Follow the race to ratification in real time…
In 2019 and 2020, as parks and our programs commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment that affirmed the right of women to vote in the U.S., this page will follow the ratification process and connect to the places where the struggle for women's suffrage took place. Adding an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires passage by two-thirds of each chamber of Congress, then ratification by three-fourths of the states, which in 1919 was 36 of the 48 states. (Alaska and Hawai'i were still U.S. territories.)
On May 21, 1919, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the language that would become the 19th Amendment. It had passed it one time before in early 1918, but the Senate had not followed suit. Would it pass the amendment this time? Would 36 states ratify the amendment?
Action by Congress
"Civilization has reached a stage, a period, a moment, when we can ring the liberty bell again and announce that this great step forward has been taken." With this powerful statement the U.S. House of Representatives once more took up debate over a proposed constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote. Keenly aware that they were part of a shrinking minority in the House, anti-suffrage representatives absolved themselves of responsibility by indicating that the power to decide would ultimately reside with the states. After three and a half hours of debate, the House once again passed the measure, this time by a vote of 304 to 90. It was now up to the Senate to act.
At long last Congress had done its part; now it was up to the states. Suffragists turned their attention to rallying 36 states to move quickly to ratify the amendment, while the opposition targeted 13 states to oppose ratification. Despite the Senate victory, the outcome for the amendment was not assured.
The First States to Ratify
"A Vote for Every Woman in 1920!" declared the National American Woman Suffrage Association after the passage of the 19th Amendment by Congress on June 4, 1919. To achieve that goal, the legislatures of 36 states would have to ratify the amendment within the next year or so. On June 10, 1919, the Wisconsin legislature voted in favor of ratification, with only two assemblymen and one senator voting against it. Although Illinois had voted for ratification earlier in the day, an administrative error meant that they had to redo the vote a week later. That made Wisconsin the first across the finish line in the race to ratification. Later in the day, Michigan lawmakers voted unanimously to ratify. Other than these three states, only Pennsylvania and Massachusetts legislatures were in session that June, but other state governors were considering calling special sessions to vote on the amendment. The race to ratification continued.
June 16, 1919 was ratification day for several states that were at the vanguard in the fight for women's suffrage. Kansas, Ohio, and New York called special sessions of their legislatures to vote in favor of the 19th Amendment.
Kansas had held the first ever referendum for women's suffrage in 1867. Although the measure was defeated, women in Kansas continued to fight for the right to vote and run for office. In 1887, the town of Argonia, Kansas became the first to elect a woman mayor. The Kansas legislature voted unanimously to ratify the amendment.
Women in Ohio had organized some of the earliest women's rights conventions in 1850 and 1851. In 1919, the Ohio assembly not only voted to ratify the federal amendment but also approved a measure granting Ohio women the right to vote in the November 1920 presidential election, in case the amendment was not in effect by then.
The ratification measure passed through both houses of the New York legislature without a dissenting vote, although one anti-suffrage senator abstained. New York had been the birthplace of the women's suffrage movement. Securing the ballot for women in New York had been a key component in Carrie Chapman Catt's Winning Plan, a goal that was reached in November 1917.
Less than two weeks after Congress sent the amendment to the states, the race to ratification was heating up.
Summer 1919 Brought More States...and the First Rejection
Pennsylvania women had been at the forefront of the struggle for women's rights since even before the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. In 1915, a replica of the Liberty Bell toured all counties of Pennsylvania to campaign for passage of a referendum amending the state constitution to permit woman suffrage. The Justice Bell was set to ring on election day that year to announce victory for Pennsylvania women, but it remained silent. The referendum had been defeated. But on June 24, 1919, Pennsylvania became the seventh state to ratify the 19th Amendment, moving the nation closer to victory in the race to ratification. Perhaps the Justice Bell would have a chance to ring soon.
Massachusetts, the state which hosted the first National Woman's Rights Convention in 1850, became the eighth state to ratify the 19th Amendment on June 25, 1919. Many prominent suffragists had called Massachusetts home, including Lucy Stone and Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin. But Massachusetts women had only been successful in winning the right to vote and run for office in school committee elections. The state was also home to a powerful anti-suffrage association. As a result, attempts to expand woman suffrage in Massachusetts met with defeat. But the anti-suffragists could not keep Massachusetts from crossing the finish line in the race to ratification.
