On August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment was ratified, guaranteeing American women the right to vote. Before that date, Wyoming women had long been known for leading trailblazing efforts towards women’s rights. In 1869, the territory was the first in the United States to grant universal suffrage to women. The rest of the country was slower to adopt such a progressive attitude towards extending the voting franchise. But by 1916, the National Committee of the Republican Party had gone on the record favoring women’s suffrage. The National American Woman Suffrage Association, headed by Carrie Chapman Catt, was actively engaged in organizing suffragettes who were lobbying politicians across the country. One of those suffragettes was University of Wyoming Professor Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard, a professor of Political Economy.
Thirty-six states were needed to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote. Wisconsin began the process, becoming the first state to ratify in June 1919. By January 1920, pressure mounted on Wyoming. Opponents of suffrage pointed out that Wyoming’s delay in ratification implied that suffrage had failed in Wyoming. Governor Robert Carey and Wyoming senators, eager to disprove the naysayers, unanimously ratified the 19th Amendment in a special legislative session on January 26, 1920. Dr. Hebard presented the senators with roses to celebrate the occasion. The next day, the Wyoming House of Representatives followed suit, also unanimously voting to ratify. Again, Dr. Hebard brought out the flowers, this time presenting a red carnation to each member.
Dr. Hebard’s work towards ratification was not done. In April 1920, suffragist leader Carrie Champan Catt recruited Dr. Hebard to join her “Emergency Corps.”
By the time the telegram from Catt to Hebard arrived in Wyoming, thirty-five of the needed thirty-six states had voted to ratify. Urgency to get the 19th Amendment fully ratified reached a fever pitch. Women across the nation were eager to have the right to vote enacted before the November presidential election of 1920.
Catt’s “Emergency Corps” of women from 47 states was summoned to Connecticut in May of 1920. Their objective – persuade the people of the state to prevail upon their governor, Marcus H. Holcomb, to call a special session of the state legislature. The Republican-dominated legislature had already signaled they would vote in favor of ratification. But Governor Holcomb was reluctant to reconvene the legislature. Dr. Hebard and the other women from the “Emergency Corps” were dispatched across the state of Connecticut to give speeches in favor of the special session and an immediate ratification. Hebard said to the people of Connecticut, “I am not making a plea for myself. I have voted for 38 years. What man in the audience has for 38 consecutive years voted for every state, county and municipal election, and during 10 years of that time traveled 104 miles every time he voted?” When Hebard was invited to address Governor Holcomb, she came bearing flowers. Unfortunately, even with roses and forget-me-nots, Holcomb could not be persuaded to call the special session.
All was not lost on the ratification front. In the end, it was Tennessee that became the 36th state to vote in favor of passing the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920.
When Dr. Hebard received the news of ratification by telephone at her home in Laramie, she burst into applause, surprising the telephone operator. She is said to have “rejoiced more than words could say.” Hebard helped with the ringing of celebratory bells at Laramie’s Episcopal Cathedral honoring the long sought-after enfranchisement of women.
In theory, there were now 26 million adult American women eligible voters. In practice, Native American women were excluded as they were not considered to be American citizens at the time. And other non-white women faced impediments to voting including Jim Crow era poll taxes, literacy tests and voter ID requirements.
If this post has piqued your interest, you can learn more about the role University of Wyoming Professor Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard played in lobbying for ratification of the 19th Amendment by researching in her papers at UW’s American Heritage Center.
Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.