Virginia Minor

The Virginia Minor case is second in importance only to the Dred Scott case when discussing nationally significant trials held in St. Louis' Old Courthouse. Virginia Minor was an officer in the National Woman Suffrage Association, which during the 1872 presidential election decided to challenge voting restrictions in the United States that excluded women. This nation-wide movement originated with Virginia and her husband Francis Minor, for in 1869 they wrote an influential book which stated that under the terms of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified July 9th, 1868, women were citizens of the United States and entitled to all the benefits and immunities of citizenship. Thus, by law, women already had the right to vote. All they had to do was go out and exercise this right.

The Minors used the first section of the 14th Amendment to make their case. This states, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

The Minors belonged to the National Women's Suffrage Association (NWSA), which opposed ratification of the 15th amendment, which stated "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 race, color, or previous condition or servitude." The NWSA opposed the amendment on the grounds that it ensured the right of African-American men to vote but not did give the vote to women. The NWSA broke with another suffrage faction in 1869 over this issue. The rival faction, called the American Women's Suffrage Association and led by Lucy Stone, supported the 15th Amendment on the grounds that change would come about incrementally.

Several women tried to vote in the 1870 and 1871 elections in various parts of the country. Wyoming Territory granted universal suffrage in 1869, and Utah followed suit in 1870. In 1871, a Michigan woman voted successfully because voting officials did not question her rights, and she continued to vote for several years thereafter.

On October 15, 1872, Virginia Minor tried to register to vote in the upcoming election, but was refused by St. Louis' sixth district registrar, Reese Happersett. Happersett refused to register Minor because she was female, thus provoking a civil suit brought by Virginia and her lawyer husband, Francis Minor. Minor's action was part of a nationwide pattern of civil disobedience, in which hundreds of women across the country attempted to vote. Susan B. Anthony led a small delegation of women to the polls in Rochester, New York, and was successful in casting her vote for Ulysses S. Grant. Three weeks later, however, on Thanksgiving Day, Anthony was arrested on the charge of voting fraud. Anthony was a celebrity who was used by the judicial system as an example and a warning to all women in the United States. When Anthony's case came to trial early in 1873, the judge had written his opinion before the trial started, and directed the jury to find a guilty verdict. Anthony was ordered to pay a fine of $100, which she refused to do.

Virginia Minor's case was different from Anthony's in that she was not prosecuted criminally for trying to vote, instead, she brought suit (through her husband, for married women could not sue in Missouri courts until after the passage of the Married Women's Act of 1889) in a civil action against the registrar because he would not allow her to register to vote. Minor contended that women were U.S. Citizens under the 14th amendment to the Constitution, which "nowhere gives [states] the power to prevent" a citizen from voting.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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