Less than a month after Congress passed the 19th Amendment, the race to ratification was already one-quarter of the way to the goal. Texas became the ninth state to ratify the amendment on June 28, 1919. Texas was also the first southern state to vote in favor of the national suffrage amendment, a significant victory since resistance to woman suffrage had been particularly strong in the south. In 1918, Texas women had won the right to vote in primary elections. The Texas legislature had also passed a resolution in January 1919 to amend the Texas state constitution allowing women to vote in all elections. When the state amendment was put to Texas voters in the May 1919 general election, it had been defeated. Texas women were unable to vote in that general election but with the state’s ratification of the 19th amendment, they and women across the country were now one step closer to full enfranchisement.
Iowa was home to many well-known suffragists, including Carrie Chapman Catt, and the town of Council Bluffs held one of the nation's first woman suffrage marches in 1908. But Iowa women were only able to win limited suffrage. They were able to vote on tax and bond issues, but not for candidates. To expand the franchise required an amendment to the Iowa state constitution which was a lengthy and difficult process. Woman suffrage proposals were introduced over and over beginning in the 1860s, but never made it through. But on July 2, 1919, Iowa crossed the finish line in the race to ratification and became the tenth state to ratify the 19th Amendment.
“Missouri must take the lead in this long-deferred justice to the state and the nation,” declared Gov. Frederick Gardner as he called a special session of the Missouri legislature to consider the issue of woman suffrage. The lawmakers responded to the governor’s call and voted to ratify the 19th Amendment on July 3, 1919. Four months earlier, in March 1919, Missouri women had won the right to vote for president. But Missouri suffragists' efforts to win full enfranchisement since 1867 had been repeatedly defeated. As the eleventh state in the race to ratification, Missourians had now done their part to ensure full suffrage for women across the country.
Anti-suffrage sentiment was strong in Georgia, but a few determined women worked hard to overcome it. Helen Augusta Howard organized the Georgia Woman Suffrage Association in 1890 with only a few members. Howard was able to convince national suffrage leaders to hold the 1895 National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) convention in Atlanta. In a concession to the segregationist South, African American women were not invited to attend the meeting. Afterwards, Susan B. Anthony and other leaders traveled around the southern states to win support for suffrage. Public opinion eventually began to shift but not quickly enough to overcome the antis in Georgia. On July 24, 1919, Georgia became the first state to reject ratification of the 19th Amendment. After the amendment was ratified by enough states in August 1920 to become part of the U.S. Constitution, Georgia women still could not vote in the November 1920 election--state lawmakers refused to waive a requirement that all voters be registered six months in advance. In 1970, Georgia voted in favor of the 19th Amendment as a formality.
Arkansas became the twelfth state to ratify the 19th Amendment on July 28, 1919. The measure passed easily through both houses of the state legislature. The news came as a relief to suffragists across the country less than a week after the defeat of ratification in Georgia. As in many states, the fight for suffrage was difficult in Arkansas. But women had won the right to vote in primary elections in Arkansas in 1918. And Arkansas would later become the first state to elect a woman to the U.S. Senate when Hattie Caraway won a special election to fill her late husband's seat in 1932.
Suffragists enjoyed two more victories in the race to ratification on August 2, 1919. First, the governor of Montana certified the legislature's July 30 vote to ratify the 19th Amendment. Then that same day, the Nebraska legislature voted unanimously to ratify. Suffragists around the country were hopeful that they were back on track for full ratification by 1920. Fourteen states won, 22 to go.
After more than a month of waiting, another state was in the "win" column when Minnesota voted to ratify the 19th Amendment on September 8, 1919. Minnesota women had first won the right to vote in school board elections in 1875. Despite growing membership across the state in many suffrage organizations, including the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association and the Scandinavian Suffrage Association, women had been unable to win full suffrage in Minnesota. Now Minnesota had become the fifteenth state across the finish line in the race to ratification.
In a special session called by Governor John Bartlett, the New Hampshire legislature voted to ratify the 19th Amendment on September 10, 1919. A sixteenth star for the National Woman's Party Ratification Banner! Many New Hampshire suffragists joined the fight for the federal suffrage amendment after repeated attempts to win voting rights in their state. Sallie Hovey joined the National Woman's Party and was involved in intense lobbying efforts, which were just as important in the fight as the NWP's picketing campaign. To win the necessary 20 additional states before the November 1920 elections required more state governors to call special sessions of the legislatures. Would they make it across the finish line in the race to ratification?
Add one more state in the loss column in the race to ratification. On September 22, 1919, the Alabama legislature voted against ratifying the 19th Amendment. Although the vote was a disappointment, it was not much of a surprise. Anti-suffrage sentiments were very strong in Alabama. Women like Pattie Jacobs, president of the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association, fought hard for women's right to vote but could not make much progress.
Last updated: September 20, 2019