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“Wake Up, Wyoming”: The Push to Ratify the Nineteenth Amendment in the Northern Great Plains States

by Jennifer McIntyre published 2019/11/26 08:33:13 GMT-5
“Wake Up, Wyoming”: The Push to Ratify the Nineteenth Amendment in the Northern Great Plains States

The year 1919 marked the fiftieth anniversary of suffrage in Wyoming. The citizens of Wyoming—which had become known as the “Equality State”—were proud of the fact that Wyoming had been the first territory and state to secure woman suffrage. National suffrage leaders, too, had used western states, especially Wyoming, as examples of the success of suffrage. Now it appeared that the United States Congress was set to approve the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which would provide the same right to women across the United States. Early in 1919, the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) sent Frances M. Brewer to the state to organize a committee of influential Wyoming women who would push for immediate ratification of the suffrage amendment. Another Wyoming first, NAWSA reasoned, would create excitement for this last phase of the suffrage movement and build the momentum needed to motivate the required thirty-six states to ratify the measure.

Although the Susan B. Anthony Amendment had ample popular support in the state, the debate over ratification became unexpectedly complicated due to the timing of its passage. Most state legislatures had already adjourned, and would not meet again for a regular session for another year, or in Wyoming’s case, two. Wyoming’s newly elected governor, Robert D. Carey, refused to call a special session of the state legislature for the sole purpose of ratifying the amendment. Carey placed the need for fiscal frugality ahead of the symbolic importance of the vote. Moreover, since women in Wyoming already had suffrage rights, Carey saw no rush in ratifying an amendment that offered no direct benefit to people in his own state. After much pressure from suffrage supporters within Wyoming and at the national level, Carey eventually called a special session. The delay, however, meant that Wyoming became the last of the Northern Great Plains states, and the twenty-seventh overall, to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment.

Amy L. McKinney

The full version of this essay appears in Equality at the Ballot Box: Votes for Women on the Northern Great Plains. Amy L. McKinney is an associate professor of history at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Calgary.

The image at top was taken in 1921, two years after Wyoming ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, during a visit to Laramie from national suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt (center). American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming