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Explore the Stories of Women Who Shaped Utah’s History.


Gaining, Losing, and Winning Back the Vote: The Story of Utah Women’s Suffrage

Utah’s suffrage story has a unique and complicated narrative arc—women in Utah were the first in the nation to exercise equal voting rights with men, but after Congress took away those rights, they had to fight to get them back. The struggle for suffrage spans decades and generations and is still ongoing today. Read More

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Timeline of Events

July 2, 1776
New Jersey Granted Suffrage to Women and African-Americans

New Jersey ratified its first state constitution and granted full suffrage rights to all adult inhabitants possessing a required amount of property or wealth. Out of the original thirteen states, it was the only one to enfranchise citizens without limitations based on gender or race. In practice, this law primarily enfranchised unmarried women, since most married women at the time were not legally seen as owning property. Following election laws passed in 1790 and 1797 that explicitly included female voters, single women regularly participated in elections and political issues in New Jersey in the 1790s and early 1800s.

Photo: “Women at the Polls in New Jersey in the Good Old Times,” Harper’s Weekly, November 13, 1880.

September 17, 1787
United States Constitution Let States Decide Who Voted

The United States Constitution was adopted with no federal voting standard. Since it did not enumerate any national suffrage requirements, states reserved the right to regulate their own voting laws under the Tenth Amendment. In most states, voting rights remained in the hands of white male landowners.

Photo: “Signing of the Constitution of the United States,” painting by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940.

March 26, 1790
Naturalization Law Limited Citizenship to Free Whites

The first Congress of the United States passed the Naturalization Law to establish the original standards for granting national citizenship, which was required to vote. This law limited naturalization to immigrants who were free white persons of good moral character. The law excluded Native Americans, indentured servants, free blacks, slaves from citizenship, and later revisions excluded Asians as well as many women whose citizenship was determined by their husband’s status.

Photo: U.S. citizenship application with text altered to include “woman,” January 29, 1892, National Archives.

October 27, 1807
New Jersey Restricted Voting to White Male Citizens

New Jersey’s thirty-second state legislature ignored the state constitution and restricted suffrage to white male citizens who paid taxes, disfranchising women and African-Americans in New Jersey who had previously been able to vote if they met property requirements. Women did not legally vote in statewide elections again until Utah women voted in 1870.

Photo: “Acts of the 32nd General Assembly of New Jersey,” ch. 2, sec. 1, 1807, Rutgers University Archives.

February 26, 1825
Maryland was Last State to Extend Civil Rights to Jewish Americans

The Maryland legislature passed an amendment to the state constitution titled “An Act to extend to the sect of people professing the Jewish religion, the same rights and privileges enjoyed by Christians.” The act specifically allowed Jewish Americans to hold public office. An enabling statute was passed on January 5, 1826 repealing clauses in the constitution requiring officeholders to take an oath of belief in Christianity. Maryland was the last state to remove religious restrictions for Jewish Americans.

Photo: “An Act for the Relief of the Jews in Maryland,”Session Laws, vol. 629, ch. 205, 1824, Maryland State Archives.

February 16, 1838
Kentucky Granted Limited Suffrage for Single Women in Rural School Elections

Kentucky passed a statewide law establishing a public school system. It granted the right to vote in county school board elections to female heads of households, including single or widowed women, who owned taxable property and lived in rural areas. Inadequate funding delayed the establishment of a statewide school system until 1888.

Photo: Bunker Hill School in Ohio County, KY, November 5, 1909, Kentucky Historical Society Collections.

February 2, 1848
Citizenship Granted to Mexican-Americans

The Mexican-American War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which guaranteed United States citizenship to Mexicans living in the territories that made up present day Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Despite the treaty, English language requirements and violent intimidation limited access to voting rights.

Photo: “Mexican-American War Battle of Buena Vista,” lithograph by James Bailie, 1847, Everett Collection.

July 19, 1848
First U.S. Women’s Rights Convention Held

The first women’s rights convention in the United States was held in Seneca Falls, New York. A resolution to seek women’s suffrage was proposed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and passed after an impassioned argument from African-American social reformer Frederick Douglass. The event marked the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement in America.

Photo: Seneca County Courier announcement of the First Women's Rights Convention, Seneca Falls, New York, July 14, 1848.

