Editorials

Kansas ahead of times on suffrage

Kansas is often teased about being behind the times. But when it comes to women's voting rights, we can be proud that Kansas was an early adopter.

The 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which grants women the right to vote, was officially certified on Aug. 26, 1920. A public celebration of that 90th anniversary will be held Thursday at 7 p.m. at Wichita State University's Hughes Metropolitan Complex at 29th North and Oliver.

Kansas actually ratified the amendment more a year earlier, on June 16, 1919. It was the fourth state in the country to do so.

Kansas began debating suffrage even before it became a state. In 1859, Clarina I.H. Nichols and other suffragists tried to get the word "male" eliminated from the franchise clause of the new constitution of the Kansas territory. Though they were unsuccessful, Kansas did allow women to vote in local school elections beginning in 1861.

In 1867, Kansas was one of the first states to vote on whether to amend its constitution to give women the right to vote. The amendment failed, as did one allowing blacks to vote.

Kansas had a second referendum vote in 1894, which also failed. But on its third try in 1912, Kansas amended its constitution to allow women to vote — the eighth state to do so.

Kansas also was an early leader in helping educate and inform women voters. As a letter to the editor on this page notes, the nation's first local chapter of the League of Women Voters was formed in Sedgwick County in 1919.

As in Kansas, the national suffrage movement took decades of organizing and lobbying and demonstrating.

Carrie Chapman Catt, a national suffrage leader, estimated that the effort required "480 campaigns to get legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters, 47 campaigns to get constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into state constitutions; 277 campaigns to get state party conventions to include woman suffrage planks, 30 campaigns to get presidential party campaigns to include woman suffrage planks in party platforms and 19 campaigns with 19 successive congresses."

This long struggle is as much what Thursday's celebration is about as the actual passage of the 19th Amendment. It's a lesson in persistence and bravery and hope provided by several generations of women — including, we can note proudly, many Kansans.

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