03
March
2020
|
06:54 PM
America/Chicago

Missouri and the 19th Amendment

Summary

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 sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

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 sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave all women in the nation the right to vote in 1920. However, the women’s suffrage movement began more than 50 years earlier and Missouri was on the front line. The first petition to allow women to vote came before the Missouri legislature in 1867. It was easily defeated at the time.

That same year, Virginia Minor founded the Woman Suffrage Association of Missouri. This organization predated the American Woman Suffrage Association founded by Lucy Stone the same year and the National Woman’s Suffrage Association founded in 1869 by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Two years later, St. Louis played host to a National Woman Suffrage Convention. At this meeting, Missourians Virginia Minor and her husband Francis proposed the idea that the 14th Amendment (which guaranteed citizenship to all persons born in the U.S. and equal protection of the laws) already protected women’s right to vote.

The argument that it was unconstitutional to deny women citizens the same rights as men under the 14th Amendment was embraced by suffragists and women began showing up at local polling places demanding to be allowed to vote. This tactic was successful in some places. Wyoming was the first state to grant universal suffrage in 1869 followed by Utah in 1870.

On Oct. 15, 1872, Minor was turned away from her local registrar’s office after attempting to register to vote. In November of the same year, Anthony was arrested for voter fraud for voting for Ulysses S. Grant for president in Rochester, New York.

The Minors responded by suing the St. Louis ward registrar Reese Happersett in the St. Louis Circuit Court. The case had to be brought by Francis rather than Virginia because married women could not legally sue in Missouri courts. The Minors’ suit contended that women were U.S. citizens under the 14th Amendment and should thereby not be prevented from exercising the right to vote. The Minors lost in circuit court in 1873 and immediately appealed to the Supreme Court of Missouri. That same year, the state Supreme Court also did not find for them, deeming that the 14th Amendment only granted voting rights to newly freed slaves to protect themselves against oppression.

They appealed again, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Minor v. Happersett, Francis Minor presented the argument for women’s suffrage to the nation’s highest court. In October of 1874, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “the Constitution of the United States does not confer the right of suffrage upon anyone,” and upheld the state’s right to determine who was eligible to vote within their jurisdiction.

It was not until March 1919 that Missouri lawmakers allowed women a limited right to vote in presidential elections. The point became moot that year when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was endorsed and sent to states to ratify. On Aug. 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment resulting in women finally gaining the legal right to vote throughout the nation.

2020 marks the centennial celebration of women’s suffrage. A constitutional right which grew from Virginia Minor’s perseverance to see that right become a reality for all women through her ongoing efforts from St. Louis to the U.S. Supreme Court and beyond.