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100 Years of ­Suffrage

Young Maryland voter maps women’s campaign to vote
       SUFFRAGE — In representative government, the right to vote in electing public officials and adopting or rejecting proposed legislation.
 
 
      In the year 2019, presidential hopefuls — including five women so far — are lining up like beauty pageant contestants to win our attention and perhaps our vote.
     With over 80 million women registered to vote, winning women’s votes is key to winning the election.
     One hundred years ago, no women ran for president. The male candidates — among them Warren G. Harding, James Cox, Eugene Debs, Parley Christensen, Aaron Watkins, Leonard Wood, Frank Lowden, Hiram Johnson, A. Mitchell Palmer, William McAdoo and Franklin D. Roosevelt — hardly bothered to appeal to women.
     At that time, just 19 states and territories gave women full or partial suffrage. Wyoming was the first state to grant women full voting rights. Back in 1869, the new state’s first legislature passed a woman’s suffrage bill, so by 1920 Wyoming women had voted in a dozen presidential elections.
     “One man thought it right and just to give women the vote. Another said he thought it would be a good advertisement for the territory. Still another voted to please someone else,” state historian Charles Giffin Coutant reported at the time.
     One hundred years ago, in March of 1919, Maryland women and many of their sisters across the country were protesting, marching, lobbying and going to jail for their right to cast a ballot.
     Every step of the way, woman met resistance.
     Opponents often argued that a woman’s place was in the home. At least some men worried they would be emasculated by sudden expectations that they should cook, clean and care for children. 
     The women faced opposition from their own sex, as well. In Baltimore, anti-suffrage women worked closely with national groups, saying that women were “not equipped physically or mentally to meddle with any degree of success in politics and problems of government.”
      Nonetheless, the women persisted.
      The suffragists among them campaigned peacefully; more militant suffragettes took direct and violent action.
      Suffragettes such as the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, founded by Alice Paul in 1913, organized demonstrations and picketed the White House. They used militant tactics including obstructing traffic and inciting riots. When arrested, they refused to pay fines and were sent to a workhouse. They then protested by waging a hunger strike. Officials, in turn, force-fed them through tubes. 
 
Women Prevail — Without Maryland
      Slowly, suffrage prevailed. In the summer of 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, the federal Women’s Suffrage Amendment. It made women voters in two short sentences: “The right of citizens to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
      But until 36 states — three-fourths of the 48 states at that time — ratified the amendment, it meant nothing but the hopes of all those waiting. 
      Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan were the first states to ratify the amendment.
      “The timing was not ideal,” explains Kacy Rohn, Maryland historian of women’s march to suffrage. “Many state legislatures had already adjourned and were not due to reconvene for two years. Suffragists, therefore, began a major organizing effort to try to get governors around the country to call special legislative sessions to take a vote on ratification.” 
       With time running short for the amendment to be passed in time for women to vote in the 1920 presidential election, Maryland suffragists urged Gov. Emerson Harrington to call a special session. Suffrage organizers traveled statewide during the summer and fall of 1919, visiting legislators and raising public support to bring the Assembly into session. 
       Harrington refused.
       Thus, Maryland would have only one chance, the regular session beginning January 1920, to pass the 19th Amendment.
      The politically savvy suffragists rallied forces, lobbying, coordinating rallies and testifying in Annapolis in support of its passage.
      To persuade Maryland lawmakers — all men — to approve the amendment, women gathered on the steps of the State House in Annapolis on February 20, 1920. Statewide suffrage leaders spoke amidst an upbeat atmosphere that included a band.
      Despite the suffragists’ efforts, the Maryland legislature voted against ratification that day. Long opposed to the expansion of voting rights, most Maryland legislators — especially Democrats, who held the governorship and both houses — argued that it should be up to the states, not the federal government, to decide who should have the right to vote. 
      Indeed, they passed a resolution declaring the 19th Amendment an act of overreach by the federal government that Maryland would oppose.
     “They even went beyond this to pass an additional resolution supporting the travel of seven anti-suffrage legislators to West Virginia to try to convince their legislature to reject the amendment as well,” Rohn says “This delegation failed in their mission. West Virginia voted to ratify.”
     Tennessee, the 36th state, made the 19th Amendment the law of the land. A 24-year-old legislator named Harry Burn cast the deciding vote, crediting his mother with switching him to yes.
      Maryland’s anti-suffragists held out past ratification. In October of 1920, anti-suffragist judge Oscar Leser contested the legality of two women registering to vote in Baltimore. His case eventually landed at the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1922 ruled that the 19th Amendment had been legally adopted, closing the door for future challenges.
     Maryland did not vote to ratify the amendment until 1941 and did not certify it — the process whereby an archivist receives the required number of authenticated ratified documents and makes a formal proclamation — until 1958.
      Maryland’s recalcitrance mattered little on November 2, 1920, when some 28 million American women —about half the eligible number — voted in the presidential election.
 
