Rabbitbrush Rambler: Women’s right to vote

In the 1870s, when the new Centennial State was writing its constitution, the former territorial governor, the incoming state governor, and some delegates, but not enough of them, supported enfranchisement for women in Colorado’s state elections. During the convention, Suffragettes from outside and inside the state marched and orated, barnstorming for passage of the right to vote.

In photographs, the Suffragettes look like tough women, not the ladylike matrons who would prefer to stay home behind lace curtains and drink tea. The leaders and many other progressive women of their day were buttoned up from their invisible ankles to their very firm chins, usually showing no smile at all, although one of their national leaders, Elizabeth Cody Stanton, appears to be a pretty, grandmotherly lady with curls around her face but, as we know, with determination equal to Susan B. Anthony’s and Lucy Stone’s.

One of the national leaders who visited the San Luis Valley was Susan B. Anthony, the movement’s national leader. She spoke at Del Norte’s stone Methodist Church on Pine Street. If it seems odd that Del Norte hosted a national leader, we need to remember that at that time Summitville and other San Juan locations were in the height of mining excitement, and Del Norte was the center of the San Luis Valley’s universe. Anthony probably drew a good-sized audience of women, with their husbands in tow like it or not.

The Hispanic men of southern Colorado, who generally opposed allowing women to vote, had no love for the Suffragettes, but, then, neither did most white husbands who were seated at the head of the dinner table and were eating the bacon they brought home. Moreover, Suffragettes sometimes got lumped with the WCTU, who chopped up liquor barrels at places like Otto Mears’s store, increasing antipathy for the warriors.

Statewide, Colorado was divided. The former territorial governor, the new state governor, and others favored it. (Wyoming’s governor had proclaimed the vote for women in 1869.) But the majority of delegates to Colorado’s convention were opposed, and the press was neutral or opposed.

During the next decade and a half after statehood was achieved, Colorado was changing, though, and women were, too. While most of their activities still centered on the home and family or helping with farm work or in a family-owned store, their activities were also including their church, study groups, tea parties, writing poetry, or supporting community projects like a lending library. Becoming increasingly progressive, some women were working as teachers, doctors for women with female ailments, and journalists.

When women’s right to vote came up on the ballot in 1893 the referendum passed and women henceforth were able to vote for state office in Colorado. Some had been voting already in local elections like the school boards, and now women even began to find work in state government, particularly in work associated with education.

Meanwhile, the push for nationwide suffrage continued, and progressive politicians and celebrities like Margaret (“Unsinkable Molly”) Brown got on the bandwagon. The prohibition fight also was reaching a crucial peak at that time and possibly was threatening to siphon off some support for suffrage, but the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920.

The Nineteen Amendment is informally called the Susan B. Anthony Amendment to honor this indefatigable woman who helped advance the status of women in this country. And as evidence of the fact that women continue to take their civic responsibility seriously, they are more likely than men to be registered to vote.