Woman Suffrage in Louisville

The story of suffrage in Louisville, Kentucky is a study in contrasts: pro-suffrage vs. anti-suffrage, northern influence vs. southern values, federal vs. state control, and progress vs. tradition. In many ways the suffrage movement came to Louisville in the same ways as it came to northern cities; however, the response to it showed the city's complex relationship with civil rights as a border city between the north and the south.

Carol Guethlein outlined the timeline of the Louisville woman suffrage movement in her article "Women in Louisville: Moving toward Equal Rights."(Guethlein 1981) While her article focused on the chronological development of the movement and organizations that worked toward suffrage, this article focuses on the political and cultural factors that affected the progress of the movement. The first section covers Louisville's introduction to the idea of equal political and legal rights for women through the upper-class women of the city. The second section examines the back and forth progress of suffrage as women in Kentucky gained, lost, and regained partial suffrage — the right to vote on school-related issues. Section three concentrates on religious and cultural perceptions of the role of women in society and politics. The next section examines the awkward relationship between suffragists and prohibitionists. The final section discusses the tensions that arose from states' rights advocates as a federal suffrage amendment approached ratification.

Early Days of the Suffrage Movement

Five years after the first Women's Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, Lucy Stone delivered her message on women's rights to Louisville.(Knott 2001) For three nights in November 1853 Lucy Stone held forth at Mozart Hall in the city's business district. She lectured on women's rights, on the legal vulnerabilities of women, and on biblical womanhood. While local newspapers lauded her oratory skills and commented on the large audiences she drew, a negative backlash soon appeared. In the following days one editorial made an overwrought comparison to Amazon society, calling Stone a "charming witch" intent on "leading astray the popular mind."("Female" 1853) Another article highlighted the economic danger that Lucy Stone and the suffragists represented when it said that she "was at times exceedingly hard on the lords of punch and tobacco."("Miss" 1853) Leaders of the vice industries had to be asking themselves how the push for women's rights would affect their bottom line. Would women workers and women voters change how they did business? If women could vote, would they interfere with alcohol and tobacco production and consumption? Louisville, in particular, had thriving alcohol and tobacco operations. By 1850 Kentucky had 75 tobacco manufacturers and 73 distilleries.(Manufactures 1850) Louisville alone accounted for 20 brewers, 28 liquor dealers, and 81 tobacconists.(Louisville 1855) Stone's critics, for the most part, did not focus on these industrial issues, nor did they focus on the merits of her arguments; they focused instead on her, personally. The Daily Courier added little poems under the advertisements of her speaking engagements in the region, including this one:

"A name like 'Curius' shall be his,
On fame's loud trumpet blown,
Who with a wedding kiss shuts up
The mouth of Lucy Stone!"(Daily 1853)

By the 1860s the mounting tensions between North and South and the subsequent outbreak of the Civil War pushed aside the issue of women's rights and suffrage. The movement made little progress again until the fighting had been over for years, despite the legal extension of the right to vote to Black men in the 1870 passage of the Fifteenth Amendment.

Just as Lucy Stone had done before, Elizabeth Cady Stanton brought the Northeastern progressive perspective to Louisville women. In her 1872 address at the Louisville Masonic Temple she advocated against wearing corsets, and for women getting paid for housework and having the right to vote because "they had been inferiors long enough."("Coming" 1872) On a national level an amendment for woman suffrage was proposed to the U.S. Congress in 1878, but it would take over 40 years before it would become law. (Museum 2014)

Suffrage organizations began to take their message on the road. In 1881 Louisville became the site for the national American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) convention. Never before had the meeting been held so far south. Holding the AWSA convention in Louisville was a turning point in the expansion of suffragist activities from primarily Northern proponents into the South. One article acknowledged that holding the meeting in Louisville was an experiment in Southern expansion "which the result has more than justified."(S 1881)

The newspaper coverage displayed a mix of southern hospitality and avuncular dismissal. One essay in the Courier – Journal asked that guests be welcomed with "a gracious and generous manner," but compared the women's pursuit of the ballot to a hobby like crochet. The author wrote, "We deeply regret that the excellent and capable ladies who have given their hearts and their best efforts to the enfranchisement of women should have accomplished so little."("Woman-Suffrage" 1881)

The organizers, for their part, expressed their appreciation at the thorough coverage provided on the meeting's sessions and even went so far as to reprint an editorial from the Courier – Journal with the caveat, "Without endorsing all the sentiments therein expressed, we fully appreciate the candid and courteous manner in which the subject is treated."("Woman Question" 1881) The Courier – Journal was recognized as one of the most influential papers in the South at the time. Its editor, Henry Watterson, had a reputation for eloquence. His editorial acknowledged that "the woman question" warranted discussion and could not be dismissed, but argued against suffrage on a number of points. Firstly, he warned of the possible debasing influence of politics on women stating that the vote "instead of elevating the standards of womanhood, it might corrupt them, effecting none of the reforms really required." Secondly, he felt that women would not know what to do with the ballot — that women lacked the "education indispensable to the wholesome exercise of Suffrage." He compared the possibility of suffrage for women to suffrage for Black men and asked, "Has not the enfranchisement of the blacks worked almost as much harm as good, and would it not have been better to have qualified them for the ballot before investing them with it?" While he did not agree with the suffragists' desire for the ballot, he did advocate for better education for girls. "It is simply shocking to consider the way we bring up our girls... The theory of our system is that, in order to keep them pure, we must keep them ignorant... Girls should be educated precisely as boys are educated... If they want to go astray, let them at least go with their eyes open." He closed the editorial with a gracious nod to the ladies of the conference and all the women who had preceded them "serving God and humanity according to their inspiration."("Woman Question" 1881)