September 9, 1850
Utah Territory Formed

Utah Territory was created from part of the land acquired from Mexico in the Mexican-American War. Mormon pioneers, who had settled in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, petitioned for statehood but the land was instead incorporated as a territory under the Compromise of 1850. While the Territorial Governor and other major officials were appointed by the President of the United States, public elections were held for the Territorial Legislature, the delegate to U.S. Congress, and other local and municipal offices. The legislative act that established the Territory of Utah granted suffrage to all free white male inhabitants over the age of 21 years old, as long as they were citizens of the United States.

Photo: Utah Territory Coat of Arms, Illustrated by Henry Mitchell, 1876.

July 9, 1868
14th Amendment Granted Citizenship to Former Slaves

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified and granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” including recently freed slaves. It provided equal protection under the law to citizens, but it excluded untaxed Native Americans (those living on reservations) and specifically defined voters as male. Voting regulations remained under the control of the individual states.

Photo: “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” Anti-Slavery Society pamphlet, 1837, U.S. Library of Congress.

May 10, 1869
Transcontinental Railroad Completed

The Transcontinental Railroad opened for traffic. The coast-to-coast railroad revolutionized the settlement and economy of the American West. It dramatically changed social and economic conditions in Utah by bringing an influx of non-Mormon settlers into the territory. Conflicts between the Mormon and increasing non-Mormon populations contributed to the opposition to women’s suffrage by many non-Mormons in Utah.  

Photo: Transcontinental Railroad Completion, Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, 1869, Yale University Library.

May 15, 1869
National Suffrage Movement Split Into NWSA and AWSA

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in opposition to the proposed 15th Amendment, demanding a national amendment that included women’s suffrage. In November 1869, Lucy Stone formed a more conservative American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), expressing support for the 15th Amendment and a state-by-state approach to women’s suffrage.

Photo: Portrait and Signature of Lucy Stone, published in History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 2, 1881.

December 10, 1869
Wyoming First to Grant Women’s Suffrage

Wyoming Territorial Legislature granted women full suffrage; first in the nation since 1807, and first to grant unrestricted suffrage to all women residents, without property or marital status requirements.    


Photo: “Female Suffrage,” General Laws of the Territory of Wyoming, First Session of the Legislative Assembly, ch. 31, 1869.

January 6, 1870
Utah Women Demanded “The Right of Franchise”

Mormon women held a large meeting in the Salt Lake City Fifteenth Ward Relief Society Hall to protest proposed congressional anti-polygamy legislation. They also voted to demand “the right of franchise” from Utah’s governor. One week later, a “Great Indignation Meeting” of more than five thousand women in Salt Lake City’s “Old Tabernacle” protested anti-polygamy legislation.

Photo: “Women Marching in Favor of Polygamy,” undated illustration, Getty Images.

February 3, 1870
15th Amendment Gave African-Americans the Right to Vote

The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibited the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on the citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Several states soon began enacting measures such as voting taxes and literacy tests that restricted the actual ability of African Americans and certain groups of immigrants to register to vote.

Photo: “The First Vote,” Harper’s Weekly, November 16, 1867.

February 12, 1870
Utah Territory Granted Women’s Suffrage

Meeting in “Council Hall” in downtown Salt Lake City, the Utah Territorial Legislature unanimously passed the Woman’s Suffrage Bill, signed by Acting Governor Stephen A. Mann on February 12. The legislative act granted the right to vote in any territorial election to “every woman of the age of twenty-one years who has resided in this Territory six months next preceding any general or special election, born or naturalized in the United States, or who is the wife, widow or the daughter of a native-born or naturalized citizen of the United States.” This made Utah the second territory to grant unrestricted women’s suffrage, without property or marital status requirements.

Photo: Salt Lake City Council Hall, ca. 1866-1894, Utah State Historical Society.

February 14, 1870
Utah Women Cast First Votes in Modern Nation

A school teacher named Seraph Young cast the first vote in a municipal (local) election in Salt Lake City. Twenty-five other women also voted in this election. Wyoming Territory had granted suffrage to women a few months before Utah Territory, but Wyoming’s first election where women could vote did not take place until September 6, 1870. Utah women therefore voted first, both in the February 14 local election and in Utah’s general election held on August 1, 1870. This marked the first time in the nation that women had voted with universal (or unrestricted) suffrage rights.

