Monday, October 22, 2012

Chariton women outmaneuver the men

The effort to earn ratification by the states of the Nineteenth Amendment, which guaranteed universal suffrage, was a battle. This is an example of literature circulated nationwide by those opposed to the amendment.

Iowa women coldn't vote in 1906, but in one instance at least, in Chariton, won the day anyway --- in part because of male folly.

Although Iowa generally was considered a progressive state during the 19th century, that was not the case when it came to women's suffrage. Wyoming led the way here, embedding universal suffrage in its territorial constitution during 1869. Utah followed in 1870; then Washington, in 1883. By the time the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1920, women already could vote in most of the West --- but not in Iowa.

The best Iowa could do was partial suffrage, granted legislatively in 1894. That allowed women to vote on a limited range of issues --- whether or not a new school building should be erected, for example, or taxes raised to finance other public improvements. If candidates were involved, however, only males could vote. Presidential suffrage did not come until 1919, the year the Iowa Legislature ratified the Nineteenth Amendment. Full suffrange finally arrived when the Nineteenth Amendment became effective.

Although universal suffrage nearly became law in Iowa several times during the half century following the Civil War, it always fell short. One barrier was the intentional difficulty of the amending process built into the Iowa Constitution --- amendments must be approved by two consecutive General Assemblies, then voted upon by the people. Other barriers included the entrenched insecurity of the patriarchy, the fear among men that women were likely to favor prohibition and that old favorite --- that granting women the right to vote would endanger traditional marriage. Sound familiar?

Whatever the case, women could not vote in the 1906 school board election in Chariton, but could run for office and did win. Here's the story:

Mrs. Penick and Mrs. Whitfield Win in School Election
The Chariton Patriot, March 15, 1906

In one of the warmest school elections ever held in Chariton, the women's ticket was victorious Monday, Mrs. Kate Penick and Mrs. Edna Whitfield being elected directors. Fred J. Yengel was elected treasurer over John Culbertson.

The vote on the candidates was as follows: For director, Mrs. Penick, 313, Mrs. Whitfield, 272; J.H. Curtis, 260; Fred Stafford, 177; A.L. Yocom, 108; F.E. Hendrickson, 85. For treasurer, F.J. Yengel, 416; John Culbertson, 190.

The entrance of the women into the contest for school director added considerable to the interest in the election. At a meeting of the men candidates on the morning of the day of election it was suggested that all candidates have their names on the same ticket. Mr. Hendrickson objected to having the women's names on the ticket with the men's. And the women heard of it. Later, the objection was withdrawn and the women were requested to have their names on the same ballot with the men's. But the ladies then would not accept the invitation. They issued a hand-bill stating they had been denied representation on the ticket with the men. The men then issued bills, and under the head-line, "A Correction," stated that they had invited the ladies to have their names printed on the same ballot. The women replied to this, stating as a reason, that in declining to accept the invitation from the men after objection having first been made to their names on the same ticket, they were but asserting their self respect --- and the bill distributor was given another job.

With two directors to be elected, and there being four men candidates in the field, the women's ticket had the advantage, as the vote for the men was considerably divided. Under the circumstances the run made by J.H. Curtis speaks well for his standing in the community, he only falling thirteen votes short of being elected.

For treasurer, Mr. Yengel received the support of nearly everyone who voted the women's ticket. On the men's ticket, Mr. Culbertson led in the race for this office.


No comments: