South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Michigan also extended them voting rights a year before Congress voted in favor of it.

Some areas of the countries gave women the right to vote before they had even become states. The territories of Wyoming, Utah, Washington, Montana, and Alaska weren’t states yet when they opened up their voting polls to women.

And some states didn’t give women full voting privileges, but did allow them to vote in presidential elections. Illinois was letting women vote for the president in 1913, and was closely followed by Nebraska, Ohio, and Indiana.

In fact, only 21 states were still keeping women completely from the polls by the time the 19th Amendment was passed, and many of these were the original 13 colonies.

There was actually nothing in the Constitution or federal law that specified voting privileges could be denied to anyone on the basis of their gender. It also didn’t specify that voting rights were equal, though, and that’s the issue addressed by the 19th Amendment.

Not surprisingly, the western states tended to be much more progressive when it came to women’s rights. By the time the 19th Amendment forced many southern and eastern states to allow women the right to vote, Montana had already elected a woman to one of their seats in the House of Representatives.

Interestingly, in most states, women were far from voiceless when it came to passing legislation and organizing social reforms. The Progressive Movement was a period in American history during which many political leaders looked toward their female counterparts for guidance in the country’s social reforms. President Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most ardent supporters of the movement, but it was also pre-19th-Amendment that Jane Addams changed the face of social work forever, that journalist Ida B. Wells exposed the real statistics behind widespread lynchings in the south, and journalist Ida Tarbell was fundamental in exposing corruption in big business and starting the movement toward anti-monopoly legislation.

Being a woman was a double-edged sword. Those in favor of women having a vote and a voice deemed them the holders of the highest morals, and the best for steering the country in a direction that would benefit all. On the other side of the coin were those that disagreed with movements whose supporters were mostly women—namely, the temperance movement—and attempted to paint a picture of irresponsible women whose voice was best heard in the home.

The result was battles fought on the state level alongside those fought on a national level, and varying degrees of success across the country.

Show Me The Proof

National Archives & Records Administration: The 19th Amendment
National Constitution Center: A Constitutional Timeline
US Senate: Women’s Voting Rights
Life Before Women’s Suffrage
Regents Prep US History: Progressive Era Reform

  • flicka

    Funny how this is so reminiscent of the gay marriage debate. It will be interesting to see if supporters of gay marriage see the same success.

    • lee

      The church shouldn’t be forced to marry the gays, i hate the church but it’s for them to decide what goes on.

      • Logan Rieck

        I agree with you, but I don’t believe churches are forced to marry homosexual couples.

        • lee

          Yes not now but thats what the gays want.

          • Ian Moone

            You don’t have to get married in a church. If you did then anyone who wasn’t Christian couldn’t be married.

          • lee

            i’m on about the gays are wanting have weddings in the church.

          • Ian Moone

            So what? If their Christians then why wouldn’t they have a wedding in a church.

          • Logan Rieck

            Because what their espousing, homosexual marriage, doesn’t fit the orthodox theology of Christianity and Christian sects and usually only extremely heretical and unbiblical denominations allow for homosexual marriage.

      • Hadeskabir

        Who the hell is forcing the church to marry gay couples? You don’t need to marry in a church, in fact what’s important is marrying legally, with the state recognizing the validity of your marriage. Religion doesn’t decide the legality of marriage, the government does.

        • Logan Rieck

          That’s a good point but many people, especially older, see marriage as a religious obligation and not as a matter of the state per se. This is why people don’t accept gay marriage, not because of discrimination against homosexuals but as a continuation of the form of matrimony as founded in the Bible by God in Genesis, and explicitly mentioned by Jesus Christ in the Gospels for Judeo-Christians.

          Basically, to Christians, having homosexuals being married to one another is akin to a Muslim being baptized, not because he wants to be a Christian but because he sees the people around them doing it so he wants to as well.

          • Hadeskabir

            But religion is separated from state. Just because Christians or other religions don’t like it or think it isn’t right, it doesn’t mean it should be illegal. Marriage is no longer something strictly religious, it’s a legal contract between spouses that establishes rights and obligations between them. Many people don’t marry in churches nowadays. If marriage was something religious that means that someone who wasn’t religious couldn’t get married. Homosexual marriage should be legal all over the world, religion as no say in what can be be legal or not.
            To the people who don’t like homosexual marriages: Please, by all means, DON’T HAVE ONE YOURSELF and let the ones who want it have it.

          • Logan Rieck

            Religion operates in people’s lives and determines how they will make choices as will any philosophy do and the people can make choices along these influences. If they believe homosexuals shouldn’t be married it isn’t because they’re homophobic (I’m not quite sure how not allowing homosexuals to marry was reduced to homophobia, a bit illogical there) but because they feel it is become a rather sacred and symbolic institution despite whether it is operated in secular or religious grounds.

            It’s not as easy as, “Don’t have one yourself,” if someone doesn’t like it. Religion may be separated from the state but that doesn’t mean the religious sentiments and feelings of the people cannot directly influence the government of the people, it must represent them and must guide them to the greater good.

          • bslumberg

            Religion is not separated from state, though some people would like that to be true. For decades, Christian worship services were held in the U.S. Capitol building and U.S. Treasury building. These services were attended by some of the founders of our country. Don’t you think they would have known if the services they supported were a violation of the 1st amendment they had written?

        • lee

          No you’re wrong, in the uk they have civil partnerships, which is a legally binding contract but now they want to get married like normal people in a church.

          • Hadeskabir

            This is the first time I’ve heard of homosexuals wanting to marry in a church. It makes no sense to want to marry in a place where you aren’t accepted and that it’s extremely homophobic as the church.