The convention drew delegates from around the country and well-known speakers, such as Julia Ward Howe.("Woman Suffrage" 1881) In the end the members resolved to petition every state legislature to remove inequalities in the personal and property rights of wives and widows, to allow women to vote in municipal, town and presidential elections, and to abolish all political restrictions on account of sex.(Resolutions 1881)

The convention succeeded in its effort to involve more women in the fight for suffrage. Mrs. Sylvia Goddard of Louisville and Miss Laura Clay of Lexington were elected as Vice Presidents of AWSA representing Kentucky. The meeting so inspired the women in attendance that twenty-five of them met and formed the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Association, the first state suffrage society in the South. (Miller 1995) Even with the growing momentum of the movement, a follow-up editorial about the convention in the Courier – Journal insisted that "the women of the United States, as a sex, do not seek suffrage, and many of those who advocate most strenuously are at a loss to tell what they would do with the ballot if they had it."("Women and" 1881)

Women in Louisville, however, were well aware of their need for the ballot. In addition to its potential for improving the legal standing of women, the ballot had potential for improving the health and safety of women and children in the workplace. In large part it would be the upper class women of Louisville who advocated for changes in the legal rights for women. Socially prominent women held a level of influence unavailable to working class women. Several of them used this influence to champion women's rights, workplace safety, and woman suffrage. Susan Avery, for example, was the wife of industrialist B. F. Avery and an advocate for the rights of women. In 1887 Susan Avery invited Zerelda Wallace to speak at her home. In the speech Wallace, a suffrage proponent from Indianapolis, insisted that while legislators are "too gallant" to force suffrage on women, women only needed to ask for it. In her attempt to rouse the group to action, she expressed her disapproval of well-off women who did nothing to help others.

I even have a contempt for the woman who, hedged about by wealth and social position, with some brave man between her and the great battle of the world, sits calmly down to her embroidery, or her crazy quilt, and says she has all the rights she wants. If she has all she wants, there are women who have not; women who live on a lower plane than hers; who come in contact with brutal men; thousands of women earning their own living under adverse conditions, who need all the protection they can get; and she is guilty of gross injustice when she refuses to move in this matter, because she has all the rights she wants. ("Femininity" 1887)

Some of these women of "social position" took Wallace's message to heart. For example, the Louisville Equal Rights Association (LERA) formed with an objective to "advance the industrial, educational, and legal rights of women, and to obtain the franchise for them."(Cole 2011) The plight of the working woman was of particular concern for these progressive women. By 1890 women accounted for 25% of Louisville's workforce with women working mostly as servants, dressmakers, laundresses, and factory workers.(Report 1897) In Louisville's woolen mills women made up 65% of the factory workers. The census of the time includes workers "10 years of age and over" which reflects how young some workers were. Work conditions could be harsh with long hours and few legal protections for workers, but organizations like LERA and the Woman's Club of Louisville pushed for protective legislation for women and children. Through these women's efforts a Kentucky law was proposed in 1892 that no woman under 21 be employed in a manufacturing establishment for longer than 60 hours in one week. ("That" 1892)

These working conditions motivated the formation of the Commission to Investigate the Conditions of Working Women in Kentucky in 1911. The commission included Louisville women Dr. Julia Ingram, Annie Halleck, and Patty Semple, The commission produced a report highlighting the hazardous working conditions, low pay and long hours that plagued the working woman. The research the group did demonstrated that two-thirds of the state's working women were making less than a subsistence wage even with some women working 60 hours per week.(Report 1911) By promoting healthier conditions and better pay for women, the group promoted better labor conditions for men as well — creating a symbiotic relationship between the suffragists and labor groups.

Labor unions were among the earliest institutional supporters of woman suffrage. The National Industrial Convention supported suffrage in its political platform in 1887 and in 1890 the American Federation of Labor also acknowledged its support of the movement. ("Commoners" 1887) (Museum 2014) Labor organizations regarded advocates of women's rights and woman's suffrage as allies. The State Federation of Labor, for example, resolved to favor "suffrage for women on equal terms with men, as necessary to their economic independence in all branches of labor."("Woman Suffrage" 1911) One of the reasons why so many women and children were employed in factories was because employers could pay them less than men. These labor organizations recognized that advancement of woman suffrage and the added influence of women could positively impact the wages and working conditions of all workers.

Racism and a Reversal of Rights

In 1894 a peculiar drama played out in Kentucky in regards to woman suffrage. A law on the books since 1842 had granted widows who paid school taxes partial suffrage — the right to vote for the school board.(Loughborough 1842) The law applied only to first class cities in Kentucky, and the sole first class city was Louisville. In 1894 Kentucky legislators extended school suffrage to women in second class cities, namely Lexington, Covington, and Newport.(Miller 2001, 251) Eight years later the legislature revoked this enfranchisement; they repealed women's right to vote in school elections.(Fuller)

High turnout among Black women voters may have been the impetus for the change. Just after the right had been granted to the women of second class cities, the Courier – Journal reprinted this story from the Lexington Press Transcript, purportedly a conversation between a Lexington society lady and her Black cook.

