The 19th Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
“Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of women gaining the full right to vote in all elections. This had been a long struggle for women’s suffrage. Women’s suffrage is most commonly recognized as having started on a national level in July of 1848 at a women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Some of the early names associated with women’s suffrage were Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Frances Willard, who was also heavily involved in the Temperance movement.
The 19th Amendment was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, but it needed 36 out of 48 states to ratify it before it was entered as the 19th Amendment to our United States Constitution. Illinois was the first state to ratify the 19th amendment. However, a mistake was discovered in the wording, and it had to be corrected. When the correction was made, Illinois officially became the seventh state to ratify it. Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify this amendment giving the 19th Amendment enough states to officially be added to our Constitution. The 19th Amendment was officially ratified on Aug. 18, 1920.
Some states did not ratify the 19th Amendment until after it was officially ratified. Connecticut ratified it on Sept. 14, 1920. Vermont ratified it on Feb. 8, 1921. Delaware ratified it on March 6, 1923.
Then we have some states that were really late on ratifying the 19th Amendment. Even though it was legal for women to vote, these states were reluctant to show support for it. However, they did legally have to allow women to vote starting in the fall of 1920 whether they wanted to allow it or not.
Maryland ratified it on March 29, 1941.
Virginia ratified it on Feb. 12, 1952.
Alabama ratified it on Sept. 8, 1953.
Florida ratified it on May 3, 1969.
South Carolina ratified it on July 1, 1969.
Georgia ratified it on Feb. 20, 1970.
Louisiana ratified it on June 11, 1970.
North Carolina ratified it on May 6, 1971.
Mississippi ratified it on March 22, 1984.
Here is a little history on three of the women who worked tirelessly to better the lives of women. They laid the groundwork for what we know now as the 19th Amendment.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a determined and strong figure in the women’s rights movement. She was born in 1815 in Johnstown, New York. Elizabeth was an ardent activist for abolition and women’s rights. She was the first woman permitted to speak before the New York legislature. She was an organizer of the first women’s rights convention in 1848. Elizabeth played a large part in getting the Married Woman’s Property Act passed in the state of New York in 1848. This Act allowed women to be able to have custody of their children, hold property, make contracts, keep their own earnings and inheritance and sue in court. She was also President of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Elizabeth thought that the Constitution could stand an edit and she is quoted as saying it should read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton died at the age of 86 in 1902 and although she never got the right to vote, she helped to start women on the path to gaining that right.
Susan B. Anthony traveled all over the country speaking about the causes that were important to her. The 19th Amendment is sometimes referred to as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment because she worked so tirelessly as a suffragette to further the cause of women’s right to vote. She dedicated her life to the cause of women’s suffrage as well as abolition, and many other causes listed above that were very important to her. Anthony was even arrested for trying to vote in 1872. That didn’t stop her from advocating for women to have the right to vote. One of her famous quotes is, “There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.” Anthony died in 1906. That was 14 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified, so Anthony never gained the right to vote.
Frances Willard’s The WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) incorporated temperance education into school curriculum and advocated for prison reform, women’s suffrage, prohibition, and an end to prostitution. Willard called her wide variety of reforms her “Do Everything” policy. She spoke in Effingham at the invitation of Ada Kepley. At one point, the WCTU dropped their suffrage plank but later reinstated it. One noteworthy quote from Willard was this, “If women can organize missionary societies, temperance societies, and every kind of charitable organization...why not permit them to be ordained to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments of the Church?” Willard died in 1898 without ever receiving the right to vote.
I thought it would be interesting to take a look at women from Effingham County and see how the 19th Amendment pertained to them. I’ll share information about two prominent women in Effingham, as well as women from my own family who were from Effingham County.
Ada H. Kepley attended law school in Chicago with the full backing of her husband, Henry. After finishing law school, she was denied a law license because in 1870 it was against the law for a woman to practice law. Ada became very active in the suffrage movement and the temperance movement. Even though she had Frances Willard, head of the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union), come to Effingham and speak, when the WCTU dropped women’s suffrage from its plank, Ada left it and did not come back until suffrage was added back. Ada Harriet (Miser) Kepley was 73 years old before she got the right to vote.
Jennie (Jewett) Wood was born in 1842 in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. She married Benson Wood on Dec. 21, 1864. Jennie and Benson became a prominent couple in Effingham. She traveled a lot with Benson through wherever he served in many different capacities. Benson served as the following: Illinois House Representative, US Congressman, Judge Advocate for the Illinois National Guard, Mayor of Effingham and President of the Illinois State Bar Association. Jennie was well known for her hospitality, graciousness, and as an advocate for the town of Effingham. They were active in supporting many causes that were dear to them, including McKendree College in Lebanon, Illinois, and the Methodist Church in Effingham. Jennie stayed active after Benson’s death in 1912. When a hotel was proposed to be built at the corner of Jefferson and 4th Street, Jennie was a major stockholder in it. It was proposed that the building be named after her husband, Benson Wood. We now know that building as the Effingham County Building. But for many years it was the Hotel Benwood. Jennie (Jewett) Wood was 78 before she gained the right to vote, and she died in 1923 at the age of 80.
Linda (Wiley) Loy was my paternal great-grandmother. Lindy, as many called her was born in Alabama in 1858 and her family moved to Effingham County near the end of the Civil War. She was a housewife, a poet and a writer. She kept up on current events and was known to debate men who considered her opinion worth less because she was a woman. I have her pictured in a cabinet card photo with her mother, daughter and granddaughter. Shown from left are Linda (Wiley) Loy, her daughter Grace Sprouse holding Grace’s daughter Iva, and Linda’s mother, Sarah (Fulks) Wiley. Linda was 62 years old before she got the right to vote, Grace was 40 years old and Iva was 22 when she got the right to vote. Sadly, Sarah (Fulks) Wiley died at the age of 78 and never got the right to vote.
Another picture shows my paternal grandparents, Ted and Joan (Peters) Loy. Grandma was born in Effingham County in 1894. She taught school before she married in 1915 but had to give it up because at that time women weren’t allowed to teach after they were married. During World War I when her husband, Ted, contracted Spanish Influenza and almost died, Grandma not only cared for him and their young daughter, Katheryn, she took care of the farm and kept it running. She was a strong woman. Joan (Peters) Loy was 26 before she got the right to vote.
On my maternal side, Agnes Rosabelle (Smith) Claar was my great-grandmother. Rosie, as she was known, was born at Bishop Point near Dieterich in 1864. She raised a large family along with her husband, Frank. When Frank died in 1926, Rose managed their household until her own death in 1948. She was loved and respected by all who knew her. Rosie was 56 before she got the right to vote.
My maternal grandmother was Marie Louise (Claar) Cooley. She was raised in Dieterich and married John Cooley in 1910. Marie and John raised a family of eight children on his salary as a telegraph operator with the railroad. They had six of their eight children before Marie got the right to vote at the age of 31. She loved politics and always exercised her right to vote.
I think it is important to remember that many of us can name women in our own families who did not automatically have the right to vote. We gained this right because of those named and unnamed suffragettes who fought for women to gain that right. Take some time with your own family and talk about those women in your family tree who had to wait until 1920 to gain the important right of voting. On this 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, take time to remember the brave women who worked to gain this important right and make your voices heard via the ballot box.
This fall, due to the pandemic, we will not be holding the Old Settlers Reunion on the Courthouse Square. We will hold a virtual event instead with the winners announced on Sept. 26. To qualify as an old settler, you must have lived in Effingham County for at least 30 continuous years. We will mail out or deliver prizes for these categories: Oldest Female Settler, Oldest Male Settler, Old Settler Couple Married the Longest. If you would like to submit a name and picture to be in the running for our virtual event, please be sure to include the date of birth in the entry and how many years they have lived in Effingham County as well as an address and telephone number. If you have any questions, you may call me at 217-821-2427, email me at email@example.com or stop by the museum on Tuesdays or Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. I am still collecting pictures from around the county as well as doing military write-ups for Effingham County veterans, so I welcome any of those pictures and information too.