THE FIRST WOMEN VOT­ERS

The New York Review of Books - - Letters - Jill Nor­gren Pawl­ing, New York

To the Ed­i­tors:

In her es­say “The Abor­tion Bat­tle­field” [NYR, June 22], Mar­cia An­gell writes that “women couldn’t vote in the United States un­til 1920.” This is in­cor­rect. The Nine­teenth Amend­ment, rat­i­fied in 1920, did grant the univer­sal right of women to vote. How­ever, for decades be­fore this fed­eral con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment Amer­i­can women voted in cer­tain towns, cities, coun­ties, and states. The prin­ci­ple of fed­er­al­ism granted th­ese gov­ern­ments the right to en­act leg­is­la­tion con­cern­ing vot­ing rights and, in­creas­ingly in the late nine­teenth and early twentieth cen­tury, elected of­fi­cials yielded to women’s de­mands for the vote. In some in­stances, par­tic­u­larly in the 1870s and 1880s, this might only in­volve school bal­lots or lo­cal tax­a­tion. Still, in the nine­teenth cen­tury, three states granted full suf­frage to women and prior to rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Nine­teenth Amend­ment, an in­creas­ing num­ber of states joined them (for ex­am­ple, Cal­i­for­nia in 1911 and New York in 1917).

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