THH Episode 35: Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Comes Slowly

Transcript for Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Comes Slowly

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Crouch: The new day comes slowly, it is true, but none can fail to see that it approaches . . . the women who are asking for political liberty want it chiefly because it will enable them to get certain things . . . When enough women awake to the necessity of these things, then the battle will be won . . . We must reach the ‘women of the long gray streets,’ as well as . . . women of wealth and leisure. This will take time, patience, and tireless effort. A great responsibility rests upon those of us who have heard the call and have taken the yoke upon us. We have the consolation of knowing that ours is perhaps the greatest cause that has ever engaged the attention of the world – it is the cause of human liberty, which will not be attained until woman is recognized as joint partner with man in all the affairs of life.

Beckley: That was Indiana’s Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch reading from a speech given in 1911 by Hoosier suffragist Grace Julian Clarke.

By 1911, Indiana suffragists crackled with energy, hope, anxiety, and intention. They were a new generation of young activists determined to be the last struggling for the vote. They were peaceful, but radical, both in their demands and the innovative techniques used to gain support for their cause. They were, according to the Indianapolis News, “engaged in warfare—moral warfare—an assault on prejudice and ignorance.”

In this episode, we’ll meet the diverse suffragists who led Hoosier women’s fight for the vote during the re-invigoration of the movement starting around 1911. We’ll follow them as they organize, educate, lobby, protest, and march in the streets. And as we commemorate 100 years of women’s suffrage, we can learn from their struggle. After all, women are still fighting for equality, from equal pay to equal representation in government. And while it may be disheartening that women still haven’t secured an Equal Rights Amendment after generations of work, today’s activists can take some solace in looking to the generations that came before. Suffragists have taught the next generation to organize, agitate, lobby, and most importantly, in the words of Terre Haute suffragist Mabel Curry, they taught us: “We must be fearless.”

I’m Lindsey Beckley, and this is Talking Hoosier History.

Since 1851, Hoosiers from all backgrounds had been clearly, loudly, and bravely demanding the vote. That year, a small group of men and women held Indiana’s first Woman’s Rights Convention in Dublin, Wayne County. There, they passed resolutions that seem surprisingly modern – equal access to employment and education, equal pay for equal work, and the abolishment of laws which discriminated against women. Most importantly, they demanded “the same rights of citizenship with man,” or, simply put, they demanded suffrage.The following year they established the Indiana Woman’s Rights Association (IWRA).

Shrewd leaders emerged. In 1859, Dr. Mary Thomas became the first woman to address the Indiana General Assembly, pointing out the injustice that

Ellis reading Thomas: the law, with its ruthless hand, undertakes to ‘settle her business for her,’ when she had no voice in making that law.

Beckley: Just how frustrating that would be – working to change the laws denying your rights, but being stymied at every turn because you don’t have those very rights you’re working towards.

The Civil War gave Hoosier suffragists hope that they would finally gain their rights. They believed that their work nursing soldiers, running the farms, and raising funds for the war would force lawmakers to recognize their citizenship. They even put their suffrage work on hold to serve their country, proving their dedication to the nation. When the war ended and they were not rewarded with suffrage, they resumed the fight.

The first IWRA meeting after the Civil War, held in 1869, was also the first time historians have been able to document African American women’s participation in the state’s suffrage organizations. At the meeting one woman demanded assurance that Black voices would be included as well. The IWRA agreed. Black women would remain an essential part of the fight for suffrage, especially in Indianapolis. When Black men gained suffrage with the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870 and women were still left without the vote, disappointed Hoosier women were determined to work more directly for change.

By the 1880s, they shifted their approach to directly lobbying their representatives. Historian Anita Morgan explained that by this point, women recognized that “the path to success for suffrage was persistence and continuous pressure.” But they couldn’t have known just how long it would take to travel that path.

