November 7, 1893 – Colorado, the referendum on women’s right to vote was secured!
by Michelle Schulten
“The best protection any woman can have…courage.”
~~Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Suffrage timeline: From July 19, 1848 to June 4, 1919, when the 19th amendment was passed.
On July 19, 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, the first Women’s Rights Convention was held. Per the Library of Congress there were 300 attendees, with speakers: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her husband, Henry B. Stanton, from New York; Martha Coffin Wright, from Boston; Mary Ann McClintock from New Jersey; and Jane Hunt from Philadelphia. The two day convention proposed the “Declaration of Sentiments” for the first time. This document outlined the grievances of inequality from men and the government toward women. The language of the U.S. Constitution was used for the “Declaration of Sentiments”. The document was written by, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, prior to the Convention and presented by Elizabeth Stanton on the first day of the Convention. On the second day of the Convention it was ratified by the assembly, and signed by 68 women and 32 men (one of those men was Frederick Douglass). The majority of attendees were anti-slavery supporters and abolitionists. That Convention started the movement for equal rights for women (at least white women).
On May 15, 1869, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was formed and led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Believing that suffrage should be achieved nationally through a constitutional amendment.
On November 24-25 1869, in Cleveland, Ohio, the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) was formed. The AWSA believed that the rights to the Declaration should go to the individual states for passage. AWSA was led by Lucy Stone Blackwell and her husband, Henry Blackwell, and Julia Ward Howe. At the founding meeting, which was attended by 1,000 men and women from 21 states including some of the delegates from the Ohio Woman Suffrage association which had just formed a day earlier. Also in attendance was Caroline M. Severance, also from Cleveland. She was inspired by a talk at a women’s right convention in Akron in 1851 given by Sojourner Truth. Caroline Severance played a major role in the Suffrage in Ohio, Massachusetts, and California. She wrote a famous speech that was given many times titled, “Humanity: A Definition and a Plea”.
The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), is formed through a merger between NWSA and AWSA, on February 18, 1890. After the Civil War there were disagreements over the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments. The Fourteenth amendment giving all free “males” over 21 the right to vote, and the Fifteenth Amendment stating that the right to vote cannot be denied on the base of race. This was the first time the word “male” was written into the Constitution. Previously only individual states had laws restricting voting rights. This association was a merger between the two rival faction of the AWSA and the NWSA. The leaders of this association were decided by the delegates. The outcome of the decision was; Elizabeth Cady Stanton as president, Susan B. Anthony as vice-president, and Lucy Stone as chair of the executive committee.
On, November 7, 1893, Colorado became the second state behind Wyoming in giving women the right to vote. Many states granted the right to vote to women prior to the Nineteenth Amendment being passed on June 4, 1919 and was ratified and became law on August 18, 1920.
The group who ultimately got women the right to vote in Colorado was the Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association. It took 30 years of work by many individuals and groups. Locally those individuals were: Territorial Governor John Evans, D.M. Richards, Territorial Governor Edward McCook, Alida Cornelia Avery – elected as the first president of the Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association as well as the first women licensed to practice medicine in Colorado in 1874, Governor John Routt, Judge H.P.H. Bromwell, Agapito Vigil, Margaret Tobin Brown (the Unsinkable Molly Brown of Titanic fame) and candidate for U.S. Senator representing Colorado but declined as WW I broke out and she shifted her focus to relief efforts in France), Louise Tyler – head of the Colorado Women’s Christian Temperance Union, writers – Ellis Meredith and Minnie Reynolds (Reynolds helped to establish the Denver Woman’s Press Club, still continues to this day – she also, as a writer for the Rocky Mountain News, contacted all of the other state’s newspaper editors to publicize the suffrage issue gaining 75% of the papers to grant room in their publications for pro-suffrage information), Helen M. Reynolds (Minnie’s older sister), Patience Stapleton (writer for the Denver Republican newspaper), physician Mary Elizabeth Bates, African American activist Elizabeth Ensley, Ione Hanna (the first female school board member and the first woman to hold any elected governing body in Colorado), Martha Pease, Grace Epsy Patten, Emma Ghent Curtis, Carolyne Nichols Churchill, plus 10,000 more courageous Coloradoans.
