WOW Museum: The Struggle for Women's Suffrage

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Click on a star or a state name for a unique story of suffrage in the American West.

This shall be the land for women

The Awakening Women of the American West led the nation and the world into the struggle for female voting rights, known as the "suffrage movement." This remarkable suffrage success story began in 1869, when Wyoming Territory approved full and equal suffrage for scarcely one thousand women. Contagious excitement for women's rights spread quickly across the Rocky Mountain landscape. "This Shall be the Land for Women!" cheered western journalist Caroline Nichols Churchill upon Colorado's stunning victory by popular vote in 1893.

Suffrage parade Indeed, the West soon came to symbolize political equality and opportunity as a result of women's enfranchisement--awakening the nation in its steady eastward march toward political freedom for women and all citizens. Today in the year 2000, most of the world's women enjoy the right to vote, yet a handful of nations still deny this basic right of citizenship.

State by state, western women won the battle for the ballot in popular elections and legislatures along the West Coast from California to Alaska, in the plains of Kansas and South Dakota, and in the deserts of Arizona and Nevada. On the eve of World War I, Jeannette Rankin of Montana won the first woman's seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1916, before women in all but a few states east of the Mississippi River could vote at all. Finally, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution made full women's suffrage the law of the land in 1920. Even so, this new land did not assure autonomy or voting rights for America's first female inhabitants, Native Americans, and the indigenous peoples of Hawaii and Alaska.

Carrie Chapman-Catt Women's suffrage succeeded in the West for reasons as diverse as the people and places of the West itself. We have chosen ten suffrage states whose stories best illustrate the unique political, cultural, and social character of each of the many western suffrage campaigns. Victory in some campaigns came early whereas anti-suffrage forces in other states were exceedingly intractable. The legacy of western conflicts over religious, racial, ethnic, class, and gender inequities infused the campaigns, especially in stubborn suffrage holdouts like Texas, New Mexico, and Hawaii. Yet all of the western campaigns required tremendous tenacity and political savvy of organized women in the region. Spurred on by the hope that western politics would be more open to experimentation, suffrage leaders often reached across dividing lines of place, race, ethnicity, creed, and economic circumstance to win both men and women to their cause.

Suffrage tableau The suffrage movement in the western United States dramatically expanded women's rights at home, at work, and in the community. Let us explore how and why women of the West ventured out to achieve voting rights and freedom for themselves and their daughters to come. Let us follow their quest to create a "land for women" in the American West.