In 1881, it looked like all of their work lobbying and delivering impassioned speeches before the Indiana General Assembly had paid off. A women’s suffrage bill passed both the House and the Senate. Only one, seemingly small technicality stood between Hoosier women and the ballot box. At that time, bills for constitutional amendments had to pass two legislative sessions, so it would have to be brought up for another vote in 1883. Again, Indiana women wrote letters, signed petitions, delivered speeches, and lobbied their representatives, and hundreds of suffragists, both Black and white, gathered at a mass meeting in Indianapolis to make their voices heard. Despite all of this, the suffrage bill wouldn’t even get a hearing in 1883.

In what Dr. Morgan called “a clear case of political chicanery,” suffrage opponents brushed off a dusty rule that stated pending legislation must be printed in full in the House and Senate Journals before it could be voted on in the following session. The suffrage bill somehow-mysteriously-wasn’t printed in 1881 and thus couldn’t be considered in 1883. To get so close to the vote only to be unjustly thwarted was a huge blow to the movement.

Nevertheless, they persisted. Over the following decades, Indiana’s suffragists used political and legal strategies to further their cause. Hoosier women solidified partnerships with national suffrage organizations and spoke before the U.S. Congress. In 1894, Indiana women attempted to vote without a suffrage law, knowing they would be denied, in order to sue for their rights through the court system. Helen Gougar of Lafayette took her case all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court. Despite her argument for the “Constitutional Right[s] of the Women of Indiana,” in which she declared that a “right withheld is a wrong inflicted,”  her appeal failed.

As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, the women’s club movement helped make suffrage more mainstream. It became increasingly clear to the highly educated clubwomen who were interested in political reform that only the vote would allow them to completely achieve their goals.

However, despite being a more mainstream idea, by the turn of the 20th century, after more than fifty years of struggle, the Indiana suffrage movement itself had stagnated. It’s not surprising that after half a century of work, some women were beginning to feel apathetic by the slow pace of change. But that wasn’t the only reason for this stagnation – the movement was also divided along ideological lines and  by the strong personalities of its leaders, who clashed over goals and the methods for achieving them.

Some believed prohibition went hand in hand with suffrage in protecting women from abusive situations and loss of property. Others, including the large number of German immigrants whose cultural celebrations included beer, believed prohibition would drive many away from the cause. Some suffrage supporters thought women should first work for partial suffrage – or the right to vote in limited, local elections. Others believed full suffrage was their natural right and they would settle for nothing less. Some wanted to work for suffrage at the local and state level; others thought only an amendment to the U.S. constitution would guarantee the vote.

It’s really no surprise their views were diverse because so were suffragists. The heroes of Indiana’s suffrage movement were immigrants, African Americans, and union members. They were rich women, poor women, working women – Republicans, Democrats, Progressives, Prohibitionists, and Socialists. They were Quakers, Jews, Protestants, and Catholics. Indiana’s movement included everyone who believed that women who paid taxes, contributed to their communities, and aided in war efforts when called – women who had proved their worth as citizens time and again – deserved a say in who represented their interests.

After years of stagnation, and with a richly diverse pool of potential supporters, Indianapolis firebrands Grace Julian Clarke and Dr. Amelia Keller put a defibrillator on the weakly-beating heart of Indiana’s suffrage movement in 1911. After lobbyists failed to convince the legislature to pass partial or municipal suffrage bills, the two women recognized the need to overcome apathy and seriously mobilize, forming the Indiana Woman’s Franchise League (WFL). At the same time, Indiana’s Equal Suffrage Association (ESA) ramped up efforts to gain support for women’s enfranchisement. While the groups shared the same underlying goals,  the Equal Suffrage Association embraced different tactics and audiences. Unlike the WFL, it welcomed men. It also worked more closely with labor unions and African American women, especially early in its history. Within the reinvigorated movement emerged new leaders from both groups, who embraced savvy political and promotional tactics. Suffragists, long familiar with statehouse chambers, increasingly spread their message to public squares, street corners and even the skies.

