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Women By State & Territory ~ More Information

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries each state or territory determined who could vote and who could be elected on the local, state, and federal levels. In most states women had to be electors before they could be elected to a public office,. By the 1860s women fought in campaigns in state after state to gain some suffrage rights. The right to vote on school issues, and to be elected to educational positions, were among the most successful campaigns across the nation throughout the 1860s and 1870s. In some states, especially in the west and midwest, women also gained "municipal suffrage", the right to vote and be elected to offices on the town, county, and/or state levels. In a very few states or territories, such as Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho, women gained full suffrage rights before the end of the 19th century. While women in some western states were the first to gain full suffrage and electoral rights on equal terms with men, women in 40 states and territories across the nation served in public offices on local and state levels before 1920. Women in some midwestern states alone ran in well over 50% of all of the campaigns found so far, with Kansas and Illinois leading the way. Although women in Kentucky were the first to gain school suffrage rights, in 1838, women in the southern states were the least likely to have any suffrage rights or campaign for public office.


Eastern states

Women in the small town of Ashfield, Massachusetts were elected to their local school board in the mid-1850s. They were the first women elected to public office in their state, and in the nation. Suffragists in many states in the eastern part of the U.S. battled for school suffrage rights in the second half of the 19th century. In many states in the east women could be elected to school boards or to the office of county superintendent of schools. By 1900 over 60 women in the cities and towns of Massachusetts alone, were elected as members of school boards. In New York state women could vote for school board members, but not for county superintendent of schools. Yet, certainly by 1904 women were serving as county superintendent of schools in the state. School suffrage was passed in several other states including New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey from the 1880s through the 1890s. By 1920 over 200 women ran in over 300 campaigns for public office in states from Maine to Delaware. Besides school board positions women ran for a few other state and local offices as well. These figures do not include all women who were elected to the office of county superintendent of schools, as they have not yet been entered into the database.

Photo above: Lucretia Peabody Hale, one of the first women elected to the Boston (Massachusetts) School Committee in the 1870s.


Midwestern states

States in the midwestern part of the nation granted school and municipal suffrage to women from the 1860s onward. In 1869 Julia Addington of Iowa was the first woman in the country elected to the position of county superintendent of schools. The majority of women elected to public office served in the midwest. Women in Kansas gained school suffrage in 1861. Kansas voters alone elected over 700 women to a wide variety of local public offices before 1920.* In 1887 Susanna Salter of Argonia, Kansas, was the first woman mayor elected in the U.S. Illinois women also gained various suffrage rights long before 1920. As early as 1870 Amelia Hobbs of Illinois was elected Justice of the Peace. However, it is not clear if she actually served in the office, as there may have been a court challenge to her election, based on Hobbs' gender. Women in Illinois first campaigned on the state level for the office of University Trustee. Political activists in Chicago, including women in the African American community, turned out to elect Lucy Coues Flower to the office in 1894. By the second decade of the twentieth century women were elected to a variety of other positions in the state including tax assessor, county commissioner, and state and county superintendent of schools. Not all midwestern states elected women to public office in record numbers. For example, Wisconsin granted women school suffrage in 1900, late by midwestern standards. At this time only, we have found only 3 women who ran for public office before 1920.

*At this time (summer 2011) approximately 400 Kansas women have been entered into the database. Most county superintendents of schools have not yet been included. In 1912 the Kansas State Historical Society drew up a list of women who had been elected to public office in the state to that date. The author of the article specified that 500 county superintendents of instruction had not been included in the list.

Photo above: Caroline Grote of Illinois, first woman in the state to serve as county superintendent of schools.

Western states

Women in the American West were the first in the nation to gain equal suffrage. But in many states and territories women gained the right to vote only after hard fought campaigns, and often well into the 20th century. In California, women had the school vote beginning in the 1870s, but it was only in 1912 that they gained full suffrage. At least 101 California women campaigned for local and state offices between the 1870s and 1920. Montana elected Jeannette Rankin as the first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress in 1917. But this was only after Rankin herself had been instrumental in winning the suffrage battle in that state two years earlier. Women in Washington territory gained the right to vote in 1886, but it was rescinded two years later. It would be another 22 years before Washington women (but only those who could read and write English) regained the right to vote. In Utah women were involved in over 160 political campaigns for offices from the local level to the state senate from the 1880s onwards. Utah voters elected the first state senator in the nation, Martha Hughes Cannon, in 1896. Women in Utah counties served in a wide variety of offices, including County Recorder, County Register of Deeds, and County Treasurer. In some counties these positions were almost always filled by women by the early years of the 20th century. In some races several women would run against each other nominated by various political parties.

So far we have found 469 women from western states who ran in over 600 campaigns. This number was second only to some midwestern states. Women in the west were elected to school boards and the offices of county and state superintendents of schools, but also as mayors, town and city councils, as county leaders, and in state legislatures.

Photo above: Adelina Otero Warren of New Mexico, one of the first Latinas to be elected to public office.

Southern states

Kentucky was the first state in the nation to grant school suffrage to women, but only to widows with children in school. It would be almost 50 years before a woman in the state would be elected to public office. In southern states only 14 women campaigned for public office before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. But those offices, included state superintendent of education, mayor, and county sheriff. Ten out of the 14 women won their campaigns. Amanda T. Million of Kentucky may have been the first woman in the South elected to a public office. She won her race as a county superintendent of instruction in 1886. The authors of The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 4 reported that an additional 40 Kentucky women campaigned for the office in the following decade.* Florida voters elected Marion Newhall Horwitz in 1917, as the first woman mayor below the Mason-Dixon Line. In many Southern states women had no suffrage rights nor did women campaign for public office.

*These 40 women have not yet been entered into the database.

Photo above: Annie Web Blanton, State Superintendent of Texas, 1918