Missouri and the 19th Amendment

State of Missouri depicted in purple, white, and gold (colors of the National Woman’s Party suffrage flag) – indicating Missouri was one of the original 36 states to ratify the 19th Amendment. Courtesy Megan Springate.
State of Missouri depicted in purple, white, and gold (colors of the National Woman’s Party suffrage flag) – indicating Missouri was 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 was sometimes known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment and became the 19th Amendment.

The amendment reads:

"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."

Although progress on the federal amendment stalled, women also campaigned for changes to state suffrage requirements to win the vote. Missouri women began forming suffrage organizations in 1867. Between 1867 and 1901, suffragists petitioned for a state constitutional amendment enfranchising women eighteen times. Only eight of those petitions came to a vote in the Missouri legislature, including the first one in 1867. Each time, the Missouri lawmakers voted against woman suffrage.

In October 1869, St. Louis hosted a National Woman Suffrage Convention. At the meeting, Missourians Francis and Virginia Minor introduced the idea that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution already protected women’s right to vote. They argued that since the language of the amendment defined citizenship and required due process and equal protection for all citizens under the law, it was unconstitutional to exclude women citizens from voting. Support for the Minors’ argument grew among suffragists, launching a strategy known as the “new departure” in which women showed up at their polling places demanding that they be allowed to vote.

Virginia Louisa Minor, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing right
Engraving of Virginia L. Minor by J.C. Buttre after photoprint by J.A. Scholten

Library of Congress

Virginia Minor attempted to register to vote on October 15, 1872 with her registrar’s office. When she was turned away, the Minors sued. After losing in the state courts, their case made it to the Supreme Court as Minor v Happersett. The justices ruled unanimously against the Minors in 1874. In the decision, Chief Justice Morrison Waite declared that "the Constitution of the United States does not confer the right of suffrage upon anyone" and that voting is not one of the “privileges and immunities” of citizenship. Thereafter, many suffragists decided that the only way to win the vote would be to push for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbidding the denial of the right to vote based on sex. Virginia Minor remained active in the fight for suffrage until her death in 1894.
Women in white on building steps with numerous onlookers standing around
Golden Lane demonstration at 19th and Locust Streets, June 1916.

Missouri Historical Society Collections

In the twentieth century, Missouri women continued to fight for the right to vote on both the state and the national level. In 1916, thousands of women wearing white and carrying gold parasols lined the streets of St. Louis during the Democratic National Convention in a silent stare-down of the delegates as they walked from their hotels to the convention. They called their demonstration a “walkless, talkless parade” meant to illustrate how women had been silenced by the continued denial of the vote. The protest, which became known as the Golden Lane, was organized by Edna Gellhorn, one of the next generation of Missouri suffrage leaders. The suffragists won a small victory in March 1919 when the legislature passed a measure for limited suffrage, allowing women to vote for president only.

Three months later, after decades of arguments for and against women's suffrage, Congress finally passed the federal suffrage amendment on June 4, 1919. After Congress approved the 19th Amendment, at least 36 states needed to vote in favor of it for it to become part of the U.S. Constitution. This process is called ratification.

On July 3, 1919, Missouri ratified the Nineteenth Amendment. By August of 1920, 36 states had ratified the amendment, ensuring that citizens could not be denied the right to vote based on sex.

This photograph was taken in 1919 when Missouri Governor Frederick Gardner signed a resolution ratifying the 19th Amendment to U.S. Constitution. Missouri became the 11th state to ratify the amendment.
Missouri Governor Frederick Gardner signing a resolution ratifying the 19th Amendment to U.S. Constitution. Missouri became the 11th state to ratify the amendment. Library of Congress.
Gov. Gardner signing resolution ratifying amendment to U.S. Constitution granting universal franchise to women / Carl Deeg.

Library of Congress, Lot 5543 https://www.loc.gov/item/2003668342/

Women Suffragists Honored at the Missouri Women's State Meeting, circa 1970s. National Archives
Women Suffragists Honored at the Missouri Women's State Meeting, circa 1970s. National Archives, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/7452306.

Missouri Places of Women's Suffrage:
Railway Exchange Building

Built in 1914, the Railway Exchange Building in St. Louis is a high-rise office building. It was once the headquarters of a local women’s suffrage organization in the years leading up to the passage of the 19th Amendment. The building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is privately owned and closed to the public.

Exterior front of the Railway Exchange Building. Photo: by Matthew Black - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Discover More Places of Ratification

The Railway Exchange Building is an important place in the story of ratification. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sources used to make these state pages include: Ida Husted Harper's History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920, Volume 6 (1922), the National American Woman Suffrage Association papers (Library of Congress), and National Register nominations from the National Park Service. For this article, we also consulted the Missouri Historical Society, the State Historical Society of Missouri including Monia Cook Morris's article "The History of Woman Suffrage in Missouri, 1867-1901," in Missouri Historical Review vol 25, no. 1, October 1930: 67-82, and Greta E. Russell "Edna Gellhorn" at missouriwomen.org.

Last updated: August 9, 2019