Today in Feminist History: Suffragists Determined to Cast Ballots Next November (December 18, 1915)

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.

Though New York State’s suffrage referendum went down to defeat on November second, Harriot Stanton Blatch said today that she and a number of other suffragists are still determined to cast their votes in next November’s Presidential election, and have figured out a way to legally do it.

Harriot Stanton Blatch, founder of the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women in 1907, which five years ago became the Women’s Political Union.

How? Well, since a ballot box that accepts women’s votes won’t be available at their local precinct, they’ll go to the nearest one that––under the right circumstances––will accept their ballots. It’s in Kansas.

According to Blatch’s lawyer, residence is determined by where one pays their personal taxes, so all that she and the others need to do to be eligible to vote is to reside for just six months in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon or Kansas and become a citizen of any of those equal suffrage States. The other seven suffrage States have longer residency requirements, so they won’t do. Since Kansas is the closest to New York, that’s the logical choice. Of course, as she explained, “you do not have to live all the time in a place where you make your residence, though if that was necessary you would find me sitting six months on the prairies of Kansas getting ready for my chance to vote.”

There will be a meeting in January to make definite plans, with Blatch leaving in March, and the others in April, which will make them all Kansas citizens in time to register for the election. Already there are a number of well-known suffrage pilgrims pledged to make the journey. Dora Lewis, active in Alice Paul’s militant Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage; Mina Van Winkle, head of the Women’s Political Union of New Jersey, and Blatch’s sister Margaret have signed on. With the bleak outlook for suffrage referenda after the defeat of the drives in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York in just the past two months, the idea is appealing because enfranchisement could be gained quickly, and with certainty, at least for some.

As to what the suffragists will do there other than vote, Blatch is open to almost anything:

“There is no knowing how this will develop and there are all sorts of possibilities. A few of us might build a house. If many women should wish to take up the idea we might build a town and then we would vote immediately in the municipal elections. We will pay our personal taxes wherever we locate, and that will take some money from New York. If many women should go––who could tell?––we might give Kansas another Presidential Elector and a greater representation in Congress.”

Though this might seem like going to a great deal of trouble to do something that takes only a few minutes, and that many men don’t even bother with at all, Blatch explains:

“Men who were born with the silver spoon of liberty in their mouths do not appreciate it. I have patriotic blood in my veins, and I have always burned with indignation at being denied the rights of citizenship. My great-grandfathers on both sides were in the War of the Revolution. One of them, Colonel Livingston, was on Washington’s staff. I always urged my mother, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony to take steps of this kind.”

Whether this is the start of a women’s migration to the West, or whether the recently-disappointed suffragists will decide to stay after all, and have another try at making New York the first full-suffrage State East of the Mississippi River, it’s proof that even after a quadruple defeat, those who believe in political equality for women are just as determined as ever, and will eventually vote one way or another.


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.