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1911: Should Women Be Allowed to Vote?

Introduction: When Wisconsin gained statehood in 1848, there was little popular support for women’s right to vote. Only a few reformers, such as Warren Chase, spoke out for suffrage at the two constitutional conventions, and it was never seriously considered. Bills to grant women full suffrage were introduced in 1855 and 1867 but both failed. The Wisconsin Women’s Suffrage Association (WWSA) was formed in 1869 to begin an organized suffrage campaign, and in the same year the state legislature passed a law allowing women to run for school boards and other school offices. Following this partial success, the WWSA began an allout suffrage campaign in the legislature in 1884. Elected officials, however, repeatedly refused to let voters consider the question. In 1911, a statewide referendum on suffrage was finally held, and Wisconsin voters ‐ ‐ all men, of course ‐ ‐ voted it down by a margin of 63 to 37 percent.

In 1913, the legislature authorized another referendum but Governor Francis McGovern vetoed the bill, and two years later a more conservative legislature rejected yet another bill that would have let people vote on the issue in a referendum. Concluding that the state legislature was never going to help the suffrage cause in Wisconsin, WWSA leaders devoted their time and energy to the national campaign. Most of Wisconsin’s congressmen were sympathetic to a federal women’s suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which finally passed in 1919. Bowing to what it now regarded as inevitable, the Wisconsin legislature ratified the U.S. constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote in federal elections. But an effort to extend suffrage to state elections failed, and Wisconsin women did not gain the right to vote in state elections until the state constitution was finally amended in 1934.

Background Reading: “The Woman’s Suffrage Movement” http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/tp032/?action=more_essay

Document to Analyze: “Danger! Women’s Suffrage would double the irresponsible vote!” http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1087

Who, What, Where, When, Why: This poster was printed in Watertown, in Jefferson County, during the 1911 referendum on women’s sufrage. Although the printer’s name is on it, we do not know which organization or political party, if any, may have created it, how many copies were printed, or how widely it may have been distributed.

Related Documents: Dudley, Marion Vienna Churchill. “Suffrage for woman : a plea in its behalf…” http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1052 and Youmans, Theodora. “President’s Address.” (Wis. Woman’s Suffrage Association, 1917) http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1045


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