Photo: “Seraph Young Votes,” painting by David Koch, Mural on Display in Utah State Capitol House Chamber.

June 30, 1871
Suffrage Leaders Visited Utah

A year after Utah women gained suffrage, national suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. They congratulated Utah women on their voting rights and spoke about their hopes that all women in the nation would soon enjoy them as well. This visit began a long friendship between Susan B. Anthony and  Emmeline B. Wells. However, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was barred from speaking from Mormon pulpits because she advocated ideas such as birth control that were at odds with Mormon church teachings of the time.

Photo: Portrait of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, ca. 1880-1902, Library of Congress.

June 1, 1872
The Woman’s Exponent Established in Salt Lake City

The Woman’s Exponent was established in Salt Lake City. Emmeline B. Wells, an editor of the Exponent, wrote and edited hundreds of articles advocating for women’s right until the paper folded in 1914. The Exponent allied itself with the goals of the National and International Councils of Women, noted advancements for women in every field, and reviewed the work of the LDS Relief Society.

Photo: First Issue of the Woman’s Exponent, June 1, 1872, vol. 1, no. 1.

March 29, 1875
Citizenship Under 14th Amendment Did Not Give Women the Right to Vote

In the case of Minor v. Happersett, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not grant women the right to vote. It reinforced the precedent that citizenship did not guarantee the right to vote. Even after the 19th Amendment extended suffrage rights to women, this case continued to be cited to support poll taxes, literacy tests, and other restrictive voting requirements.

Photo: Victoria Woodhull Arguing for Women’s Suffrage Under the 14th Amendment, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, v. 31, no. 801, February 4, 1871.

November 7, 1878
Anti-Polygamy Society of Utah Organized

The society aimed to force an end to the practice of polygamy through federal anti-polygamy legislation and through repealing Utah women’s voting rights. Prominent members of the Society included Sarah Cooke, Jennie Froiseth, and Cornelia Paddock.

Photo: Anti-Polygamy Standard, ed. Jennie Froiseth, 1880-1883.

January 9, 1879
Utah Suffragists Spoke at NWSA Convention

An alliance of Utah and Eastern suffragists was forged when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony invited Emmeline B. Wells and Zina Jacobs Young to represent Utah and speak at their National Woman Suffrage Association convention in Washington.

Photo: “Meeting of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association,” Canadian Illustrated News, June 19, 1880.

March 23, 1882
Congress Passed the Edmunds Act

The Edmunds Act revoked polygamists’ right to vote, serve on juries, or hold public office.

Photo: “Polygamy’s Period, The Edmund’s Bill Passes the House,” The Cleveland Leader, March, 15, 1882.

May 6, 1882
Chinese Excluded from U.S. Citizenship

Passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited further immigration of Chinese laborers and barred people of Chinese ancestry, including those already living in the United States, from naturalizing to become U.S. citizens. The act was the first federal law implemented to prevent a specific group from immigrating to the United States. The Immigration Act of 1924 further excluded all Chinese immigrants and extended the restrictions to other Asian immigrants. The act was repealed by the Magnuson Act of 1943.

Photo: “The Only One Barred Out,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 1, 1882.

September 14, 1882
Utah Women’s Suffrage Clause Upheld in Court

The Liberal Party, strengthened by the newly enacted Edmunds Bill, filed test cases in Utah federal district courts to directly challenge the validity of the 1870 women’s suffrage bill. Following a combined hearing on the cases beginning on September 14, Chief Justice James A. Hunter of the Third District Court ruled that the women’s suffrage clause was valid and ordered the Salt Lake City registrar to place women’s names on the list of voters.

Photo: “Woman’s Suffrage,” Salt Lake Herald, September 17, 1882.

November 3, 1884
Supreme Court Denied Native American Voting Rights and Citizenship

The United States Supreme Court ruled in Elk v. Wilkins that Native Americans were not natural born citizens and thus were not eligible to vote based on the reasoning that they owed allegiance to their tribes and were not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States at the time of their birth. The decision was later reversed by the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

Photo: “Move on! Has the Native American No Rights that the Naturalized American Is Bound to Respect?” Harper’s Weekly, April 22, 1871.