Colorado’s history in the suffrage movement seriously began in 1868, when then Territorial Governor John Evans proposed women’s right to vote along with D.M. Richards, but the Territorial Legislature failed to act on the proposal. One year later, the territory of Wyoming granted women the right to vote, being the first in the United States. The following year Territorial Governor Edward McCook again took it to the territorial legislature and again it was defeated.
On January 10, 1876 it was clear that Colorado would soon become a state and the suffragists wanted to be sure that women would have the right to vote when Colorado became a state. So on that day at the Unity Church in Denver, another convention of the country’s most prominent suffragist convened. The conference was held the same day as the soon to be state’s constitutional convention. The conference was headed by Margaret West Campbell of Massachusetts, being one of the most sought after speaker on suffrage. This convention formed the first Territorial Woman Suffrage Society, and elected Alida Cornelia Avery as its first president. On February 15, 1876 the Society issued two reports to the legislative convention. One in favor of granting the women the right to vote lost in the legislature even though it was supported by the then Territorial Governor and soon to be Governor of the new state of Colorado, John Routt. The second did grant women the right to vote for school board officers. What did come from this was the support of Judge Henry Pelham Holmes Bromwell. Judge Bromwell added a provision to the new state constitution that read, “The General Assembly shall, at the first session thereof, and may at any subsequent session, enact laws to extend the right of suffrage to women of lawful age, and otherwise qualified according to the provisions of this Article. No such enactment shall be of effect until submitted to the vote of the qualified electors at a general election, nor unless the same be approved by a majority of those voting thereon.” (The Constitution of the State of Colorado, March 14, 1876).
In 1877, the Territorial Woman Suffrage Society changed its name to the Women’s Suffrage Association of Colorado. The first meeting was hosted by Governor John Routt and his wife Eliza. Local and National supporters of Suffrage canvassed the state prior to the November 1877 Election Day. Resistance to this
movement was predominantly religious leaders including Catholic Priest Joseph P. Machebeuf. He is quoted as saying, “the class of women wanting suffrage are battalions of old maids disappointed in love.” Again it was defeated two to one, even worse in the southern counties of the state which was predominantly Hispanic and Catholic. Only Boulder voted to pass suffrage. The Women’s Suffrage Association of Colorado disbanded. Although in 1890 they revived because of Matilda Hindman from South Dakota. They changed their name, removing “Women” from the title to garner more support. The new name was the Colorado Equal Suffrage Organization.
In 1893, they renamed again to the Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association of Colorado. The group sent Ellis Meredith to the Women’s Congress in Chicago to raise funds and try to get Susan B. Anthony to come to Colorado to give speeches. She declined both money and her services feeling the timing was wrong. She did provide Carrie Chapman Catt as a speaker. Catt traveled to Colorado raising funds and helping to create auxiliary suffrage chapters throughout the state. They distributed 150,000 fliers explaining the rights that women would attain by men voting “yes” to suffrage in the upcoming election. It was quoted by the Populist Party, “…it was time to let the women vote, they can’t do any worse than the men!” The only vocal opposition was the liquor industry, fearing the outlawing of alcohol. Colorado was the first state to pass the suffrage law by popular vote on November 7, 1893. The law officially went into effect on January 1, 1894. The first woman to register to vote in Colorado was first lady Eliza Routt.
From the beginning of the suffrage movement in Colorado to the passing of the women’s right to vote in Colorado took 25 long years.
• The History of Equal Suffrage in Colorado, 1868-1898. Copy at the Library of Congress, National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection. https://www.loc.gov/item/ca21000331/ or from Amazon https://www.amazon.com/History-Equal-Suffrage-Colorado-1868-1898/dp/0548290318/ref=sr_1_1?crid=14JD00S60VMMT&keywords=The+history+of+equal+suffrage+in+Colorado%2C+1868-1898&qid=1694797784&sprefix=the+history+of+equal+suffrage+in+colorado%2C+1868-1898%2Caps%2C127&sr=8-1
• More about the famous Molly Brown (this book is most likely to be a Conifer Historical Society book club choice for 2024: Molly Brown; Unraveling the Myth, by Kristin Jensen. Available at your local library, local bookstore, or Amazon (used and new).
Historical fiction book:
• Stories from Suffragette City, edited by M.J. Rose and Fiona Davis (multiple authors)
Additional research or reading can be done on:
• The Men’s League on Women’s Suffrage
• The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage
Sources for this document are: