One-hundred years ago today congress ratified the 19th amendment giving white women the right to vote.
But women in Kansas, including Black women, had won the right to vote in local elections about 30 years earlier. It was a victory several decades in the making.
“In 1867 there was a campaign to pass women's suffrage as well as black suffrage (in Kansas),” said Katie Goerl, executive director of the Geary County Historical Society Museum.
In Geary County, which was at that time called Davis County, men were overwhelmingly against women and Blacks voting. Goerl said records show local voters, in 1867, voted 167 for and 364 against women voting and 183 to 383 against giving Black men the right.
Two decades later women’s suffrage would find its way back to the ballot. Meanwhile, in 1870 the 15th Amendment to the U.S.Constitution was ratified giving Black men voting rights.
“In (1887) 20 years after the first attempt to pass women’s suffrage, Kansas passed municipal suffrage,” Goerl said. “That allowed women to vote in local elections and gave them more say over local issues.”
A Union article dated Feb. 19, 1887 reported on the state legislation.
“Governor Martin signed the bill granting municipal suffrage to women,” the article states. “So far as results are concerned, we will only have more poppycock.”
The paper went on to say “In 1867 the people of Kansas voted on the suffrage question. For female suffrage 9,070 votes were polled, against 19,837. For negro suffrage 10,483, against 19,421 …The United States Congress gave us negro suffrage, and now the legislature gives us female suffrage. The campaign for the latter in 1867 was wild and uproarious.”
A month after winning the right to vote in local elections, women across the state began registering. The Junction City Daily Union printed a rundown of how many women registered in several cities across the state. Leavenworth led the state with 2,673 women registering, 617 of them were Black.
Junction City came in at the bottom of the list with 174 women registering, to which the Junction City Daily Union had this to say:
“In a few places there was a great deal of excitement and unusual efforts to induce the women to register. Considering the whoop and hurrah The Union kept up until the last minute, the women of Junction City have done poorly. The wort gag on this subject yet invented appears in a special from Arkansas City to the Wichita Eagle, in which we are told that the burly bulldozers of the Sunny South are given a few new wrinkles in cowdozing methods.
“A most thorough canvass has been made by the leaders of the woman suffrage movement to bring out all of the newly enfranchised voters. A few of the workers allowed their zeal to overcome their discretion and adopted cowdozing tactics to bring out their more backward sisters. All sorts of retribution was threatened, from a mild boycott to the wrath to come. One lady was given to understand that if she didn’t’ register and vote her husband who is a merchant would not be patronized.”
The Sunny South the writer spoke of was in reference to the yellow ribbon the woman suffragists of Kansas had adopted as their sign. They called it the Sunflower Badge.
While there may not have been as many women register to vote in Geary (Davis) County, those who were headed to the polls the first change they had.
“A huge majority of women in Geary … County who had registered to vote turned up at the polls,” Goerl said. “Of 174 women registered, 154 voted.”
Newspaper accounts following that election showed women expressed surprised at how easy the process was — much easier than housework or doing laundry, one woman was quoted as saying.
Although they could vote on local issues, women voices were not heard in national elections for another 25 years. On Nov. 5, 1912, Kansas voters approved the Equal Suffrage Amendment to the state constitution becoming the eighth state to grant full suffrage to women.
However, according to Goerl most men in Geary (Davis) County had voted against it. They weren’t alone in opposing women voting.
“There definitely were women who didn't support it,” Goerl said. “(women) who said, ‘This is just another responsibility. Women don't need this. The vote is in good hands as it is.’”
One editorial Goerl found summed up how some of the men felt about the women voting.
“A man in Junction City with a self-satisfied air handed out this argument to me the other day,” the article states. “I happen to know that in a recent election, his wife voted one way while he voted the other. I reminded him of the fact and added you know very well if your wife thought differently from you on any political question, you might work from now till Doomsday and you couldn’t change her without the good sound arguments with which to support yourself. Any honest man will tell you that woman in general has a mind of her own.”
One of the other pressing issues of the day may have contributed to men’s reluctance to give women the right to vote.
“It is entirely possible that they knew that giving women the right to vote would give the temperance movement, a lot more power,” Goerl said. “The saloons did a big business in Junction City, especially in the early days of the town. So, there were a lot of people who didn't want to see that changed.”
A state prohibition on alcohol took effect Jan. 1, 1881. However, a loophole allowed the people to go to drugstores with a prescription for whiskey.
“Women voters were also said to be behind … a pharmacy law in the 1880s that made it so people who ran pharmacies actually had to be qualified,” Goerl said