Maryland and the 19th Amendment

State of Maryland shaded grey
State of Maryland shaded gray, indicating it was not one of the 36 states that ratified 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.

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 passed the 19th Amendment, at least 36 states needed to vote in favor of it for it to become law.

On February 20, 1920, Maryland voted against the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. By August of 1920, 36 states ratified the amendment, recognizing women's suffrage rights.

Shortly after the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, Judge Oscar Leser sued the state of Maryland to remove the names of two Baltimore women from the list of registered voters. His position was that the Maryland constitution granted voting rights only to men, and that Maryland had not ratified the 19th Amendment.

In January 1922, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the case. Leser's arguments to the Court were threefold: 1) that the character of the proposed amendment excluded it from being added to the Constitution; 2) that since many of the states that ratified the 19th Amendment had state constitutions prohibiting women from voting, they were unable to decide otherwise as a matter of established law; and 3) that the state legislatures in Tennessee and West Virginia had not followed proper procedure in ratifying the 19th Amendment.

In a unanimous certiorari decision issued on February 27, 1922, Leser v. Garnett, 258 U.S. 130 (1922), the Supreme Court ruled against Leser, confirming the constitutionality of the 19th Amendment. In their decision, they responded to each of his arguments as follows: 1) Since the similar 15th Amendment, which determined that voting rights could not be denied on account of race) had been accepted as valid law for over fifty years, the 19th Amendment could not be considered invalid; 2) When states ratified the 19th Amendment, they were acting in the federal sphere, which "transcends any limitations sought to be imposed by the people of a state"; and 3) Since both Connecticut and Vermont had also ratified the 19th Amendment before the case was heard (making 36 states, even if Tennessee and West Virginia were invalid), the validity of the Tennessee and West Virginia processes was moot. The court also said that, since the Secretaries of State of Tennessee and West Virginia had accepted the ratifications, that they were necessarily valid.

On March 29, 1941 Maryland voted to ratify the 19th Amendment. The vote was not certified until February 25, 1958.

Mary Gertrude Fendall of Maryland (left) and Mary Dubrow of New Jersey (right).
Mary Gertrude Fendall of Maryland (left) and Mary Dubrow of New Jersey (right).

Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000364/

Maryland state flag
Maryland state flag. CC0

Maryland Places of Women’s Suffrage: Still Pond Historic District

The Still Pond Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, includes the former site of the town hall. It was here that the women of Maryland cast their first ballots - 12 years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Residents such as Anna Baker Maxwell, Jane Clark Howard, and Lillie Deringer Kelley voted in the local election. That year, the town recognized the suffrage rights of women over the age of 21. Fourteen women were registered, including two African Americans. The town later repealed this rule and women were once again left without the vote until 1920.

Photo of old buildings in Still Pond District. Library of Congress.

Discover More Places of Ratification

The Still Pond Historic District is an important place in the story of ratification. It listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Last updated: April 11, 2019