Votes for Women – The 1920 Ratification Campaign

Grace Raymond Hebard and Carrie Chapman Catt

Ribbon: “Votes for Women.” American Heritage Center, Box 77, Grace Raymond Hebard papers.

On June 4, 1919, the Senate passed the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment stated: “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.” The action of Congress, however, did not enfranchise a single female. Thirty-six states had to ratify the amendment before it could go into force.

The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), led by Carrie Chapman Catt, had much work to do to convince the necessary number of state legislators to give their support. NAWSA embarked on an intensive state by state campaign to convince generally all-male legislatures to admit a massive new number of voters to the rolls. Fifteen states had already given their women full voting rights. Catt reached out to women in those places asking them to share their experiences. Among those who answered Catt’s call was Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard of Wyoming.

Grace Raymond Hebard posing for a photo circa 1920
Photograph: Grace Raymond Hebard, about 1920. American Heritage Center, Photo Biographical Files, Hebard, Grace Raymond.

Grace Hebard was born in 1861 in Clinton, Iowa. She received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Iowa in 1882 and moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, to work as a draftsman and surveyor in the United States Land Office. This was an unusual position for a woman, but it did not satisfy Hebard’s ambition. She went on to earn a Master’s degree in 1885 and a Ph.D. in 1893. She was appointed to the University of Wyoming’s Board of Trustees in 1891 and became a member of the Wyoming Bar Association in 1898. She was University Librarian and head of the University’s Political Economy Department by 1908. Still underemployed, she found time to support American troops in World War I and work with foreign-born residents seeking citizenship. Always an active advocate for women, in 1920 she was tapped by Carrie Chapman Catt. Catt’s telegram of April 12 was explicit: “To get thirty sixth state mobilizing one woman each state[.] Want you Wyoming…Want you and you only.”[1]

Telegram: Carrie Chapman Catt to Grace Raymond Hebard requesting help in securing passage of the 19th amendment, April 12, 1920.
Telegram: Carrie Chapman Catt to Grace Raymond Hebard requesting help in securing passage of the 19th amendment, April 12, 1920. American Heritage Center, Box 21, Folder 6, Grace Raymond Hebard papers.

Catt wanted these women to persuade the governor of Connecticut to call a special session of the legislature to ratify women’s suffrage. Many states had already dismissed their legislative sessions and did not plan to call another one until 1921. But that would occur after the presidential election of 1920 and would deny women the chance to participate in the national elections for another four years. Catt summoned her forces and distributed her talking points. The women were instructed to point out the political consequences of delay. “Parties must make no mistake as to depth of women’s feeling…In Connecticut, it is the Republican [P]arty that will be held responsible.”[2]

Hebard had some strategies of her own. In New York, on her way to Connecticut, she attracted the attention of the press: “Dr. Grace Hebbard [sic], [3] of Laramie, Wyo., paid no attention to the skyscrapers when she arrived for the first time on Broadway last night…The first thing which stimulated her curiosity in New York was the headquarters of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. ‘I never saw an anti-suffragist,’ she said last night at the Hotel McAlpin,…’You know out in Wyoming we have had woman suffrage for fifty years and there is no such thing as an anti-suffrage man in our state – much less a woman…I want to go around there and see what those women are like. I cannot imagine what they have to say for their point of view.’”

The Connecticut suffragists and their guests toured the state, then had a hearing before the governor and held a public rally on May 7. Nevertheless, Governor Marcus H. Holcomb refused to call the special session. Then in August, Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the 19th amendment, and the question of whether women would vote in the 1920 elections was settled. Suddenly Catt’s threat had teeth. The new voters had the power to punish obstructionists. Holcomb reversed course and called a special session for September. Connecticut ratified on September 21, 1920, in time to avoid backlash in the November elections.[4]

  • letter from Ruth McIntire Dadourian to Grace Raymond Hebard giving instructions for speakers in Connecticut
  • Speaking Points document: ideas for speakers at the governor’s hearing and rally in Connecticut.

Ironically, Wyoming had followed a similar path. The collaboration between Hebard and Catt had been established when Catt came to Wyoming in November 1919 to help persuade Governor Robert D. Carey to call a special legislative session to make Wyoming the first state to ratify the 19th amendment. Carey refused. Wyoming had never had a special session, special sessions were expensive, Wyoming’s women already had the right to vote, so there was no need to burden legislators with a long trip in winter. Catt, Hebard, and the twenty-five other women of the Wyoming Ratification Committee were turned away. But Carey, too, changed his mind and summoned his legislators out in January of 1920 because “the opponents of suffrage have been using as an argument against granting equal rights to women that Wyoming had not ratified for the reason that suffrage had proved a failure in this State…[W]e could not allow such a charge to be unchallenged.” Wyoming became the 27th state to ratify on January 28th.[5]

Grace Raymond Hebard and Carrie Chapman Catt, and several other women posing for a photo outside. Probably taken in 1921 when Catt was in Laramie to accept an honorary doctorate from the University of Wyoming.
Photograph: Grace Raymond Hebard and Carrie Chapman Catt, probably taken in 1921 when Catt was in Laramie to accept an honorary doctorate from the University of Wyoming.

Catt’s friendship with Hebard and her association with Wyoming did not end there. In 1921 the University of Wyoming conferred its first honorary doctorate degree. The honoree chosen was Carrie Chapman Catt. “We all know,” wrote Ida Husted Harper of NAWSA’s Bureau of Suffrage Education to Grace Raymond Hebard, “that you were back of the idea of conferring the doctor’s degree on Mrs. Catt  and we think it was one of the best things you ever did, and you have done so many.”[6]

[1] Telegram, Carrie Chapman Catt to Grace Raymond Hebard, April 12, 1920, Box 21, Folder 6, Grace Raymond Hebard papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming
[2] “Speaking Points,” undated typescript, Box 21, Folder 6, Hebard papers
[3] “Advance Guard of Suffrage Emergency Corps Arrives,” clipping from New York Tribune, May 2, 1920, Box 21, Folder 6, Hebard papers
[4] Press release by National American Woman Suffrage Association, April 22, 1920, Box 21, Folder 7, Hebard papers; Letter, Ruth McIntire Dadourian to Grace Raymond Hebard, May 4, 1920, Box 21, Folder 6, Hebard papers; “The Long Road to Women’s Suffrage in Connecticut,” Connecticut Explored,
[5] “Ratification of National Woman Suffrage Amendment…Governor Carey’s Message,” typescript, Box 21, Folder 6, Hebard papers; “Wyoming Ratifies the 19th Amendment,”
[6] University of Wyoming, Past Honorary Degree Recipients,;  letter, Ida Husted Harper to Grace Raymond Hebard, Dec. 23, 1921, Box 32, Folder 29, Hebard papers

Blog contribution by D. Claudia Thompson, Processing Manager, American Heritage Center


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