"Miss Anne, I done registered airly this mornin' 'fore I come ter get brekfus. But laws, Miss Anne, I dunno what fer I registered. What does yer register for?"

"Why, Aunt Lucy, you register so that you can vote for the members of the Board of Education."

"Why, what's dat, Miss Anne? A board er eddication? I don't know what dat is."

"The Board of Education, Aunt Lucy, are the men and women who are elected to take charge of the public schools. Didn't you know what you were registering for?"

"No'm, Miss Anne. I jes' registered 'cause my preacher tole us to be sho an' register, so's we could vote."("In" 1895)

The intended moral of this overtly racist story is that extending the vote to women meant that the few rational, educated, white women who were allowed to vote would be outnumbered by the irrational, illiterate, Black women. The reaction of the Kentucky legislature was to repeal the rights of women to vote on school issues, including the women of Louisville. This backlash was a blow to the progress of the suffrage movement in Kentucky. In a 1902 address to the State Federation of Women's Clubs, Kate Avery commented on the repeal:

We have been before our Legislature asking for school suffrage, and have got generous advice to ask for no political rights; the privileges granted to Kentucky women have been repealed, and Kentucky has become a state wherein women have no political rights, a retrograde movement in strong contrast to the progressive spirit which prompted her Legislature many years since to grant, unasked, the rights of school suffrage to women.(Czapski 1902)

It would be another ten years before the state legislature returned school suffrage to women; however, the new 1912 law placed an additional literacy requirement on female voters, while still allowing illiterate men to vote. The act read "that all women possessing the legal qualifications required of male voters in any common school election, and who in addition are able to read and write" would be allowed to vote on school matters. (Carroll 1915)

Religion, Woman's Sphere and "The Dirt of Politics"

In a city with a large proportion of the population identifying themselves as Christians, suffrage discussions were fraught with arguments about God's will, morality, and woman's place in society. Sometimes the arguments were more abstract, as when Watterson compared women to snowflakes that would lose their "purity in the muddy waste of the franchise."("Woman Question" 1881) Other detractors of the movement were more direct — stating that God never intended for women to vote.(Sauffley 1888) One member of the Christian Brotherhood, for example, felt woman suffrage would be a violation of God's will citing a verse from the Bible that says "the head of the woman is the man."(Chinn 1890) An anonymous Southern Baptist echoed these sentiments in a letter to the editor of the Courier – Journal. He asserted that the Bible commands, "Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak."(Suffrage 1913) His letter concluded that women should not be part of the public discourse and that the "Bible and woman suffrage cannot be made to agree, one or the other must fall."

In the pro-suffrage camp, Zerelda Wallace felt that God made woman responsible for defending "her home and her children from the vices and temptations that beset them" and that "without the help of the ballot she is powerless to restrain vice and promote virtue."("Feminity" 1887) Others adhered to the idea that women would have a cleansing effect on politics — "that a woman with a vote may be a woman with power — power to dethrone the unlovely and the ungodly."("Mr." 1911)

In a 1915 editorial Watterson referred to suffrage advocates as "headstrong females and the horsey girls who hate God because He made them women, and who refusing to rule in their appointed kingdom, roam at large to serve the devil of revolution and discontent."("Defeat" 1915) He found the woman suffrage movement to be "at its base an assault upon religion and morals, no less than upon an established social order."

In response to Watterson's piece, Mrs. James Bennett of Richmond, Kentucky, wrote a letter to the editor. She paraphrased the Bible to refute his arguments entreating "men to do unto women in the right of suffrage as they would like to have women do unto them in this matter." She further argued that according to the Bible God created woman to help men in "all things whatsoever" and suffrage for women would enable them to fulfill this imperative: "I believe that the reason some men think that some women hate God is because these men believe that God created the woman as inferior to the man when he made her a help meet for him." (Bennett 1915)

Watterson's anti-suffrage rhetoric grew more apocalyptic as federal and state legislatures edged closer to granting women suffrage. In a 1917 editorial he professed that the Courier – Journal "stoutly opposes, and will continue to oppose, the movement to drag [woman] down into the bull-ring of politics, as wicked in itself, inevitably leading to the destruction of the home and the Religion of Christ, and in lieu of these the establishment of savagery through Free Love and 'The Religion of Nature.'"("Woman Suffrage" 1917)

Even after suffrage had been granted Watterson felt that women's voting should be restricted to "charities, corrections and schools, keeping woman away from the dirt of politics."(Watterson 1998, 197) From a twenty-first century perspective his writings come off as paternalistic at best, and misogynistic at worst. Putting his comment about "the dirt of politics" into the context of the early Twentieth Century, however, he did have a point. The political arena in Louisville really was a dishonored and often dangerous enterprise for voters.

For much of the late 1800s and early 1900s politics in Louisville was as much about cronyism and lucre as it was about city governance. Whoever controlled city government had the ability to appoint thousands of people to government positions, influence the outcomes of judicial findings, and grant contracts to political supporters. Thus the political machine emerged. The party boss reigned as the unofficial king of the city. He decided who would be elected and made sure it happened in myriad unsavory ways from ballot box stuffing to physical intimidation.(Campbell 2003) On first glance, Watterson's comment on dirty politics might seem to imply that ladies were too delicate to rub elbows with the common riffraff, but the reality of the time was that Louisville's elections were run by a political boss who used police to coerce and sometimes physically assault voters to get them to vote "correctly."