February 8, 1887
Congress Granted Citizenship to Native Americans Who Assimilate

The Dawes Act divided allotments of American Indian tribal lands and provided them to individual Native Americans who agreed to relinquish tribal affiliations. It granted citizenship, and thus voting rights, to Native Americans who agreed to the terms of the allotment. In practice, the law served to undermine tribal communities and shift ownership of large amounts of “excess” reservation property into the hands of white settlers.

Photo: Implementing the Dawes Act at the Idaho Nez Perce Reservation, ca. 1889, Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives.

March 3, 1887
Congress Passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act

The Edmunds-Tucker Act revoked the voting rights of all Utah women, Mormon or non-Mormon, married or single, as part of its measures to end polygamy. The Edmunds-Tucker Act also required voters, jurors, and public officials to take an anti-polygamy oath. It changed Utah marriage and inheritance laws, replaced local judges with judges who were federally appointed, and confiscated the assets of the LDS Church to put them toward public education in the Territory.

Jennie Froiseth and some non-Mormon suffragists did not support the right of women to vote within Utah as long as polygamy was legal. The withdrawal of the franchise that Utah women exercised for seventeen years ignited many Utah women’s determination to regain the vote permanently with statehood.

Photo: Portrait of Mormon Polygamists in Prison, photographed by C.R. Savage, ca. 1889, BYU Harold B. Lee Library.

January 10, 1889
Utah Woman Suffrage Association Organized

In Salt Lake City’s Assembly Hall, Emily S. Richards led hundreds of women in organizing a Utah chapter of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Margaret Caine, wife of Utah’s delegate to Congress, was elected President. As state organizer, Richards began organizing local units throughout the territory, working through local Relief Societies. Within four months the Woman Suffrage Association of Utah had fourteen branches, and by February 1895, nineteen of Utah’s twenty-seven counties had suffrage organizations. Some non-Mormon women also participated, but anti-polygamists refused to support the Association.

Photo: Salt Lake City Assembly Hall, ca. 1880s, Utah State Historical Society.

January 11, 1890
Sarah M. Kimball Elected President of UWSA

In Salt Lake City’s Social Hall, Sarah M. Kimball was elected president of the Woman Suffrage Association of Utah, and soon traveled to Washington D.C. as Utah’s delegate to the National Woman Suffrage Association convention. Kimball began her leadership nearly fifty years earlier, when her idea led to the creation of the Relief Society, a charitable organization of Latter-day Saint women.  

Photo: Portrait of Sarah M. Kimball, ca. 1890, Utah State Historical Society.

February 18, 1890
NAWSA Formed

The National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association merged to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as its first president. NAWSA waged state-by-state campaigns to obtain voting rights for women.

Photo: Suffragists Mrs. McCormick and Mrs. Parker, April 22, 1913, Library of Congress.

July 23, 1890
Wyoming First State to Grant Women’s Suffrage

Wyoming became a state, the first state to grant women’s suffrage.

Photo: “The Equality State,” Wyoming State Quarter, Issued 2007, United States Mint.

October 6, 1890
LDS Church Officially Disavowed Polygamy

LDS Church president Wilford Woodruff officially disavowed polygamy in Utah Territory, in a proclamation known as the “Manifesto.”

February 26, 1891
Utahns were Leading Participants in NAWSA

Utah sent ten delegates to the annual National American Woman Suffrage Association convention in Washington, D.C., and was second only to New York in its number of Women’s Suffrage Association members.

Photo: Program for the National American Woman Suffrage Association 23rd Annual Convention, 1891, Ann Lewis Women’s Suffrage Collection.

November 7, 1893
Colorado Became Second State to Grant Women’s Suffrage

After a campaign led by Carrie Chapman Catt, Colorado became the second state to grant women suffrage. The male electorate in Colorado narrowly voted “yes” with 55% support.

Photo: Sign Used During Colorado Suffrage Protest, by 1893, Denver Public Library.

July 16, 1894
Congress Passed the Enabling Act

Congress passed the Enabling Act, inviting Utah to apply for statehood. Suffragists lobbied Utah’s 107 male Constitutional Convention delegates to ensure that women’s right to vote and hold office be included in the proposed state constitution.

Photo: Utah State Capitol, 1915, Utah State Historical Society.

