Hawaii and the 19th Amendment

State of Hawaii shaded gray
State of Hawai'i, shaded gray showing it was not one of the original 36 states to ratify the 19th Amendment. CC0

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.

Until the 1890s, Hawai’i was ruled by a monarch (a king and/or queen). But in 1893, Hawaiian Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown by the US government. When Hawai’i became a United States territory in 1898, Native Hawaiians like Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett argued that they should have suffrage rights in the US too. Dowsett founded the National Women’s Equal Suffrage Association and hosted meetings in her home. Her passion for suffrage was infectious and many other women, particularly those native to Hawai’i, became active in the fight for suffrage. Dowsett and other would go door to door, encouraging native women to get involved in the movement.

State flag of Hawai'i
State flag of Hawai'i. CC0

After decades of arguments for and against women's suffrage, Congress finally voted in favor of the 19th Amendment in 1919. This is called ratification. After Congress ratified the 19th Amendment, at least 36 states needed to vote in favor of it for it to become law.

But because Hawai’i was not yet a state, it could not vote for or against the 19th Amendment. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, making women’s suffrage legal in the United States.

Hawai'i sent a symbolic ratification star to the National Woman's Party in celebration of the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Last updated: September 5, 2018