One hundred years ago this week, on November 2, 1920, the United States presidential election was held. It was the first presidential election held after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Incidentally – and as holders of the Library’s main newspaper collections, we can’t <not> mention it – both 1920 presidential nominees happened to be Ohio newspaper editors. Senator Warren G. Harding was also editor of the Marion Daily Star, and Ohio Governor James M. Cox was editor of the Dayton Daily News.
For over seven decades, suffragists in the United States protested, picketed, and were imprisoned to secure their constitutional right to vote. The amendment was first passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and after Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify it, suffragists had officially secured the required three-fourths majority of the 48 states. The amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution on August 26, 1920, and 26 million adult women over the age of 21 (the voting age at the time), were eligible to vote for the first time in a presidential election. In many (mostly Western) states, women’s suffrage had been granted for years and in the case of Wyoming, full voting rights had been extended to women since 1869. The nineteenth amendment (aka the “Anthony Amendment” after suffragist Susan B. Anthony) officially eliminated sex as a barrier to voting and expanded voting rights to more people than any other single change in American history. Still, the amendment did not ensure that all citizens could vote and women of color had to fight for their right to cast their ballots long after 1920.
In the months leading up to the 1920 election, the questions on everyone’s minds were: “How will women vote? and “Will they lose interest now that the fight is over?” Newspapers published speculations even though polls could not accurately predict since the women’s vote was a big “X”- the unknown quantity. Newspapers reported that more and more women were getting involved by working in the presidential campaign, running for office, and invigorated by the upcoming election. Reports of educational exercises being held across the country were published as well as reports of the two political parties’ reliance on women to mobilize other women voters.
Even though voting was legal, women faced voter suppression as states used discriminatory measures such as residentiary requirements, poll taxes, literacy tests, and morality clauses. For instance, in order to vote in the state of Georgia and Mississippi, women would have had to register to vote 4 months prior to the election, before the federal amendment was passed.
Still, some calculations determined that 37% of all registered voters who voted in the 1920 election were women. Discussing the results of the election, prominent suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt and director of the National American Women Suffrage Association and founder of the League of Women Voters (1920), noted that “the vote came to women in many states too late for the best preparatory work to be done.”
We invite you to travel back in time through Chronicling America, one of the largest free databases of digitized historic newspapers in the world and created and maintained by the National Digital Newspaper Program, a partnership between the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Within this collection, you’ll find myriad articles on women’s suffrage, including topics guides on Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the Golden Flyer Suffragettes, and the 19th amendment. A new project called Newspaper Navigator allows you to search within historic newspaper pages for images of suffragists and election activities. Let us know what else you find by submitting a comment. We love hearing from you.
In addition to newspaper articles, there are many additional women’s suffrage resources from the Library of Congress’s website including this Primary Source Set, Women’s Suffrage: Pictures of Suffragists and their Activities, Women’s Suffrage in the Moving Image and Recorded Sound Collections, and Marching for the Vote: Remembering the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913 (part of the American Women Series). Be sure to pay a visit to the Shall Not Be Denied virtual exhibition or get involved in the Suffrage: Women Fight for the Vote, a By the People crowdsourcing campaign which invites you to transcribe, review, and tag digitized pages from the Library’s collections.