March 4, 1895
Utah’s Constitutional Convention Opened

Utah’s Constitutional Convention began in the Salt Lake City and County Building. B.H. Roberts and a few other delegates argued against including women’s suffrage in the proposed Constitution, while proponents like Franklin S. Richards and Orson F. Whitney argued for it. Susan B. Anthony warned Utah suffragists against an effort to put an equal suffrage clause to a separate vote from the proposed Constitution.

Photo: Salt Lake City and County Building, ca. 1894, Utah State Historical Society.

April 8, 1895
Equal Suffrage Included in Utah Constitution

Constitutional Convention delegates voted 75 to 6 to include an equal suffrage clause in Utah’s proposed constitution, after suffragists submitted territory-wide petitions in support of including equal suffrage in Utah’s Constitution.

Photo: Delegates to the Utah Constitutional Convention, March 4, 1895, Utah State Historical Society.

May 13, 1895
Susan B. Anthony Visited Salt Lake, Congratulated Utah

The Rocky Mountain Suffrage Convention for western suffragists was held in Salt Lake City. Susan B. Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw presided over the convention as the National American Woman Suffrage Association president and vice-president. They spoke in the Tabernacle, congratulating Utah on including equal suffrage in its proposed constitution. Franklin and Emily S. Richards hosted a reception at their home for Anthony and Shaw, where 300 guests, including Utah officials, came to greet them.

Photo: Rocky Mountain Suffrage Convention with Susan B. Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw, May 1895, Utah State Historical Society.

September 14, 1895
Utah Women Could Not Legally Vote to Ratify the State Constitution

Based on the inclusion of women’s suffrage in the proposed Utah state constitution, some suggested that women might be eligible to vote in the November 1895 ratification election. Sarah E. Anderson of Ogden agreed to be a party in a judicial test case. When she was denied the right to register to vote, she sued and won in the district court. On appeal, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that the Enabling Act did not grant women the vote and that the suffrage clause in the new state constitution was not valid until after ratification. Although women could not vote for ratification, they were legally empowered to vote and run for office in the first election following statehood. In that 1896 election, Sarah E. Anderson was elected as a state representative.

Photo: Portrait of Sarah E. Anderson, undated, Utah State Historical Society.

November 5, 1895
Utah’s Electorate Approved State Constitution

In the election, Utah’s proposed Constitution was adopted after its male electorate voted 28,618 to 2,687 for its approval. The Constitution included the provision, proposed by the Women’s Suffrage Association of Utah, that “the rights of citizens of the State of Utah to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. Both male and female citizens of this state shall enjoy equally all civil, political and religious rights and privileges.”

Photo: “Elections and Rights of Suffrage,” Original Utah State Constitution, Article 4, 1895, Utah State Archives.

January 4, 1896
Utah Third State to Grant Women’s Suffrage

President Grover Cleveland signed a proclamation making Utah a state. Utah became the third state in the nation to grant full women’s suffrage.  

Photo: Utah Statehood Celebration, Salt Lake City, January 1896, Utah State Historical Society.

November 3, 1896
Idaho Granted Women Suffrage

Idaho became the fourth state to grant women suffrage, with 12,126 electorate votes in favor and 6,282 votes against.

Photo: Idaho Suffrage Parade Umbrella, ca. 1913.

October 30, 1899
Utah Council of Women Formed

National suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt dissolved the Woman Suffrage Association of Utah and replaced it with the Utah Council of Women, meeting with Emmeline B. Wells and about twenty-five suffragists in the Woman’s Exponent offices. Emily Richards was elected chair, and Wells was made a member of the national executive committee. The newly formed Utah Council of Women pledged to aid other states in their suffrage efforts.

Photo: Portrait of Carrie Chapman Catt, undated, League of Women Voters of Illinois.

February 15, 1900
Suffragists Celebrated Susan B. Anthony’s 80th Birthday

Utah suffragists Emily Richards and Lucy Clark went to Washington D.C. for the national convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (February 8-15) and the celebration of Susan B. Anthony’s 80th birthday. Emmeline B. Wells was to have received an award there for her thirty-years of efforts in the suffrage cause but did not have the financial means to travel to the convention. The Utah Silk Commission presented Anthony with black silk dress fabric — the raising of the silk worms and spinning of the thread all done by Utah women. Anthony used it to create a cherished dress.

Photo: Black Silk Dress Made from Utah Silk, 1900, National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House Collection.