The particularly egregious case of the 1905 election stands as an example of just how dangerous it was to be a voter in Louisville. During that time the Democratic party was controlled by John Whallen, the owner of a burlesque theater and saloon. Whallen made his start helping councilmen get elected so that his liquor license would be approved. As his connections and influence grew so did his wealth until he became one of the richest men in Louisville. He built a cadre of supporters among the poor and working class by providing food and coal to needy members of the community. He parlayed that support into votes and political influence. His theatre became the hub of all Democratic Party activity and as he called it, the "sewer through which the political filth of Louisville runs." (Campbell 2003, 274) During his reign his political cronies even got him appointed as Chief of Police which led to police officers becoming an election day intimidation squad.

Ironically, considering Watterson's concern over women's safety should they receive the vote, his editorial covering the 1905 election indicated that "All things considered, [the election was as] free of disturbances as could be expected."("Vox" 1905) Just the day before, however, a reporter of the Courier – Journal devoted a whole page to the violence and fraudulent behaviors evident at polling places across the city.("Trouble" 1905) In light of the sheer corruption and the level of violence during the election, the argument about politics being potentially dangerous for women is understandable; however, it was potentially dangerous for men as well.

Prohibition and Woman Suffrage

Being that John Whallen, the ersatz Chief of Police, also owned a successful burlesque theater and saloon, another element of the struggle for woman suffrage becomes clear. One of the planks in the woman suffrage platform was that women wanted the vote so they could clean up the city — shut down saloons, reduce drunkenness, and improve the safety of women and children. In a letter to the editor, Susan Avery wrote:

Mothers desire better conditions — a purer atmosphere in which to educate their sons and daughters — one from which the liquor saloon, the lottery office, the gambling house and the brothel shall be eliminated; and they believe that the ballot in their hands would accomplish the desired result. ("Mrs. Susan" 1900)

During the fight for suffrage at the school board level, Madeline Breckinridge of Lexington seconded Avery's sentiment:

There is a small class of men who are perhaps actively withholding the school ballot from women: these are the men allied with the liquor interests. Fear for their special interests gives them an exaggerated terror of allowing a woman to handle any kind of a ballot... that if a woman gets hold of any kind of a ballot she will straightway get the full suffrage and vote for prohibition.(Breckinridge 1909)

Because of this desire to clean up the city, some crossover existed between woman suffrage and prohibition proponents, but not universally so. At an 1888 meeting of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in Louisville, the WCTU announced that it did not support suffrage because the women of Kentucky did not want the vote and that "men of this state are gallant and honorable enough to take care of (women's) interests in voting." ("Opponents" 1888) Members of the Kentucky Prohibition Convention argued at a meeting the following year on whether to include woman suffrage in their platform. Some felt that by conflating prohibition with woman suffrage, the cause of prohibition would lose votes it might win otherwise.("Whisky's" 1919)

In 1892, however, the National Prohibition Party announced its support of woman suffrage at a Kentucky convention. ("Down" 1892) The State Prohibition Convention also shifted from anti-suffrage under the leadership of one chairman, to endorsing woman suffrage under the next leader in 1907.("Want" 1907)

States' Rights v. Federal Amendment

In the early days of suffrage while the concept spread southward, the tension of North versus South still ran strong. According to a letter to the editor of the Courier – Journal in 1887 "our Northern neighbors would thrust this right upon us."(Aleph 1887) At national suffrage meetings, a Kentucky woman admitted to taking offense at constant references to slavery as a Southern crime. "I felt mighty cold and lonesome, and as if I had gone over to the enemy."(Desha 1890) While the wounds of the Civil War had begun to heal, twenty or thirty years later resentment lingered: southerners did not want northerners telling them to change their customs. This argument against suffrage for women took the shape of a debate on states' rights versus federal mandate.

The final years of the fight for woman suffrage turned into a race of sorts between those who supported a federal amendment and those who believed the issue should be legislated according to individual states' norms. Western states began granting universal suffrage (ie. the right to vote in all local, state, and national elections) to women at the end of the nineteenth century. While Kentucky was eliminating then restoring women's right to vote in school board elections, the electorates of some states were approving state constitutional amendments for complete woman suffrage.

The opponents to woman suffrage latched on to the argument that decisions on voting rights was for states to decide and that a constitutional amendment at the federal level would be tantamount to "contravening State lines, overriding local conditions and ordaining the precipitate and universal enfranchisement of women." Underlying the states' rights argument was a blatantly racist premise that Henry Watterson expressed in his editorial titled "Snakes in the Grass." He wrote that a federal amendment would "bring the Fifteenth Amendment back to life and compel the casting of the votes of the negroes of the South by Federal process."("Snakes" 1914) So the fear of the Southern states was not just that women would gain the vote, but that universal suffrage would bring attention to the Jim Crow arrangements that had been preventing Black men from voting even though they had been granted that right legally in 1870 — over forty years earlier.

As support for woman suffrage grew across the nation it fueled the women's rights associations in states where women did not yet have the vote. The Louisville Woman's Suffrage Association, for example, intensified their work — pushing for suffrage at the state fair, inviting speakers to the area, distributing literature and pro-suffrage buttons.("Women's Clubs" 1913) Even within the suffragist community the issue of federal amendment vs. state legislation was divisive. Leaders of the Equal Rights Association (ERA), for example, felt that the road to woman suffrage would run through Congress. Laura Clay of Lexington, a long-time member and former president of the organization, adamantly took the position that a federal amendment would infringe upon states' rights. Clay believed that the Susan B. Anthony amendment, as the federal amendment was sometimes called, aimed to destroy states' rights and the principle that people should determine what was right for themselves.("Suffrage Law" 1919) The continued push by the ERA to pursue the federal option eventually led Clay to break ties with the organization.

Clay also broke ties with the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Carrie Chapman Catt, president of NAWSA, outlined her "Winning Plan" which sought to win over 36 states to approve state suffrage so they could then pressure those legislatures into supporting a federal amendment.(Frost-Knappman 2005, 326) NAWSA developed plans to influence local minds and state legislatures with a final goal of national mandate. Their 1911 annual convention in Louisville was greeted by Henry Watterson declaring himself "at a loss... [as] whether to laugh, or to whistle;" but while Watterson jeered, the suffragists strategized.("Woman's Suffrage" 1911) Their ranks were growing and their influence spreading to include both federal and state lawmakers. The conference drew attendees from thirty-five states and the District of Columbia.(NAWSA 1911) The Kentucky contingent reportedly added 279 members to its roll that year and pledged to work "for a State law giving women the right of Suffrage."(NAWSA 1911, 119)

The conference members planned letter writing campaigns to state legislatures and methods of getting their message out locally. They inspired the Woman's Club of Louisville to throw their support behind the cause. Pattie Blackburn Semple, the club's president, gave a rousing speech at the conference. She declared that when their club had originally formed three subjects were taboo: politics, religion, and woman suffrage. They eventually found that their civic work could not be accomplished while ignoring politics and told the conventioneers of the pride the women had in the changes they had affected in Louisville schools by challenging the political system. In her speech Semple intoned, "We came away from the polls that bleak November day many of us out and out suffragists. Our club is twenty-one years old and we want to vote."("Applaud" 1911)

In 1911 members of NAWSA took their message directly to the Governors' Conference. They detailed the wide variance in state laws regarding the rights of women and put the question to the governors, "(with the) strange confusion of woman's status in different States... how can you, gentlemen, expect the women of disenfranchised States to rest satisfied and content under this discrimination?"("Raise" 1911)

During this decade the movement made gradual progress on the federal level and in a number of states, but the suffragists fought hard for each step forward. Part of that fight was convincing Congress that it had the right to circumvent state preferences. The tide of sentiment on the issue was turning. In 1914 when the Democratic House caucus refused to put the woman suffrage issue up for discussion, an editorial in the Philadelphia Public Ledger challenged the stated reason:

No one should make the mistake of assuming because the Democratic House caucus decided against the right of the National Government to consider the woman suffrage question, that there is any vitality left in the old-fashioned doctrine of States' rights. It is not convenient or expedient for the Democratic party to commit itself on the suffrage issue at present. So it dangles the ghost of the old doctrine in the face of the women.("Underwood" 1914)

In the same year Representative John Miller, Jr. of Paducah asked the Kentucky House of Representatives to let Kentuckians vote on the suffrage question. As a Democrat in the majority party, he argued that failing to be the party that made suffrage possible for the women of Kentucky would be political suicide as women would remember which political party made their votes possible. Despite that rationale Miller's bill was defeated soundly by a vote of 51 to 29.("Death" 1914) Miller, however, had a point that resonated at both the federal and state level: if women get the vote, which party would have their loyalty?

In the next couple years suffragists in Louisville gained support from a number of new allies. In1915 the Kentucky Fire Underwriters' Association publicly endorsed a motion to have "the next Legislature of Kentucky submit to the voters of this State an amendment to the Constitution to grant to the women of Kentucky equal suffrage."("Insurance" 1915) The following year several members of the Louisville business community, including the presidents of the Board of Trade and the Louisville Commercial Club, promoted the submission of a Constitutional amendment for suffrage to a vote of the people. A newspaper reporter's coverage of that meeting concluded, however, that "if the Senators and Representative of Jefferson county are interested in the question of securing suffrage for the women of the State they did not show it yesterday, for none of them appeared at the luncheon given by men and women who are working toward that end."("Legislators 1916")

The National Woman's Party (NWP) formed in 1916 and its members pushed for a federal amendment by picketing the White House. They were the first political activists to do this and were arrested for it.("Arousing" 1917) Miss Cornelia Beach, a prominent worker at Louisville's Neighborhood House settlement, volunteered to join the marchers in Washington. She and nine other women were arrested for protesting in front of the White House gates. Miss Beach was sentenced to thirty days at a workhouse and a $10 fine.("Local" 1917)

Emma Dolfinger of Louisville wired the White House in the name of Kentucky women to express their concern over "the unjust arrest of the splendid women who are so fearlessly standing for the cause of human freedom."("Arousing" 1917) Miss Dolfinger served as the vice-chair of the newly formed Kentucky branch of the NWP. Many considered the NWP to be radical because of its use of such "unladylike" tactics as public protests. Henry Watterson called out the activists as "Crazy Janes and Silly Sallies" whose "character, methods and behavior" discredited the movement they were trying to promote.("Woman Suffrage" 1917)

