1920 to 2020: 100 years of women’s suffrage in Virginia

Womens History

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — It was a hundred years ago this week when American women finally won the right to vote. The suffragettes had marched and rallied for their cause. And on Aug. 28, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed making it illegal to deny a person the right to vote because of their gender.

Now 100 years later, women’s involvement in government has expanded from filling out a ballot to being on one.

And women in Virginia are still breaking political barriers. The number of women in the state legislature continues to increase and multiple women are running to be the next governor of Virginia.

DES MOINES, IA – OCTOBER 08: A woman dressed as a suffragette casts her ballot for the midterm elections at the Polk County Election Office on October 8, 2018 in Des Moines, Iowa.Today was the first day of early voting in the state. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

History

After Congress ratified the 19th Amendment in 1919, they needed 36 states to vote in favor of it in order to ratify the new amendment. States came together and the amendment was ratified in 1920. Virginia initially voted against the amendment and did not officially ratify it until 1952, according to the National Parks Service.

In addition, women of color still faced hurdles trying to vote, and didn’t fully have the right until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Even though Virginia didn’t support the amendment, women still had the right to vote because of federal law. So the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia, a group of women who had traveled across the state advocating for women’s right to vote, transformed into the League of Women Voters, which is still in operation today.

“They all decided they needed to continue working to educate the general public on social issues, things like improving education for children, improving laws for workers in factories,” said Mary Crutchfield, a member of the League of Women Voters of the Richmond Metropolitan Area.

She said the league had its first meeting in the Virginia State Senate chamber here in the capital on Nov. 10, 1920.

“Richmond was an epicenter of the early days of getting the right to vote for women,” Crutchfield explained.

Crutchfield said the group is non-partisan and its top priorities are election laws and people’s access to elections.

“Even right up to this past year in the General Assembly session we advocated for, and legislators passed, laws that are going to make it much easier for people to vote,” she said. “For example no-excuse absentee voting for 45 days before the election.”

Lynn Johnston, another member of LWV-RMA, said the league tries to engage more young voters by doing things like high school registrations and working with civics teachers and Girl Scout Troops to teach them the importance of voting.

The Virginia Museum of History and Culture celebrated women’s right to vote at their event “Votes for Women: 100 Years” on August 26. At the event, LWV-RMA handed out a list of sites significant to women’s suffrage history in Virginia that people can drive around and see on a self-guided driving tour.

Gov. Ralph Northam speaking at Votes for Women: 100 Years” on August 26, 2020. (Photo: Forrest Shelor)

How women impact the vote

During the last presidential election, more than 53 percent of voters in the United States were women, but only 54.9 percent of voting-age women participated, according to the U.S. Census Bearuea. That’s still more than men, who only made up about 46 percent of the vote, and only 51.8 percent of voting-age men even voted.

According to Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), Women have voted at higher rates than men in every presidential election since 1980, with the gap between women and men growing slightly larger with each successive election.

This trend also persists in other elections as well. The U.S. Census said women have outvoted men at every midterm election since 1998.

Crutchfield said one reason women might be more likely to vote is they are feeling more empowered to do so.

“Women are better educated now, and that is part of the mission of the League of Women voters … is to give the public a better understand of what the actual workings of democracy are and how they can actually participate in advocacy and show up and make difference,” Johnston said.

“I think that’s brining out more women to the polls because they know their vote really does count,” Johnston said.

The CAWP has found that a greater proportion of women preferred Democrats in every presidential election since 1980. In August a CNN poll found that women greatly preferred Biden over Trump, with 59% of women picking Biden and 36% picking Trump. On the other hand, 56% preferred Trump in the poll.

Women on the ballot

Women don’t just impact elections – they have become active leaders in both local and national offices.

“Now there are so many women that are running for positions of government on every level,” Crutchfield said.

Victoria Claflin Woodhull was technically the first woman to run for president in 1872, 48 years before women could even vote, according to the CAWP. She ran under the Equal Rights Party.

However, the first woman to run on a presidential ballot under the two major parties was Margaret Chase Smith who placed in the Republican Primaries in 1964.

In 2020 a record number of women ran for president. Tulsi Gabbard, Kristen Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Marianne Williamson and Amy Klobuchar surpassed the previous high for a single year set in 2016 when three women ran for president.

Women have become much more prevalent on the presidential ballot in recent years. For the last three elections, a woman made it to the national bill: Kamala Harris in 2020, Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Sarah Palin in 2008.

In Virginia

In Virginia, three out of the Commonwealth’s 11 national representatives are women. The General Assembly has a record number of women serving: In the House of Delegates 30 out of 100 delegates are women and in the senate 11 out of 40 senators are women. While a historic surge, less than half of our state representatives are women while more than 50% of Virginia’s population is female.

LGBTQ women have also been making their way into public office. Virginia elected its first openly trans representative in 2017 when Danica Roem was elected as the 13th District’s delegate in the Virginia House of Delegates.

No woman has served as Governor of Virginia but that could change in 2021. Three women are running for governor in the next election: Sen. Amanda Chase, Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy and Sen. Jennifer McClellan.

“I think this new empowerment has made women center stage and much more effective on the state and national stage,” Johnston said.

Voting in 2020

You can find more information about how to vote in this upcoming election at vote411.org.

If you would like to vote by mail, the USPS also has a dedicated website with instructions and information on how to do so.

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