November 8, 1910
Washington State Granted Suffrage

Male voters in Washington ratified an amendment to the state constitution granting women the right to vote. Washington women had previously gained the right to vote in 1883, but the territorial Supreme Court overturned the law on a technicality and revoked women’s suffrage in Washington in 1887. This victory in Washington, after almost fifteen years with no additional states adopting suffrage, revitalized the national women’s suffrage movement.

Photo: College Suffrage League Members Hanging Suffrage Posters, Pacific Monthly, vol. 16, no. 1, July 1911, p. 3.

October 10, 1911
California Granted Women’s Suffrage

In a special election referendum, California voters narrowly approved a state constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote. California was the sixth state to adopt women’s suffrage.

Photo: California Suffrage Campaign Poster, ca. 1911.

November 5, 1912
Arizona and Kansas Granted Women's Suffrage

Both Arizona and Kansas granted full women’s suffrage on the same day.

Photo: Arizona Suffrage Handbill, 1912, Arizona State Library.

November 30, 1912
Oregon Granted Women's Suffrage

Oregon granted women the right to vote after previously placing the suffrage question on the ballot five times, more than any other state.

Photo: Actress Margaret Vale Howe Holding an Oregon Emblem in a Washington D.C. Suffrage Parade, March 1913, Library of Congress.

March 3, 1913
Woman Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C.

One day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated President, 8,000 women marched in a procession organized by Alice Paul of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Suffragists had previously held parades in New York City, but this procession highlighted their call for a national suffrage amendment by putting pressure on the incoming president. Notable women such as Ida B. Wells and Hellen Keller participated, along with leaders of the various suffrage organizations. The marchers were ridiculed and harassed by the crowd and 100 were hospitalized, but the event became a major news story that reinvigorated the women’s suffrage movement.

Photo: Official Program--Woman Suffrage Procession, March 3, 1913, Library of Congress.

March 21, 1913
Alaska Territory Granted Women's Suffrage

The first act of Alaska’s new territorial government unanimously approved women’s right to vote.

Photo: Margaret Vale Howe Representing Alaska Suffrage in New York Suffrage Parade, October 1915, Library of Congress.

November 3, 1914
Nevada and Montana Granted Women’s Suffrage

Suffrage momentum continued to increase as Nevada and Montana joined the suffrage states on the same day.

Photo: Nevada Street with Suffrage Banner Showing Map of Nevada Surrounded by Suffrage States, 1914, Bryn Mawr College Special Collections.

January 4, 1917
Suffragists Picketed the White House

Beginning sometime in January 1917, members of the National Woman’s Party began silently protesting outside the White House to convince President Woodrow Wilson to support a constitutional amendment for women’s suffrage. These women, known as the “Silent Sentinels,” held banners addressing the President and wore sashes of purple, white, and gold. Protesters began to be arrested that summer for obstructing traffic, and many were imprisoned in the Occoquan Workhouse in nearby Virginia where they were mistreated and force fed.

This was the first time any group had picketed the White House, and it caused controversy within the suffrage movement. The leader of the National Woman’s Party, Alice Paul, believed that directly confronting political leaders was the only way to push them to support a constitutional amendment. Other suffragists believed that a state-by-state approach offered better chances or that the protests would generate a backlash from male voters.

Photo: College Day in the Picket Line, 1917, Library of Congress.

November 6, 1917
New York Granted Suffrage

New York, the location of the first U.S. women’s rights convention and the home state of Susan B. Anthony, was the first eastern state to fully enfranchise women. Anthony, unfortunately, died eleven years before New York granted women the vote, and so never realized her dream of personally casting a legal ballot.  

Photo: Suffrage Poster in New York, ca. 1911, Ontario County Historical Society.

November 5, 1918
Michigan, South Dakota, and Oklahoma Granted Women’s Suffrage

Michigan, South Dakota, and Oklahoma each voted to approve state constitutional amendments granting suffrage to women.

Photo: Gathering of Michigan State Grange Suffragists, ca. 1912-1918, Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame.

November 17, 1919
Utah League of Women Voters Formed

National American Woman Suffrage Association president Carrie Chapman Catt merged the Utah Suffrage Council into the Utah League of Women Voters during a suffrage convention in Salt Lake City.

