We just passed an historic anniversary for the State of Illinois. One hundred years ago, on June 10, 1919, Illinois became the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote in nationwide elections. Let’s take a look back at this proud moment in our state’s history.
On June 4, 1919, the United States Congress proposed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which would forbid denying anyone the right to vote on the basis of their sex. At 10:44 a.m. on June 10, 1919, Lieutenant Governor John G. Oglesby announced that the Illinois State Senate had voted to ratify the amendment, after it had already passed in the House.
Later that day, Wisconsin and Michigan became the second and third states to vote for ratification. In a technicality, the Illinois legislature voted a week later to approve a version of the resolution with slightly different wording, making them officially the seventh state. However, the U.S. Secretary of State still acknowledged Illinois as the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment.
The 19th Amendment was later ratified by the required 36th state on August 18, 1920, when 50 of 99 members of the Tennessee House of Representatives voted “yes.” The last state to ratify the 19th Amendment was Mississippi in 1984, having first rejected it in 1920.
In a recent article, Chicago Magazine noted that it was appropriate Illinois was among the first states to ratify the 19th Amendment, since Frances Willard, a resident of Evanston, Illinois, was one of the most important figures in the women’s suffrage movement. Besides being the first Dean of Women at Northwestern University, Willard was the Co-Founder and President of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, an organization that linked women’s voting rights to sobriety. Their reasoning was that by giving women the right to vote, they would be empowered to help pass laws to curb alcohol abuse by men, and thus prevent the destruction of their homes.
The connection of women’s voting rights to temperance ultimately led to the 18th Amendment for Prohibition being passed in 1919, followed shortly afterward by the 19th Amendment for women’s suffrage being proposed by the U.S. Congress in 1919. In another Illinois connection, the congressman who introduced the 19th Amendment in the U.S. House of Representatives was James R. Mann, a Republican from Chicago. Sadly, Frances Willard didn’t live long enough to see the validation of her efforts, as she passed away in 1898.
To Commemorate Frances Willard’s efforts to secure women’s right to vote in United States elections, a statue of Willard was placed in the National Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol, making her the first woman so honored. She also appeared on a U.S. postage stamp in 1940.
Prior to the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Illinois had already given women limited voting rights in 1913, due to the efforts of Jane Addams and Grace Wilbur Trout of the Chicago Political Equality League. Illinois was the first state east of the Mississippi River to allow women to vote in presidential and local elections, although they could not vote for Federal or state legislators until the 19th Amendment was passed.