Annie Diggs championed women’s right to vote

01/30/2012 5:00 AM

01/30/2012 10:14 AM

This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating Kansas history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, “Ad astra per aspera: "To the stars through difficulties."

Annie Diggs never had the chance to vote in a national election.

She died in 1916, four years before U.S. women earned their right to vote.

But she not only voted in Kansas elections, she played an important role in women’s suffrage in the state.

At that time, Kansas women were able to vote only in local school board and municipal elections. But they also wanted to vote in state and national elections.

So Diggs championed the cause, yet was often dismissed because of her “petticoat politics.” She became a leader in the Populist uprising of the 1890s and was pitted against and often overshadowed by another Kansas Populist leader, Mary Elizabeth Lease.

It could have been her looks. Diggs was tiny and pretty. She may have been a bit much for male audiences of that day to take seriously.

“Imagine a little woman, slender, almost to frailty, barely five feet tall and weighing only ninety-three pounds. Picture …a face on which shines the light of zealous endeavor and enthusiastic championship of a beloved cause,” one Kansas writer said of Diggs.

Lease, on the other hand, was referred to by the Wellington Monitor as "a miserable character of womanhood and hideously ugly of features and foul of tongue."

Newspaper editors loved to pit the two women against each other, comparing Diggs’ beauty to Lease’s plainness.

When Lease attacked Diggs in a Topeka speech, Diggs is reported to have said: “Woman, you have lied. (She) is an enemy of the Populist party and a traitor to the cause of equal suffrage, and I regard her political methods as dishonest and do not think she can be trusted.”

The two women especially disagreed on whether the Populist Party should join forces with the Democratic Party. Diggs thought the parties should work together; Lease did not.

Diggs was born Annie LaPorte in 1853 and moved to Kansas in her 20s. She became a journalist for the Topeka Commonwealth and the Lawrence Journal. When she married Alvin Diggs of Lawrence, the two formed a newspaper called the Kansas Liberal.

She was a Republican until 1888 before running unsuccessfully as a candidate on the Union Labor party. From there, she moved on to Populism.

Diggs wrote the meetings of Populists were “more like religious revivals.”

A fundamental belief in the Kansas Populist movement was a woman’s right to vote.

Diggs also served terms as president of the Women’s Alliance in Washington, D.C., the Kansas Woman’s Free Silver League and vice president of the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association.

She was the first woman to serve as the state librarian for Kansas.

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