On the 21st day of May, 1919, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by a vote of 304 yeas to 89 nays the joint resolution, declaring that the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. On June 4, the United States Senate by a vote of 56 yeas to 25 nays adopted this same resolution.
At last, after many long years of struggle and sacrifice, the necessary two-thirds vote of both branches of the United States congress had been secured for the amendment!
The final action came so easily, so much as a matter of course, that a casual observer judging from outward manifestations might easily have believed it was a matter of no great importance. I sat next Harriet Taylor Upton in the senate gallery at the time. Her father, as I remember it, was dean of the House of Representatives, when Mr. La Follette was the youngest member, and had ably championed during his long service this same amendment. From childhood Harriet has been in the thick of the fight. We squeezed hands and shed a few tears and that was all. There was no attempt at a great demonstration. The vice president did not have any excuse to rise and solemnly remind the galleries that such things are forbidden by the rules of the senate.
This outward calm was not due to the absence of a deep undercurrent of feeling or lack of appreciation of the magnitude of the event. The stage had not been set. There had been no speech making. W e knew in advance that we had the necessary two-thirds vote. The expected had happened.
The throngs of women suffragists as they left the galleries doubtless took long breaths of relief and offered silent prayers of thankfulness. But—the victory was not yet complete. There was more work ahead. There was a new responsibility to discharge. Before this resolution could become an accomplished fact—really an amendment to the constitution of the United States, it must be ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states. I know my own thoughts turned at once to the Wisconsin legislature and to certain members, who I knew had always been tried and true friends of the suffrage cause, to whom I decided to send telegrams before the day was over.
And although it is a belated acknowledgment, I wish right here to express my appreciation of the prompt action of the Wisconsin legislature in ratifying the amendment, and my gratitude to Mr. James, the gallant, veteran courier, to whose expeditious journey, Wisconsin is indebted for the honor and credit of being the first state to deliver a correct certificate of ratification to the state department at Washington.
And it was no mere state pride that caused me to thrill with joy when Mr. La Follette made the announcement in the Senate. It was the conviction that a great service had been rendered. With Wisconsin as an example—an object lesson—ratifying so speedily, almost unanimously, the opposition was beaten at the very beginning of the race—left dashed and hopeless at the very start!
Thus far twenty-eight states have ratified.
The Georgia legislature rejected the amendment June 24, 1919; Alabama July 8; the lower house of the South Carolina legislature rejected it January 24, 1920; Mississippi, according to latest reports, has submitted the question to popular vote at the next general November election. An y of these states might reconsider their actions, but so far as they affect votes for women in 1920, they should be counted against it.
In a matter of such grave importance as an amendment to the constitution, it would perhaps, be safer and wiser to close this discussion with a statement of fact that "Votes for Women in 1920" can at this writing count 27 states for; 4 against; 9 more to get.
But having been long in the political game and more or less accustomed to figuring on chances, I cannot refrain from studying the map and the situation further and speculating on the probability of the fulfillment of Susan B. Anthony's prophecy that the women of the United States would be enfranchised in 1920.
Nevada has called an extra session of the legislature for February 7, Idaho for February 11. These are both suffrage states and may be counted on to ratify as soon as convened. Arizona, also a suffrage state, and Ne w Mexico, I am informed on good authority, have promised to call extra sessions in February. It is much more than a safe guess to count these four states as ratified for the 1920 election. These added to 27 make 31. Only five more to get.
Studying the map for the necessary five, one is astonished, not to say shocked, to find that the state of Washington, which has had woman suffrage since- 1910, has not only not yet ratified, but has not yet called an extra session of the legislature for the purpose of ratification!
Searching for an explanation of this strange anomaly west of the Rockies, I called up Senator Jones' office and was informed over the telephone that the impression was, that the governor of Washington was waiting for assurance from the members of the state legislature that they would not take up any other business if he called them together for the purpose of ratification of the suffrage amendment.
Such is the arbitrary power of one man, for the calling of an extra session is absolutely in the control of the executive. But if I mistake not the temper and spirit of the women of the Pacific slope—all voters—they will either manage some way to overcome the scruples of the governor of Washington or persuade the legislature to comply with his conditions, and that too, in time to count the state of Washington as ratified for 1920. Washington makes 32. Four more to get.