Photo: National League of Women Voters at the Democratic Convention, 1920, League of Women Voters Library.

August 18, 1920
19th Amendment Ratified

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, granting national women’s suffrage. While the 19th Amendment removed gender restrictions on voting, there were still many women (especially Native-American and Asian women) who still could not vote because they lacked citizenship  due to racially-discriminatory citizenship laws.

Photo: Joint Resolution of Congress Proposing a Women’s Suffrage Amendment, Approved June 4, 1919, National Archives.

November 13, 1922
Asian Immigrants Could Not Vote or Gain Citizenship

Unites States Supreme Court ruled that Japanese immigrants were racially ineligible to become U.S. citizens in Takao Ozawa v. United States. The ruling relied on the Naturalization Act and established the precedent that regardless of skin color, Japanese-Americans were not “free white persons” for purposes of naturalization. Within three months, the court extended this reasoning in United Staes v. Bhagat Singh Thind, holding that people of South-Asian descent were not legally white and thus not eligible for naturalization.

Photo: Health Inspections of Asian Detainees at Angel Island Immigration Station, ca. 1917.

June 24, 1924
Indian Citizenship Act Became Law

Through the efforts of leaders like Zitkala-Sa, American Indians gained voting rights when Congress granted them U.S. citizenship through the Indian Citizenship Act. Many states, including Utah, nonetheless made laws and policies which prohibited American Indians from voting, claiming that American Indians living on reservations were residents of their own nations and thus non-residents of the states.

Photo: Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Bonnin), Portrait on Cover of American Indian Stories By Zitkala-Sa, Washington: Hayworth Publishing, 1921.

June 27, 1952
Citizenship and Voting Rights Became Available to Japanese-Americans

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, also known as the McCarran-Walter Act, eliminated race as a basis for naturalization, allowing Japanese and other immigrants of Asian descent to become U.S. citizens. The law retained an unequal quota system based on national origin.

Photo: Graduates of the First Americanization Class Conducted in Japanese, Scene Pictorial Magazine, February 1953.

February 14, 1957
Utah Expanded Native American Voting Rights

The Utah state legislature repealed the legislation that prevented American Indians living on reservations from voting, one of the last states to do so in the nation.

Photo: Utah Bears Ears National Monument, Photo Courtesy of EarthJustice.

March 29, 1961
23rd Amendment Gave Citizens of Washington D.C. the Right to Vote for U.S. President

Ratification of the 23rd Amendment to the United States Constitution extended the right to vote in the presidential election to citizens residing in Washington D.C. Because the District of Columbia is not a state, it lacked Electoral College votes until the passage of the amendment. Washington D.C. residents still lack voting representation in Congress.

Photo: Washington D.C. Residents Vote for President for First Time in 164 years; November 3, 1964.

January 23, 1964
24th Amendment Prohibited Requiring Poll Taxes to Vote

The 24th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibited requiring payment of poll taxes in order to vote in federal elections. Poll taxes had previously been adopted as requirements for voting following passage of the 15th Amendment as a way to limit African-American and poor white voters.

Photo: President Lyndon B. Johnson Signs 24th Amendment, February 4, 1964, LBJ Library Photo Archives.

August 6, 1965
Voting Rights Act Became Law

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, protecting suffrage rights for women and men of racial minorities. This landmark piece of federal legislation prohibits racial discrimination in voting and significantly widens the franchise.

Photo: President Lyndon B. Johnson Signing the Voting Rights Act, August 6, 1965, LBJ Library Photo Archives.

July 1, 1971
26th Amendment Lowered Voting Age to 18

The 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution granted voting rights to citizens who are at least eighteen years old. The amendment was largely a result of Vietnam War protests demanding a lower voting age on the premise that citizens old enough to be drafted should have the right to vote.

Photo: “Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote,” 26th Amendment Button, ca. 1970.

June 25, 2013
U.S. Supreme Court Struck Down Part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act

In the landmark case of Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required politicians in certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to obtain federal permission before changing voting rules. The court ruled that the nation was no longer clearly divided along the jurisdiction lines that require preclearance under the 1965 law. Civil Rights advocates argued that this was still a key provision for combatting racial discrimination in voting.

Photo: United States Supreme Court “Equal Justice Under Law” Facade, Photo by Matt H. Wade, 2005, Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

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