Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.
January 6, 1920: Suffrage forces are now two-thirds of the way to victory in the final stage of the “Votes for Women” battle!
Today Rhode Island and Kentucky ratified the Susan B. Anthony (nationwide woman suffrage) Amendment, becoming the 23rd and 24th States to do so. That means just 12 more are needed to put it in the Constitution. At the offices of the National American Woman Suffrage Association there was unrestrained optimism, as they said the goal now was to obtain the approval of those last States by April, so that women in every State can vote in the Presidential Primaries as well as the General Election in November.
The celebration at National Woman’s Party headquarters was delayed a bit, due to a fire, but was equally enthusiastic when it finally occurred. The fire began in the furnace room just about the time word was received of the double ratification. The Party has somewhat of a reputation for using fire as part of its demonstrations, so the crowd gathered in Lafayette Park when the smoke first appeared thought it was some sort of celebration. But the blaze wasn’t intentional or celebratory, and spread from the furnace room to the ballroom to the living quarters, doing about $1,000 damage. Fortunately, the Fire Department arrived quickly, as did the police, who helped carry out the most valuable items to be saved in case the fire couldn’t be extinguished. The 22-star “ratification flag” was among the crucial items quickly brought outside. It was unharmed, so Alice Paul can sew on two more stars.
The margins of victory for ratifications achieved today show just how powerful the momentum for suffrage has become. In Rhode Island the vote was 89 to 3 in the House and unanimous in the Senate. Mary B. Anthony said on behalf of the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association: “It is with a feeling of profound satisfaction that I realize that Rhode Island has ratified. ‘Little Rhody’ is a fine State and here’s the proof.”
In Kentucky, the vote was 72 to 25 in the House and 30 to 8 in the Senate and of sufficient priority that the issue was dealt with on the first day of the legislative session. Before ratifying, the Senate rejected by 23 to 15 a proposal to submit the amendment to a Statewide referendum.
The Anthony Amendment was passed by Congress and sent to the States seven months and two days ago. It is nine months and twenty-seven days until the General Election, so two-thirds of the job has been done in less than half the time between the two events. But the States that remain are going to be much harder to ratify, so the pace may now slow considerably.
Complicating things further is the fact that the “antis” managed to postpone the Anthony Amendment’s passage by Congress so long that some State Legislatures had already adjourned their regular sessions and are not scheduled to reconvene until next year. So, getting governors to call special sessions to vote on ratification will be a high priority for all suffrage groups. There are also States in which the legislature is of a different political party than the governor, so they may not want to give the governor a political victory if a special session is called. And, of course, in all States there are local, personal and partisan rivalries that complicate any vote.
There is no time limit on ratification of the Anthony Amendment, so failure to ratify this year would not doom it. But if it is not ratified in time for women in non-suffrage States to register to vote for the November 6th election, it would deprive millions of women of their right to choose the next President, their House members, as well as any Senators who will be elected this year, inaugurated in 1921 and remain in office until March 4, 1927. The country deserves a President and Congress elected by both male and female voters, and suffragists will be doing everything possible to assure it.