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Today in Herstory: National American Woman Suffrage Association Announces Plans to Expand to DC, NY

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.

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January 14, 1909: In a pair of bold moves, the National American Woman Suffrage Association has announced that it will be opening new offices in both Washington, D.C. and Albany, New York, to more vigorously pursue its goal of achieving “Votes for Women.”

The opening of the D.C. office as its legislative headquarters may represent a major change in strategy. Up until now, N.A.W.S.A. has tried to win the vote on a State-by-State basis, while doing little in Congress to promote the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment, first introduced in 1878. But in the almost 61 years since the Seneca Falls convention of July 19-20, 1848, only four of the forty-six States have recognized a woman’s right to vote – and only in Colorado and Idaho was the vote won through a popular referendum. So, a speedier and more efficient method of attaining nationwide woman suffrage certainly seems called for at this point.

Though N.A.W.S.A.’s national headquarters remains in Warren, Ohio, there will now be a permanent and more assertive presence on Capitol Hill. In recent years, the campaign for the Anthony Amendment has consisted of an annual ritual in which D.C. suffragists go before the Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage, give their reasons why women should have the vote, are then told by the Senators how nice they look, and then after the women tell the Senators how gracious they have been, that’s it until next year.

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A privately-minted stamp (to be used alongside regular postage) put out by suffragists celebrating the four States in which women can presently vote on the same basis as men.

But this new N.A.W.S.A. office clearly represents a change in tactics. Already several Senators have expressed concern over the fact that more numerous and more aggressive suffragists may be descending upon them and lobbying on a year-round basis. Another interesting aspect of this new office is the hope that it will be shared with other women’s rights groups. In this way, the knowledge and enthusiasm of those working to end many types of discrimination against women can be pooled, and they could lobby together for legislation in Congress.

The announcement about the new office in Albany indicates a growing optimism and enthusiasm about the campaign in New York State. The effort this year will be the biggest since 1898, when Susan B. Anthony herself ran a Statewide petition campaign to get woman suffrage included among the proposals to be submitted to the voters by that year’s State Constitutional Convention. But the man who presided over the convention was convinced that if women became involved in politics they would lose their “precious charm of personality,” so he appointed a committee of like-minded people who studied, then rejected, the proposal.

Of course, much has changed in the past decade and it is hoped that there will be much faster progress in these more modern times. Evidence of that is shown by the fact that an amendment to strike out the word “male” from the New York State Constitution in regard to voting rights has been submitted to this session of the legislature by the Senate Majority Leader, who intends to work hard for it.

Women won the vote in Wyoming in 1869, when it was still a Territory, and despite the objections of many members of Congress, the legislators insisted on having woman suffrage in their State Constitution when Wyoming achieved statehood in 1890.

Women voted in Utah Territory from 1870 until 1887, when Congress revoked their right to vote as part of the Edmunds-Tucker (anti-polygamy) Act, but they regained the vote again when Utah was admitted as a State in 1896.

Women won the vote in Colorado in 1893 and in Idaho in 1896 through referenda submitted to each State’s male voters.