By December 1917, at a Republican banquet with Rep. Jeanette Rankin of Montana as guest of honor, Kentucky's future governor Edwin Morrow expressed his desire for Republicans to lead the fight for woman suffrage in Kentucky. Miss Rankin indicated her belief that the next Congress would enact national equal suffrage.("To" 1917) Morrow's desire for Republicans to take the lead may have been an attempt to bring state legislation ahead of the federal amendment or to make his party the favorite among new women voters. In January 1918 Kentucky's General Assembly once again came out against woman suffrage while Morrow urged the Republicans to come out in favor of a resolution favoring votes for women. The resolution did not move forward. The caucus wanted to defer any legislation that might give Democrats the advantage of higher representation in the General Assembly.("Suffrage Gets" 1918)

Proposals for a federal amendment had been introduced in Congress since 1878. Forty years later, President Wilson became the first president to officially support it. In his announcement he said that he considered suffrage to be a national and constitutional issue. He urged Congressmen to vote for woman suffrage... if they believed in it. Courier – Journal coverage of the announcement stated that the Southern Congressmen fighting the amendment did so because it would "enfranchise millions of negro women of the South."("Wilson" 1918) Some Southern Democrats were angered by President Wilson's last minute announcement. They felt that his endorsement forced Democrats to either vote for suffrage or embarrass the president.("Suffrage Wins" 1918) One Southern representative maintained that the issue was a question for states to decide stating that "people in the South have a problem of suffrage to work out that other sections do not," ie. the enfranchisement of Black voters. Kentucky's congressmen were split on the issue when the vote came to the House. The suffrage amendment passed the House by a vote of two-thirds in favor, but failed to pass the Senate. In February 1919 the amendment failed again in regular session. With substantial pressure to get the amendment passed in time for women to be eligible to vote in the next presidential election, President Wilson called a special session of Congress. Finally, on June 4, 1919, the amendment had approval by both House and Senate and it was passed on to the states for ratification.

An editorial by Watterson called the amendment an attempt to minimize the power of the South and increase Black suffrage "for whose suppression the South has stood solid since the days of Reconstruction." He referred to the amendment as a "force bill" because while it would legally extend the vote to women, it would also force the South to stop impeding the right of Black men to vote.("Democratic" 1918)

Even after the federal amendment was on its way to ratification, some advocated a state route to suffrage for women. Judge Edward McDermott, a former Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky, gave a speech to the Bar Association insisting that Kentucky should create its own law empowering and regulating votes for women. Madeline Breckinridge (of Lexington) pointed out that McDermott had been the presiding officer of the Senate for the past two sessions without advocating for a state suffrage law:

I do not remember that Mr. McDermott has ever before had any great warmth of feeling about our getting suffrage by the States' right route: it seems to have developed only when there is danger of our getting it by the Federal route.("Most" 1919)

Madeline Breckinridge's husband Desha, editor of the Lexington Herald submitted a letter to the editor of the Courier – Journal refuting the idea that a federal amendment circumvented the rights of the states. He further pointed out the irony that Jeanette Rankin could represent Montana in Congress, but if she were to move to Kentucky she would lose her voting rights.(Breckinridge 1920)

In March 1919 for the first time ever, both the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates in Kentucky pledged to support suffrage.("Equal" 1919) The Republican platform that spring included advocating for better roads, woman suffrage, and prohibition. It called upon "our Representatives in the Congress of the United States, in the Legislature of Kentucky and in all executive positions, to use their votes and their influence for all measures granting political rights to women."("This" 1919) Edwin Morrow, who had supported suffrage publicly for years, won the election to become Kentucky's governor. During their convention the Democrats also came out in favor of ratifying the federal amendment although some members put up a fight to have the issue put to Kentucky voters in the next election. The issue was "practically the only fight waged in the drafting and adoption of the platform" according to the Courier – Journal.("Ratification" 1919) During the election coverage, the Courier – Journal advised the Democratic party to stand in favor of the federal amendment since it was a "foregone conclusion" that it would pass Congress. Since Republicans had declared themselves in support of the amendment, the paper's editors further advised that Democrats go one step further by declaring their intention to give Kentucky women the right to vote at the state level.("Suffrage Is" 1919) This rather drastic reversal of opinion from the Courier – Journal came from the paper's new leadership as Henry Watterson had stepped down as editor in March 1919.

The race to win the hearts and minds of new voters was well underway before ratification of the federal amendment was complete. In September 1919 the Kentucky Democratic Party appointed Mrs. Samuel Castleman of Louisville as the campaign chair for Kentucky women.("Women to" 1919) The following year she became a member of the Women's National Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee.("Democrats" 1920) Meanwhile, Republicans selected Mrs. John G. South of Frankfort to its woman's division of the Republican National Committee.("Mrs. J" 1919)

The women of Kentucky are citizens of Kentucky, and there is no good or just reason why they should be refused the full and equal exercise of the sovereign right of every free people — the ballot. Every member of this General Assembly is unequivocally committed by his party's platform declaration to cast his vote and use his influence for the immediate enfranchisement of women.(Morrow 1920)

The federal amendment passed the House by a vote of 71 to 25 without debate. In the Senate, a counterproposal to provide woman suffrage by the State route was voted down and ratification approved by a vote of 30 to 8.(Perry 1920) On January 8, 1920 Governor Morrow signed the joint resolution of the General Assembly to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. Kentucky and Rhode Island ratified the amendment on the same day making them the 23rd and 24th states to pass it. On August 18th, Tennessee became the 36th and final state needed to approve the amendment before it became law.


