Today in Feminist History: Illinois Legislature Allows Women to Vote (June 13, 1913)

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.

June 13, 1913: There’s a festive atmosphere here tonight at the Leland Hotel in Springfield, Illinois, where suffragists from all around the State are celebrating the first major victory for women’s suffrage East of the Mississippi River.

PHOTO: A recent cartoon in the Chicago Tribune by John D. McCutcheon showing woman suffrage triumphantly crossing the Mississippi River

Day before yesterday, the Illinois Legislature gave final approval to a bill that when signed by the Governor will allow women to vote in Presidential and municipal elections.

Though anti-suffragists have asked Governor Dunne to veto the bill, the fact that he is here tonight, and just gave a stirring speech of congratulations would indicate that only the legal formalities of engrossing the bill and getting a favorable opinion of its constitutionality from the State Attorney General remain before Dunne’s signature makes the bill a law, and women can begin registering to vote.

Illinois women will still not be able to vote for State offices, such as Governor, because the State Legislature does not have the power to grant them that right. Totally equal suffrage would have required waging and winning an expensive, time-consuming and very risky campaign for a Statewide referendum to be approved—or rejected—by the State’s male voters. But this unique extension of “presidential suffrage” and “municipal suffrage” represents a double victory for our movement.

Currently, women vote in States West of the Mississippi that have 54 of the 531 Electoral Votes cast in Presidential elections. Illinois will soon bring that total to 83, meaning that women could tip the balance in the 1916 election if it’s close.

Chicago will soon have the honor of being the largest U.S. city in which women can vote. Its population of 2,185,283 is five times larger than San Francisco’s, and only slightly less than the entire State of California, which counted 2,377,549 residents in the 1910 Census.

Many Chicago suffragists already have plans for the post-suffrage era. There will be major campaigns mounted against two notorious Aldermen, “Bathhouse John” Coughlin and “Hinky Dink” Michael Kenna. Tom Powers of the 18th Ward should also be worried about the women’s vote. 

Another top priority will be to support the “Half Holiday Bill” already introduced into the State Legislature. It would require employers to give employees Saturday afternoons off. Many about-to-be enfranchised women will also lobby for a bill reducing the standard workweek to just 54 hours.

Suffragists in some other parts of the country have been engaging in high profile campaigns and huge spectacles, such as massive parades and pageants in Washington, D.C., on March 3, and New York City on May 3. But the Illinois campaign was virtually invisible, and consisted of local suffragists informally lobbying individual State legislators. This latest four-month campaign—after a 43-year struggle in the State—was done so quietly that it didn’t attract the attention of anti-suffragists until it was too late to launch a counter-offensive using the vast monetary resources generously donated to them by the liquor industry, which fears that woman suffrage will bring Prohibition. 

Tonight’s victory banquet is giving what should be a glimpse of the future. Big-name politicians from all over the state came in person to show their support for the cause, as well as curry favor with women voters. Many well-known people from around the country sent telegrams of congratulations, some of which were read aloud. 

All of those who orchestrated this surprise win are here tonight. Grace Wilbur Trout presided over the festivities, and many others such as Ella B. Stewart, Antoinette Funk, Elizabeth K. Booth and Catherine Waugh McCullough either gave speeches or were singled out for praise. 

This is truly a new era for the suffrage movement, because as significant as the Illinois victory is, it’s only one encouraging development among many. Not since 1909 has a year passed without at least one new State being gained for suffrage, and last November full and equal suffrage was won in three States—Kansas, Arizona and Oregon—and was lost in Michigan by only 760 votes.

In New York, a suffrage referendum was approved by the State Legislature in January, and if the bill gets the required second passage by the next legislature as well, the Empire State could become the first full-suffrage State in the East in 1915. At the opposite end of the continent, women in Alaska Territory won full suffrage in March. 

In Washington, D.C., today, the Senate Woman Suffrage Committee gave a strongly favorable endorsement of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment when it sent the resolution to the full Senate, where it will be debated next week.

So, more and more, the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are fitting together, and whether woman suffrage is accomplished by winning it in each of the 48 States, or by a Constitutional amendment, the only questions now are over “when” and “how,” not “if” victory will be won.


David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.