          • Ian Moone

            Well gay Christians probably want to get married in a church. They would just do it in a non-homophobic one.

          • Hadeskabir

            According to Christianity being homosexual is a sin and a homosexual can’t be a good Christian because he will go to hell. I saw one that there was a christian church open to homosexuals, maybe that is the solution.

          • bslumberg

            There are a lot of things that are sins, and all people are sinners. If Christian churches prevented sinners from attending services, they would be empty, and there would be no purpose served. Christian churches have always been, necessarily, open to sinners.

          • Jiminy Kricketts

            solution to what? acceptance in man’s eyes or god’s? basically our decision to the question of ‘who is king?’ will ultimately determine our fate. is the answer, ‘you’ or ‘god’? choose wisely, because your answer will determine the next step of your eternal existence.

      • flicka

        I just meant the discrepancy in laws that occurs among states. I don’t do religious arguments.

      • Ian Moone

        You don’t get married in a church. You have a wedding there. Marriage is a legally binding contract. A wedding is just a ceremony. The two are very different.

        • Jake Folley

          Wrong. Marriage is from the Church too, not just the State. Marriage predates any government in the US.

  • Very interesting article. Just one question: How come the western states tended to be more progressive?

    • flicka

      I think it’s a time zone thing. Sun rises there almost 3 hours earlier. 🙂

      • powder99

        On my planet, the sun rises in the West later than in the East. I live on the blue one, 3rd from the sun.

        • flicka

          Lol oh my how embarrassing! You are absolutely right! Okay New rule…I am not allowed to comment before coffee is made!

    • g.g.palin

      I think because making a life for yourself in the west early on was difficult. So they were more likely to recognize the rights of more people than the east which was more traditional.

    • Erika Frensley

      For some territories, it was because extending women voting rights allowed women to be counted in the voting population census to become a state. To become a state, only voters could be counted, and those territories really wanted the benefits of statehood.

    • James Dangle

      Those territories and states wanted more men to help with expansion. Back then what was the easiest way to get a single man to move somewhere? Have more single women. What was the easiest way to get women to move there? Give them the right to vote.

      • Luke Smith

        Nope Women simply ran and owned a significant stake in business and land already. They pretty much ran the towns on the frontier.

    • Ian Moone

      Probably because they were made mostly of immigrants. Someone isn’t going to travel thousands of miles just to deny other people their rights.

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      • Luke Smith

        I don’t know if you know this but pretty much everyone involved was an immigrant so that theory is null.

    • bslumberg

      The word progressive in that context means moving forward. The current Progressive movement is an authoritarian political philosophy to centralize control of individuals. Same situation as with the word “liberal”. Originally, it meant those who supported individual liberty, like current Libertarians. Now, it’s used by the same authoritarian Progressives. There are such authoritarians in both major political parties. Ask yourself when there has been a federal law that increases individual liberty at the expense of centralized federal control. Those in the western states were more interested in protection of individual liberty than those in the east, which were more politically connected.

    • Jake Folley

      Maybe the women had to pull more of their weight out on the frontier? Would explain treating them more like equals than their East Coast counterparts.

    • Luke Smith

      Women controlled allot of the businesses and properties on the frontier giving them significant stake and influence in politics and leadership of communities. Many of whom started running and owning bars and brothels, wash houses and laundry services for the workers on the front. These were very lucrative businesses that earned them a solid stake in the land by the time the federal government was established. It had nothing to do with understanding the hardship but respecting those with the earned power and influence through their merit and hard work. They say during a gold rush you sell shovels. But selling quality of life works well too.

  • Kennon Gilson

    Women actually voted in Revolutionary days and the early Republic. The early feminist movement worked to get rid of that apparently on the theory that it woulf boost female legal protections at that time.

  • Robert Downey

    Women could vote well before the 19th amendment in both the world outside the area know as the USA and with in it to. The Iroquois, like many First Nations peoples in North America, had a matrilineal kinship system. Property and descent were passed through the female line. Women elders voted on hereditary male chiefs and could depose them. Or in a more traditional European light, Sweden had conditional women’s suffrage was in effect during the Age of Liberty (1718–1771). Other places have per 19th amendment female suffrage include the Corsican Republic (1755), the Pitcairn Islands (1838), the Isle of Man (1881), and Franceville (1889). Some of those place wear short lived with varying level of independence, but even in the former colonies that now make up the USA In 1756, Lydia Taft became the first legal woman voter. This occurred under British rule in the Massachusetts Colony. In a New England town meeting in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, she voted on at least three occasions.Unmarried women who owned property could vote in New Jersey from 1776 to 1807. Many women of the world experienced unrestricted women’s suffrage pre 19th amendment, with the first still existing independent nation being New zealand in 1893.

  • WomenShouldn’tBeAbleToVote

    Women are too stupid to vote. If only men could vote, the country would have better elected officials.

    • Robert Downey

      A better way to see who should be eligible to vote, would be a short quiz give orally or written in the language of the potential voters choice. Nothing to complex maybe a few names, parties and policy related questions.

  • Goes to show how Human nature can be intolerant but progressiveness is becoming more and more as the age of mass information dissemination dawns on us…never can such levels of oppression go on unchallenged…thanksfully

  • Chester Field

    More and more men are going MGTOW!
    mgtow1.blogspot.com

  • cross

    although this article is true it leaves out why many of the 13 original colonies did not allow women to vote! new jersey was actually the first state on record to allow women to vote, however because of the fear of the black men voting they repealed it with the support of many women as did many other states at the time! feminist lecture courses also leave this fact out and it is a true shame!