From its earliest days the woman suffrage movement in Louisville faced some powerful adversaries and obstacles. Religious and social traditionalists had a constricted view of what women should do, and being involved in public discourse and decision-making was not acceptable to them. Factory owners wanted to employ women and children for as little pay as possible. They feared voting women would increase their production costs and lower their profits. Similarly, alcohol and tobacco producers, as well as proprietors of saloons, saw women as a threat to their businesses. Articulate and persuasive Henry Watterson embodied one of the greatest obstacles for woman suffrage in Louisville. He represented the "powers that be" — those in positions of power and influence whose hegemony was threatened by potential changes to the status quo. The racist aspects of the anti-suffrage arguments illuminate that it was not just a fear of changing woman's role in society, but also a fear of the growing influence for Blacks that alarmed the White, male beneficiaries of the status quo.

Conviction and sheer persistence won in the end. The ability of privileged White women to see beyond their protected sphere to the untenable conditions of the poor and working women of their community instigated the suffrage movement. Connections with influential, progressive women from the northeast inspired the society women of Louisville to use their position and influence to increase the legal standing and voting rights of all women. As the numbers of pro-suffrage supporters grew they gained support from labor unions and eventually the business leaders of Louisville. It took over a generation, but suffragists gradually changed public opinion. By 1920 enough traditionalists, such as like Henry Watterson, had been replaced with a new vanguard of writers and politicians who saw the world in a different light — a world in which women could be full participants in the political process.


