Arkansas celebrates 100th anniversary of the end of women’s suffrage
On July 28, 1919, women across Arkansas celebrated their state’s hand in the ratification of the 19th Amendment, getting them one step closer to officially declaring their right to vote.
Women in Arkansas started the conversation for voting rights in 1848, collectively fighting for opportunity to have a voice. However, the movement didn’t gain much momentum until after the Civil War.
Women created suffrage groups in the 1880s, including the Arkansas Women’s Suffrage Association and the Political Equality League.
These groups were exclusive to white women, though, and Africanamerican women were forced to create their own groups.
The National American Women’s Suffrage Association would not let women of color attend their meetings, so black women were forced to march in suffrage parades separately from the white women.
When Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote their book, “History of Women Suffrage,” in 1881, they showcased the disregard of white women to their colored counterparts. In return, Nannie Helen Burroughs, a known black suffragist, wrote about the need for women of every race to work together for the right to vote.
Colored women were also inspired to help pursue the voting rights of colored men, creating groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
This, along with the push for black men’s suffrage, put these women between two big movements in America, neither of which included them. This led many black women to advocate for universal human rights, rather than support one over the other.
Once the 15th Amendment was proposed, potentially allowing black men the ability to vote, women pushed even harder for their turn.
Miles L. Langley, a resident of Arkadelphia, mailed a letter to Susan B. Anthony in 1868, pointing out the obvious lack of inclusion of women in the constitution, “The new constitution – a copy of which I send you – makes no difference between men, on account of race or color and contains other excellences; but alas! It fails to guarantee to woman her God-given and wellearned rights of civil and political equality.”
In June 1919, Congress voted to approve the 19th Amendment, but needed 36 states to vote in favor of this before the law officially reflected it.
One hundred years ago, the Arkansas legislature met and voted to ratify the amendment. This was largely thanks to the attention gained after recent visits from national suffrage activists such as Alice Paul, a leader of the National Women’s Party, which pushed for the passing of the amendment, and Carrie Chapman Catt, who founded the National American Women’s Suffrage Association.
The vote was overwhelmingly sided with the women, recorded to be 74-15.
This made Arkansas the 12th state to ratify the amendment, and the 36th was finally found in Tennessee in August 1920, allowing men and women equal opportunity to vote in the following election.
The amendment states,
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
Prior to this ratification, Arkansas women were allowed to vote in primaries in May 1918, but not in general elections.
Beginning in the 1870s, African-american men were given the right to vote, but despite theirs and white women’s ability to vote, women of color were largely left out until the 1960s.
African-american women such as Ida B. Wells, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Rosa Parks, were large voices in the movement to give colored women the same rights as the rest of the country.
While African-american women were technically allowed to vote, those in southern states like Arkansas were faced with prejudice and often forced to wait up to 12 hours to register to vote. These women were also expected to recite and interpret the Constitution to be able to register as a voter.
Colored women in the North faced less adversity when diving into politics, with Annie Simms Banks becoming the first black woman to be elected as a delegate in 1920, serving Kentucky’s Republican Party.
It wasn’t until 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was passed and banned racial discrimination at the polls, that black men and women were finally able to freely exercise their voting rights.
Today, pieces of women’s suffrage history can be found around the state. In Central
Little Rock, the Pike-fletcherterry House is used as an art gallery and is the former home of Adolphine Fletcher Terry, a dedicated women’s rights activist who used her socialite status for good, bringing light to the issue.
Adolphine Fletcher Terry and Mary Loughborough, a suffragist who started the Arkansas Ladies’ Journal, which discussed women’s issues, are both buried in the Mount Holly Cemetery in Southwest Arkansas.
In 2017, Gov. Asa Hutchinson created the Arkansas
Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemoration Committee to try and spread the appreciation for women’s voting rights and to help Arkansans remember the struggles women had to face for those rights.
To discover more about women’s suffrage history and the Centennial Commemoration Committee, visit www.arkansasheritage.com.
Arkansas women held a suffrage reenactment in 2017, commemorating the struggles women went through a hundred years ago for their right to vote at the Arkansas State Capitol.