Long maligned as being militant or overbearing, the suffragists decided to generate public interest with a variety of innovative approaches throughout 1912. Among these, there were a few stand outs. The spring brought a “Funfest,” which featured peanuts, a fortune teller, and a satirical “opray,” which had even anti-suffragists laughing against their will. More importantly, it provided an influx of much-needed funding. In June, suffragists led by Grace Julian Clarke, undertook an automobile tour of Hamilton County, distributing flyers and spreading information about suffrage with fantastic results. Perhaps most innovative of all, suffragists took to the skies in May and June, flying over events in hot air balloons showering spectators with “votes for women” buttons and circulars reading,

Ellis reading circular: Women of Indiana . . . come and show that you are no longer satisfied to be ignored and that you insist in having a voice in this government.

As these tactics helped the movement grow, Hoosier reformers recognized the need to be more representative as many of Indiana’s suffragists were white and financially well-off. The Equal Suffrage Association sought new partners in the historic fight for equal rights, with association president Dr. Hannah Graham speaking to working women around the city about how the vote could help the labor cause.  The diversity of the ESA was even more obvious at a meeting held in Indianapolis in the summer of 1912. There, members of over a dozen unions, representatives of Black organizations, members of various political parties, and Indianapolis Mayor Lew Shank converged to hear speeches and debate about suffrage. The argument made by African American civil rights leader Freeman Ransom, that without the ballot women were forced to pay taxes without representation, was one of the most applauded speeches of the day.

But the ESA wasn’t alone in diversifying their membership. The Woman’s Franchise League also made laboring classes a priority at its 1913 state convention. At the convention, there was the following reading of Luluabelle Kern’s “Factory Meetings and the Working Woman,” :

Ellis reading Kern: The answer is that the working woman must study the Constitution of the United States and see just where she stands. Working women are in the majority and we must get them interested in suffrage. We cannot gain the ballot without them.

Later that year, WFL member Harriet Noble spoke before attendees of the Central Labor Union’s meeting in Indianapolis. There, she implored working women to support the movement, saying that it was them who would benefit the most from the vote if it were secured.

Along with members of organized labor, suffrage groups also sought to work with those members of Indiana’s African American community who supported the cause.  With these relationships forged, Dr. Graham, along with Black leaders like Freeman Ransom, helped found Indianapolis’s African American branch of the ESA, No. 7, in 1912. None other than revered Black entrepreneur, Madame C.J. Walker, hosted the branch’s first meeting at her home, where public school teacher Carrie Barnes was elected president. Of the branch’s work, Barnes proclaimed

Ellis reading Barnes: We all feel that colored women have need for the ballot that white women have, and a great many needs that they have not.

Beckley: Black suffragists hosted debates at the Senate Avenue YMCA and local African American churches and worked with white ESA branches and trade unions to forward women’s right to vote. While historians are still working to discover more about Black suffragists and their role in the movement, it’s clear that their work led to greater citizenship for women. The unlikely collaboration of Indiana’s privileged white women, laboring classes, and African American community—one which was uncommon in other Midwestern states—would help lead to the ratification of women’s suffrage.

These coalitions were needed more than ever when in 1913 Governor Thomas Marshall proposed a new, increasingly restrictive state constitution that would further cement women’s disenfranchisement.

Suffragists needed to convince the General Assembly to create equal suffrage legislation before it was too late. Despite the shared goals of the ESA and the WFL, the two groups took opposing positions during a January discussion before a legislative committee weighing a partial suffrage bill. The debate at this commission meeting was simple: should suffragists support this limited suffrage bill in hopes it would lead to more rights in the future or should they hold out for full suffrage? The ESA supported the former solution, while the WFL insisted on the latter.

This division grew fierce. ESA leader Dr. Hannah Graham was an outspoken proponent of full suffrage, but put her ideological stance aside. She felt like Hoosier women couldn’t miss the opportunity that this bill afforded. According to the Indianapolis Star, ESA members voted to support the partial suffrage bill because “such franchise is as much as can be expected at this time.” Simply put, a little suffrage was better than none and may help in winning full suffrage down the road.

