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(suffrage icon)1921

Theodora Youmans

How Wisconsin Women Won the Ballot

by Theodora W. Youmans
from the Wisconsin Magazine of History   1921

When the legislature of Wisconsin grasped the first available opportunity to ratify the amendment to the constitution of the United States abolishing sex as a qualification of voters, it closed a chapter of surpassing interest in the history of the state and ended a campaign which had continued actively for fifty years. The legislature passed a resolution ratifying the federal amendment on the morning of June 10, 1919. The Wisconsin Woman's Suffrage Association and its predecessor, The Woman Suffrage Association of the State of Wisconsin, which had led the movement since 1869, continued to function some months longer, in order to support, with money and influence, the efforts of the National American Woman Suffrage Association for the ratification of the amendment in other states. It formally dissolved, its work done, in March, 1920. The amendment was promulgated by the Secretary of State as the nineteenth amendment to the federal constitution in August, 1920, and Wisconsin women voted at the primary and general elections held a few weeks later.

Territorial Capitol

Moses M. Strong 1856

Discussion of woman suffrage had begun in Wisconsin even before Wisconsin had achieved statehood. There has long been a tradition in the state that the first constitutional convention, called in the territory in 1846, seriously considered the enfranchisement of women. An examination of the debate on suffrage in this convention, however, precludes that view. The enfranchisement of negroes and Indians and the naturalization of immigrants who were already swarming into the territory made one of the important problems of the convention and aroused vigorous debate. A Milwaukee member, James Magone, who had the reputation of being a wag, offered an amendment to the pending suffrage measure that the word "male" be stricken out and the right of suffrage be accorded females as well as males. Moses M. Strong urged that women should not be "tacked onto negroes." Mr. Magone insisted. The amendment was lost. The record suggests that the woman suffrage amendment was designed primarily to embarrass those members who favored liberal franchise provision for negro and foreign men.1

Edward G. Ryan

There was, however, one phase of "women's rights" which was seriously considered and was adopted by the convention--the ownership of property by married women. This provision was bitterly opposed by some members, one of them, Edward G. Ryan, who later became chief justice of the supreme court of Wisconsin, declaring "it violated both the customs of society and the express commands of the Bible." This married women's property clause was one of the reasons why the first constitution drafted was rejected by the voters.

The constitution drafted a year later was of a more conservative character; it became the constitution of the state of Wisconsin and has so remained up to this time. This constitution contained no provision for securing property to married women, but a law making such provision was passed by the legislature only two years after Wisconsin became a state.2

1Wisconsin Magazine of History. III, 227-30; Wisconsin Historical Collections. XXVII.

2Wis. Hist. Colls., XXVI, 43-45.