Alaska and the 19th Amendment

Picture of state of Alaska in gray – indicating it was not one of the original 36 states to ratify the 19th Amendment. Courtesy Megan Springate
Picture of state of Alaska in gray – indicating it was not one of the original 36 states to ratify the 19th Amendment.

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Women first organized and collectively fought for suffrage at the national level in July of 1848. Suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened a meeting of over 300 people in Seneca Falls, New York. In the following decades, women marched, protested, lobbied, and even went to jail. By the 1870s, women pressured Congress to vote on an amendment that would recognize their suffrage rights. This amendment became known as the 19th Amendment.

After decades of arguments for and against women's suffrage, Congress finally voted in favor of the 19th Amendment in 1919. After Congress passed the 19th Amendment, at least 36 states needed to vote in favor of it for it to become law. In August of 1920, 36 states ratified the 19th Amendment, recognizing women’s right to vote.

Margaret Vale (Mrs. George Howe), niece of President Woodrow Wilson representing Alaska in a suffrage parade in New York, Oct. 1915. Library of Congress.
Margaret Vale (Mrs. George Howe), niece of President Woodrow Wilson representing Alaska in a suffrage parade in New York, Oct. 1915.

Library of Congress, Bain Collection. https://www.loc.gov/item/2001704320/

As Alaska did not become a state until 1959, it was unable to vote for or against the 19th Amendment. But the Alaska territory granted women full voting rights in 1913 – seven years before the 19th Amendment was ratified. While white women in the Alaska Territory could now vote, Native women could not.

Activists from the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood advocated for Native suffrage rights. In 1915, the Alaska legislature recognized the right of Native people to vote if they gave up tribal customs and traditions.

Alaska state flag, CC0
Alaska state flag.

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Women in Alaska

Women played a major role in shaping Alaska's history. Before Russian colonizers settled in the region, Alaska was home to Indigenous people with different cultures and languages. Spanish and British traders also had a presence in the region before the United States purchased the territory from Russia in 1867.

Settlement in Alaska increased in the 1890s after the discovery of gold. A woman named Shaaw Tláa was part of the original group that discovered gold in the Klondike River. A member of the Tagish First Nation, Tláa is known as the first woman of the Klondike.

vShaaw Tláa (Kate Carmack) in California, 1898. Yukon Archives, James Albert Johnson fonds, 82/341, 21 #.
Shaaw Tláa (Kate Carmack) in California, 1898.
Yukon Archives, James Albert Johnson fonds, 82/341, 21 #.

After the discovery of gold, many other women came to the region. One such woman was Mollie Brackett, a prospector and amateur photographer. She moved to Alaska during the gold rush. Her photos show what everyday life was like for miners and their families.

The hardships and triumphs in these women's lives are stories for us to explore and learn from. Alaska has many stories of adventurous and courageous women, including Harriet Pullen and Mollie Walsh, successful businesswomen of the gold rush era. As we discover their stories, we come to find that women’s history is Alaska history.

Last updated: November 25, 2018