"Applaud for West Suffrage Victories." Louisville Times, October 20, 1911, 1.
"Arousing Kentucky." The Suffragist, 1917, 5.
"The Coming Girl." Courier – Journal, November 19, 1872, 4.
"Death Blow to Suffrage Bill." Courier – Journal, March 13, 1914, 1.
"The Defeat of Woman Suffrage." Courier – Journal, November 4, 1915, 4.
"The Democratic Crisis." Courier – Journal, January 11, 1918, 4.
"Democrats Give Mrs. Castleman Important Post." Courier – Journal, February 16, 1920, 1.
"Down on Drink: Platform Adopted Advocating Woman's Suffrage and Savoring Slightly of Socialism." Courier – Journal, June 3, 1892, 8.
"Equal Rights in Kentucky." Woman's Journal, 1919, 970.
"A Female Republic - Women's Rights." Daily Courier, November 4, 1853.
"Feminity in Politics: Mrs. Wallace Asserts That Southern Women Hold the Key to the Situation." Courier – Journal, April 27, 1887, 6.
"In and About Kentucky." Courier – Journal, October 12, 1895, 6.
"Insurance Men for Suffrage." Courier – Journal, June 19, 1915, 3.
"Legislators Absent from Suffrage Workers' Lunch." Courier – Journal, January 16, 1916, A, 1.
"Local Woman Is Taken by Police as 'Suff' Picket." Courier – Journal, August 29, 1917, 1.
"Miss Lucy Stone." Daily Courier, November 4, 1853.
"Most of Kentucky's Congressmen Favor Ratification of Suffrage." Courier – Journal, July 5, 1919, 4.
"Mr. Toastmaster - the Ladies." Louisville Times, 1911, 6.
"Mrs. J. G. South Heads Woman's Work for G.O.P.". Courier – Journal, November 11, 1919, 1.
"Mrs. Susan Look Avery Writing to a Louisville, Ky., Editor." The Woman's Tribune 17, no. 14 (July 14, 1900): 53.
"Opponents of Liquor." Courier – Journal, April 11, 1888, 6.
"The Progress of 'Feminism'." Courier – Journal, February 24, 1916, 4.
"Raise Voices in Protest: Women Ask Suffrage." Courier – Journal, September 15, 1911, 1.
"Ratification of Suffrage Law Favored." Courier – Journal, September 5, 1919, 1.
"Report of the Commission to Investigate the Conditions of Working Women in Kentucky." In Frances MacGregor Ingram Collection, December 1911.
"Resolutions and Officers." The Woman's Journal 12, no. 45 (November 5, 1881): 356.
"Snakes in the Grass." Courier – Journal, July 4, 1914, 4.
"Suffrage and Religion." Courier – Journal, May 14 1913, 4.
"Suffrage Gets Scant Support." Courier – Journal, January 22, 1918, 4.
"Suffrage Is Defeated in Upper House." Courier – Journal, February 11, 1919, 1.
"Suffrage Law Is Denounced by Miss Clay: Amendment Blow at States' Rights." Courier – Journal, June 7, 1919, 3.
"Suffrage Wins in Close Vote." Courier – Journal, January 11, 1918, 1.
"That New Page: Mr. Carroll's Amendment to His Bill on Suffrage and Elections." Courier – Journal, January 30, 1892.
"This Is Platform Adopted by Kentucky Republicans." Courier – Journal, May 15, 1919, 5.
"To Ask Solons for Suffrage." Courier – Journal, December 2, 1917, D, 10.
"Trouble at Many Polls Nearly All Day." Courier – Journal, November 8, 1905, 2.
"Underwood and Suffrage." Courier – Journal, February 7, 1914, 6.
"Vox Populi Vox Dei." Courier – Journal, November 9, 1905, 4.
"Want Ballot Given Women." Courier – Journal, May 31, 1907, 10.
"What Is the Matter, Ladies." Courier – Journal, September 23, 1914, 4.
"Whisky's Enemies." Courier – Journal, February 14, 1889, 6.
"Wilson Comes Out Squarely for Suffrage." Courier – Journal, January 10, 1918, 1.
"The Woman Question." The Woman's Journal 12, no. 45 (November 5, 1881): 356.
"Woman Suffrage." Courier – Journal, October 9, 1881, 14.
"Woman Suffrage." Courier – Journal, June 22, 1917, 4.
"Woman Suffrage Timeline (1840-1920)." 2014, accessed February 13, 2014, http://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/history/woman-suffrage-timeline.
"Woman Suffrage: State Federation of Labor Gives Indorsement." Courier – Journal, January 11, 1911, 10.
"The Woman's Suffrage Congress." Courier – Journal, October 20, 1911, 4.
"The Woman-Suffrage Movement." Courier – Journal (Louisville, Ky. ), October 24, 1881, 4.
"Women and Suffrage." Courier – Journal, October 25, 1881, 4.
"Women to Urge Suffrage Plan." Courier – Journal, September 2, 1919, 14.
"Women's Clubs Preparing for Work of Year." Courier – Journal, September 14, 1913, A, 6.
Aleph. "Female Suffrage: An Idea Which May Suit the North, but Which the Good Sense of Southern Women Will Not Accept." Courier – Journal, May 8, 1887, 10.
Bennett, Mrs. James. "For Woman Suffrage." Courier – Journal, November 10, 1915, 6.
Breckinridge, Desha. "Suffrage by Amendment Versus the States Rights Route." letter to the editor, Courier – Journal, January 5, 1920, 2, 4.
Breckinridge, Madeline McDowell. "Suffrage Plea." Courier – Journal, January 27, 1909, A, 6.
Campbell, Tracy A. "Machine Politics, Police Corruption, and the Persistence of Vote Fraud: The Case of the Louisville, Kentucky, Election of 1905." Journal of Policy History 15, no. 3 (2003): 269-300.
Carroll, John D. "The Kentucky Statutes: Containing All General Laws Not Included in the Codes of Practice with Full Notes of Decisions of the Court of Appeals to November, 1914 ", 2328-29. 5th 1915.
Chinn, J. G. "A Veteran's Views: What an Aged Temperance Man Thinks of Female Suffrage." Courier – Journal, September 4, 1890, 7.
Cole, Jennie, "'Her'story: Women in the Special Collections: Mary Barr Clay, the Louisville Equal Rights Association, and Women's Rights," Filson Historical Society Blog, August 30, 2011, http://filsonhistorical.org/herstory_womens-rights/.
Czapski, Annie B. "Practical Work Urged by President of Women's Club." Courier – Journal (Louisville, Ky. ), June 11, 1902, 4.
Daily Courier, December 13, 1853, 3.
Desha, M. "A Woman's Views: Estimate of the Female Suffrage Movement from a Southern Standpoint." Courier – Journal, February 26, 1890, 8.
Frost-Knappman, Elizabeth, and Kathryn Cullen-DuPont. Woman's Suffrage in America. Eyewitness History. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2005.
Fuller, Paul E. "Women's Suffrage." In Newsletter Louisville Historical League, Jefferson County Public Schools Archives, Stonestreet binder.
Guethlein, Carol. "Women in Louisville: Moving toward Equal Rights ". Filson Club History Quarterly 55, no. 2 (1981): 151-78.
Knott, Claudia. "Woman Suffrage." In The Encyclopedia of Louisville, edited by John E. Kleber. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2001.
League of Women Voters, U.S. Records. "Governor Edwin P. Morrow Signing the Anthony Amendment — Ky. Was the Twenty-Fourth State to Ratify, January 6. Kentucky, 1920.", January 6, 1920. https://www.loc.gov/item/97510716/.
Loughborough, Preston S. "A Digest of the Statute Laws of Kentucky, of a Public and Permanent Nature, Passed since 1834, with References to Judicial Decisions." 68, 1842.
The Louisville Directory and Annual Business Advertiser for 1855-56. Louisville, KY: W. Lee White & Co., 1855.
Manufactures in the Several States and Territories for the Year Ending June 1, 1850.
Miller, Penny M. "The Slow and Unsure Progress of Women in Kentucky Politics." The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 99, no. 3 (Summer 2001 2001): 249-83.
Miller, Penny M. "Staking Their Claim: The Impact of Kentucky Women in the Political Process." Kentucky Law Journal 84 (1995): 1163.
Morrow, Edwin. "Text of Governor Morrow's Message." Courier – Journal, January 7, 1920, 3.
National American Woman Suffrage Association. Forty-Third Annual Report of the National American Woman Suffrage Association Given at the Convention, Held at Louisville, Ky. October 19 to 25, Inclusive. New York: The Association, 1911. http://archive.org/stream/nationalamerican00pro/nationalamerican00pro_djvu.txt.
Perry, Claud W. "Suffrage for Women Wins in Kentucky." Courier – Journal, January 7, 1920, 1.
Report on Population of the United States at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1897.
S, L. "The Louisville Meetings." The Woman's Journal 12, no. 45 (November 5, 1881): 356.
Sauffley, Judge M. C. "Women at the Polls: A Kentuckian's Observations on the Degradation of Woman Suffrage and Its Failure to Purify Elections." Courier – Journal, December 17, 1888, 4.
Watterson, Henry. "Marse Henry": An Autobiography. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 1998. http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/watterson1/watterson1.html#wat186.