Mapping Maryland’s Long March
     The 91-year campaign of Maryland suffragists and the intransigence of their elected representatives is a story as close as your fingertips thanks to the Maryland Historical Trust and the dedication of a graduate intern. 
      That’s Rohn, who got the job of locating the more than 50 sites of significance in Maryland’s campaign. The steps of the Maryland Statehouse where women protested for their rights remain. But many of the other sites no longer stand.
      While you may not be able to physically visit these spots, you can follow them online at ­bit.ly/SuffrageMap. That is the project Rohn took on in 2016 for the Maryland Historical Trust. 
      “I have a political organizing background,” said the University of Maryland dual community planning and historic preservation major. “So when I heard a hint that my project as a graduate internship would be women’s suffrage, I got excited.
      “My assignment was to find the specific sites,” she said. “I used available research: census documents, local newspapers, records, city directions and a PhD dissertation by Dr. Diane Weaver: Maryland Women and the Transformation of Politics.”
     The research of Augusta Chissell, a leader of the Colored Women’s Suffrage Club in Baltimore, stood out in particular. To prepare women to vote, Chissell authored the column A Primer for Women Voters in the Baltimore Afro-American. So impressed was Rohn that she has nominated Chissell to the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.
     To preserve the progress of suffrage, Rohn created a map highlighting the movement’s landmarks and historically important dates. It combines narrative text, images and multimedia content.
     The story begins with Margaret Brent, who in 1648 petitioned the Maryland Assembly in St. Mary’s City for the right vote. She was not granted her demand but earned herself the title of first woman suffragist in the country. 
      For two centuries, suffrage activity was stifled due to an unreceptive political climate. The tale resumes in the latter half of the 1800s.
      In Baltimore in 1867, Lavinia Dundore founded the Maryland Equal Rights Society. 
      In 1889, Caroline Hallowell Miller gathered members of her Sandy Spring Quaker community as the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The group joined forces with the National American Woman Suffrage Association to send Maryland delegates to attend national suffrage events. 
      The National American Woman Suffrage Association held its annual convention in 1906 in Baltimore at the Lyric Theater, one of the places where history was made.
      At the convention, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton and Julia Ward Howe encouraged the next generation to take up the cause.
      “Some of these women died without seeing their goal realized,” Rohn says. “They urged the next generation to get involved.”
      “I am here for a little time only, and then my place will be filled as theirs [suffragists before me] was filled. The fight must not cease; you must see that it does not stop,” Susan B. Anthony, then 86, told the 1906 Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
      Many did take up the challenge, and their influence is still felt.
     “The League of Women Voters was born out of the women’s suffrage movement, and the realization that simply having the right to vote does not mean that you are innately prepared to exercise that right,” says ­Ashley Oleson, administrative director of the Maryland League of Women Voters.
       “The League was created to ensure that every voter, female and male, would have access to the polls and access to candidates’ positions on the issues so they could make informed decisions at the polls.”
      The League celebrates 99 years of Making Democracy Work this year, as women celebrate a century of suffrage.
      On Tuesday, November 3, 2020, honor the Marylanders who fought to ensure all citizens could vote: Cast your ballot.