Oklahoma became a suffrage state in 1918. It is the only fully enfranchised state other than Washington, that has not already taken, or promised to take action on ratification of the federal suffrage amendment. I called up Senator Owen's office. It was a woman's voice that answered. She heartily agreed that it was a shame that Oklahoma had been so slow. She said there had been some objection to the calling of an extra session on account of the expense (a rich, progressive state like Oklahoma), but that there was a great deal of agitation in the newspapers for ratification; that the governor of Oklahoma was a good suffragist, that he had not yet promised to call an extra session, but that he had not refused to call one, that he was being urged and that they were hopeful. Now I am going to count Oklahoma for 1920, not altogether on the basis of the report just cited, but because I believe the women voters of Oklahoma when fully aroused to the strategic value of early ratification, will manage to make their good governor see it. I have often observed that in state affairs as in domestic affairs, we become so absorbed in our immediate problems, we fail to see our obligations to the outside world. I have a hunch that all Oklahoma needs is an awakening to the value of the service she can render and she will render.
Oklahoma makes 33. Three more to get.
Of the remaining states, not yet considered, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia legislatures are now in session. They have not at this writing taken final action on the amendment. The New Jersey senate has voted 18 to 2 in favor of it and the assembly voted 31 to 25 against submitting it to a referendum and then postponed further consideration until February 9.
On this record, together with other considerations— it is President Wilson's state—I think it safe to bank on New Jersey for 1920, New Jersey makes 34. Two more to get.
Maryland ought to ratify now. There is widespread suffrage sentiment in the state. It is the home of some of the ablest, most ardent suffrage leaders. Virginia also has promise. The southern women once interested in the cause, work for it, with characteristic enthusiasm and efficiency. Mary Johnston, the historian and novelist, whose beautiful home is at Warm Springs, Virginia, is an ardent suffrage worker and has great influence in the state. Senator Glass, recently appointed to fill out Senator Martin's unexpired term, has announced that he is in favor of ratification.
Since, however, the legislatures of Maryland and Virginia have as yet taken no action, on which to base a prediction, we shall keep them in reserve for the present, relying on one or both to help out if any of those we do count, disappoint us.
Louisiana, Tennessee, Delaware, North Carolina, Connecticut, Vermont, West Virginia and Florida are the states from which we must select two more winners, according to my calculations, at least until we get more specific returns from Maryland and Virginia.
The next regular session of the Louisiana legislature meets in May, 1920. None of the other legislatures of this last group convene in regular session until 1921. Extra sessions are the first step toward ratification in 1920.
Off hand, I should select Vermont as the next easiest state to secure an extra session for the purpose of ratifying the suffrage amendment. Vermont is entirely surrounded by states that have already ratified. In 1919, the Vermont legislature gave women presidential suffrage. We wonder why Vermont has not before now called an extra session for the purpose of ratification. And then we learn that the governor vetoed the presidential bill, and that his veto Is being challenged. There you have it, very likely a benighted governor is at fault. If so, let us assume he can be made to see the light. Vermont makes thirty-five. One more to get.
I would count Tennessee next. The Tennessee legislature granted women presidential suffrage in 1919. With its neighboring state Kentucky on the white list, it looks like a promising state for 1920 ratification. Tennessee makes thirty-six.
How long can Connecticut endure the odium of being blacklisted, with Massachusetts on the north, Rhode Island on the east, and New York on the west, all ratifying? So Delaware must be very strongly affected by the action of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. And West Virginia might well early cut loose from the solid South on the suffrage issue.
If, in yielding to a speculative mood, I have guessed wrong on some of these states, I know I have done no harm. I have no fear of misleading those wise, experienced suffrage leaders who are straining every nerve to make good their slogan RATIFY NOW. They know the states that offer least resistance, and the states where the sledding is hard.
With the suffrage amendment so near the goal, with the general recognition that its final adoption is only a question of a year or so, I believe that any one or all of the states, other than perhaps four or five of the irretrievable solid South, might be brought in line for ratification in 1920. To accomplish this end in some of the states might require thorough organization, strong and vigorous campaigns, such as are conducted by the great political parties for carrying states in the elections. But it can be done.
And it is the announced purpose and intent of the suffrage organizations to concentrate all the effort necessary on a few doubtful and delaying states to secure speedy ratification of the federal suffrage amendment.
Since we are so confident, so sure, why this impatience, why 1920?
For my part, it is not because I expect it will make any great difference in the practical result, that I would have women vote in 1920, but, believing as I do, that the greatest menace to democracy is the lack of interest on the part of the governed, and believing that the first greatest benefit to the state of votes for women is the increased interest in public affairs which the discussion of political problems in the home inevitably brings—for this reason, I think it would be of immense value to the nation if women are enfranchised at the beginning of a presidential campaign, when the greater political enthusiasm will naturally tend to stimulate the largest number of women to register and to exercise the privilege of voting.
The issues of the coming campaign—peace and war, government ownership, industrial questions, universal military training, the high cost of living,—are all problems within the experience and understanding and close to the hearts of women. For women to assume a direct share of the responsibility in government, at this great crisis in the world's history, will give tremendous impetus to the patriotism and fervor of all the people in the solution of problems now confronting us.
This article was originally published in February 1920.