WFL leaders vehemently disagreed. Digne Miller noted first that the bill would only grant this partial suffrage to women in Indianapolis and Terre Haute – more a fractional suffrage bill than a partial one. Dr. Amelia Keller expressed her fear that the bill could actually hurt the larger movement. Before the legislative committee, Dr. Keller argued:

Ellis reading Keller: If that bill goes through it will be immediately sent into the courts on protest of being unconstitutional and then when the vote for full suffrage really comes we will receive our answer, ‘O that question is now in court. Wait until that is settled and we’ll see about it then.’

Beckley: Even members of the same organization voiced their disagreement during the meeting. Prominent WFL member Belle Tutewiler broke with her WFL colleagues to support the bill. Her argument in favor of partial suffrage was to use this limited franchise to pry open the door of full suffrage. Her point may have been overshadowed by her fiery language. She called the league’s opposition “childish” and stated:

Ellis readiness Tuttewiler: It is mere child’s play to say that if we can not get all, we will take nothing. I think it would be better to take school suffrage now and use that as an entering wedge for full suffrage later.

Beckley: As the debate continued, the women’s language grew more contentious. In the midst of the discussion, Elizabeth Stanley of Liberty threw open a suitcase “scattering yards and yards of cards bearing a petition for full suffrage” and “ridiculed the idea of using school suffrage as a wedge.”

The women exchanged more heated words before the ineffective meeting was adjourned and the partial suffrage bill abandoned.

Public clashes such as these weren’t great press, and the WFL and ESA knew it. The organizations, both experienced in publicity, realized they needed to present a united front before the General Assembly. After all, both groups supported a proposed amendment to the constitution that would remove the word “male” as criteria to vote.  The WFL and ESA would march to the Indiana statehouse on March 3, 1913, the same day 5,000 suffragists paraded through the nation’s capital. Five hundred Hoosier suffragists from across the state walked into the statehouse that Monday afternoon.  As historian Jill Weiss Simins points out, this was not a celebratory parade, nor was it a raucous demonstration.  It was a protest. The suffrage bills being considered by the General Assembly were unlikely to pass and the Senate had already rejected at least one of the pending propositions earlier in the day. The suffragists were there not because they thought any “immediate good” would come from the day’s session. Rather, hundreds of women marched into their capitol that day to make their collective power felt.

In fact, even in the unlikely event that one of the measures were to pass on that day, it had to be approved again at the next session in 1915, and then voted on in a statewide referendum in 1916 at the earliest. Hoosier suffragists had lost this battle before, celebrating the passage of suffrage bills at one session, just to be disappointed at the next. The women marching in the Indiana statehouse that day would have, if anything, been cautiously hopeful, rather than celebratory if the bill passed, because they knew passage of a bill didn’t always lead to a change in law. Their spirit would have been somber and determined.

The women were there to “work on the legislature,” to show them that suffrage was not a fringe movement, that a large number of Hoosier women demanded the vote. Decked in yellow “Votes for Women” lapel ribbons, the women walked through the statehouse, stopping to pin ribbons on a few willing lawmakers, like Governor Samuel Ralston. Most Indiana lawmakers didn’t take a ribbon, and pages mocked the women’s efforts.

Because their march was a protest, they chose to silently file first into the House and then to the Senate. Lawmakers would have to face legions of the state’s most upstanding Hoosiers before voting to continue to deny them their right as citizens. As predicted, the suffragists didn’t achieve their legislative aims, but they didaccomplish their goal in marching: they presented a united front. Even in the face of this success, suffragists were mocked as ignorant women with the Indianapolis News writing,

Clark reading from Newspaper: Although hundreds of suffragists were jammed in the senate when Senator Grube introduced to the state Constitution to allow women suffrage, no one of them seemed to realize what ‘was doing.’ No demonstrations of any sort took place.

Beckley: This claim that the women didn’t realize what was happening is preposterous. Many of these women had dedicated their life to the cause – does it seem likely that they would have been ignorant of any upcoming legislation that would lead to victory? Of course not. What’s more, the leaders of the WFL and ESA had been working with members of the General Assembly on the legislation in question. But this protest wasn’t about legislation. It was about perseverance. And they would need that perseverance. Hoosier suffragists had a long road ahead of them.

If anything, this legislative defeat galvanized the suffragists and weeks after the march, Dr. Keller stated:

Ellis reading Keller: Against this new spirit of women nothing can stand. The wave of their determination cannot be stayed by any legislature bidding it make no further progress. It will come on and on, sweeping all obstacles which attempt to bar its path.

Beckley: Once the women made their presence known in the statehouse, they were determined to make it felt constantly. In 1914, Grace Julian Clarke formed a lobbying group, the Legislative Council of Indiana Women. The council held lawmakers’ feet to the fire regarding women’s rights bills and represented 50,000 Hoosier women from various and diverse groups. Securing an office in the statehouse, suffragists worked alongside AP statehouse reporters.

Suffragists also worked to keep the issue in front of the public. Between Illinois Street and Monument Circle a bugle sounded in the spring of 1914, summoning 300 men and women. They listened, some on foot and others in cars, as Luella McWhirter read the Woman’s Declaration of Independence and the Anthony Amendment (what would become the 19th Amendment). Suffragists like Clarke used the power of the press to inform the public about women’s right to vote. Others continued to court the laboring classes, slipping pro-suffrage literature into the hands of reform-minded celebrants at Fountain Square’s May Day festivities.In 1915, Anna Dunn Noland secured the endorsement of 1,600 miners at a national convention in Indianapolis. Support for the cause seemed to be increasing daily.

In working for the right  vote, women in Indiana and across the nation found their civic and political voice as never before. Decades of winning and then losing the right to vote didn’t quell their determination. It gave them a chance to hone their organizational skills, articulate the many rationales for women’s enfranchisement, and learn how to weather criticism. In the reinvigorated movement of the early 20th century empowered Hoosier suffragists enrolled in public speaking courses and hosted citizenship classes in their homes. Surely, as the audacious women pressed forward, the fear that the ballot would always be just out of reach lingered. But on the horizon was an event that would change the course of history, and the fortunes of suffragists: World War I.

In the next episode, we’ll discuss how Hoosier women clenched the long-awaited vote, in part, by leveraging war relief work.

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is produced by the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. I’d like to thank Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch and the director of the Propylaeum Liz Ellis for lending their voices to the show. This episode was written by Nicole Politika and Jill Weiss Simins. Sound engineering by Justin Clark and production by Jill Weiss Simins. We’ll be back in two weeks with another installment of Giving Voice. Until then, find us on Faceook and twitter as the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to like, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening.

Show Notes for Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Comes Slowly

Music:

If you’re interested in the story of Indiana’s Suffrage Movement, we highly suggest reading Dr. Anita Morgan’s book, We Must Be Fearless.

Read more about the suffrage movement in Indiana with the Indiana History Blog.

Newspapers

Indianapolis News, June 10, 1913, 5.

Indianapolis News, May 2, 1913, 23.

Indianapolis Star, May 2, 1914, 5.

Blog Posts

Jill Weiss Simins, “A Silent Roar: Indiana Suffragists’ 1913 March to the Statehouse,” Indiana History Blog.

Jill Weiss Simins, ”Suffrage Up in the Air:” The Equal Suffrage Association’s 1912 Publicity Campaign,” Indiana History Blog.

Books

Anita Morgan, We Must Be Fearless”: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana, IHS Press, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2020.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownell Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 6, Susan B. Anthony, 1922.

A Silent Roar: Indiana Suffragists’ 1913 March to the Statehouse

The Indiana woman’s suffrage movement was not a monolith. Its supporters held a spectrum of beliefs formed from their different backgrounds and perspectives. Nowhere was this more apparent than in rifts over strategy. Hoosier suffragists all believed women should have the vote, but clashed over the best course of action for winning it.

By 1912, Indiana’s organizations most assiduously acting in the political arena were the Woman’s Franchise League (WFL) and the Equal Suffrage Association (ESA). Both groups had strong leaders and experience with organizing, lobbying, and publicizing their views, meetings, and arguments for suffrage. Their work had recently become more urgent as Governor Thomas Marshall proposed a new, increasingly-restrictive state constitution that would further cement women’s disenfranchisement. They needed to influence the new 1913 Indiana General Assembly to create equal suffrage legislation before it was too late. They disagreed, however, on where to start. [1]

On the heels of its successful state convention in 1912 and success organizing new branches (including African American and labor branches), the ESA was well-positioned to unite the movement. Dr. Hannah Graham rallied ESA members behind the “Woman’s Declaration of Independence,” which called on women to break ties with any politician not willing to make a public declaration of their support for women’s suffrage. Suffrage took precedent over political alliances. [2]

Indianapolis News, June 6, 1912, 12, Newspapers.com

The WFL also had a banner year in 1912. Prominent members traveled the state in automobile tours, handing out literature and reaching women in smaller towns. They organized high profile events that garnered press attention and signatures for suffrage petitions. And the WFL took on the important work of convincing women who were indifferent to suffrage that they could improve their everyday lives, their children’s schools, and the health of their communities with the vote. Despite the shared goals of the ESA and the WFL, they took opposing positions on a bill introduced by Indiana Senator Evan B. Stotsenberg in January 1913 that proposed granting women partial suffrage to vote in school board elections. [3]

The clash between the ESA and WFL over this bill embodied a major conflict within the larger suffrage movement. Should suffragists accept partial suffrage to get their foot in the door and later work for full suffrage or demand full suffrage as their inalienable democratic right? While both Indiana suffrage organizations had taken different stances on this issue previously, in January 1913, the ESA supported the partial suffrage bill, while the WFL opposed it as inadequate. [4] The debate between ESA and WFL leaders before the Senate committee on rights and privileges got . . . heated.

ESA leader Dr. Hannah Graham was an outspoken proponent of full suffrage, but put her ideological stance aside. She felt like Hoosier women couldn’t miss the opportunity that this bill afforded. According to the Indianapolis Star, ESA members voted to support the partial suffrage bill because “such franchise is as much as can be expected at this time.” [5] Simply put, a little suffrage was better than none and might help in garnering full suffrage down the road.

WFL leaders vehemently disagreed. Digne Miller noted first that the bill would only grant this partial suffrage to women in Indianapolis and Terre Haute – more a fractional suffrage bill than a partial one. Dr. Amelia Keller expressed her fear that the bill could actually hurt the larger movement. [6] Dr. Keller argued:

If that bill goes through it will be immediately sent into the courts on protest of being unconstitutional and then when the vote for full suffrage really comes we will receive our answer, ‘O that question is now in court. Wait until that is settled and we’ll see about it then.’ [7]

In fact, some WFL members thought that delaying the full suffrage vote was the senator’s reason for introducing the bill in the fist place. Sen. Stotsenberg had also introduced a full suffrage bill that would have had to pass two legislative sessions and then go to a statewide referendum, a process that would take years. So it was not entirely unreasonable to think that he wanted to kick the problem down the road. [8]

Even within the organizations, there was disagreement. Prominent league member Belle Tutewiler broke with her WFL colleagues to support the bill. Her argument in favor of partial suffrage was to use this limited franchise to pry open the door of full suffrage. Her valid point may have been overshadowed by her fiery language. She called the league’s opposition “childish” and stated:

It is mere child’s play to say that if we can not get all, we will take nothing. I think it would be better to take school suffrage now and use that as an entering wedge for full suffrage later. [9]

Muncie Star Press, October 21, 1912, 3, Newspapers.com

As discussion continued, the women’s language grew more contentious. In the midst of the discussion, Elizabeth Stanley of Liberty threw open a suitcase “scattering yards and yards of cards bearing a petition for full suffrage” and “ridiculed the idea of using school suffrage as a wedge.” [10] The women exchanged more heated words before the ineffective meeting was adjourned and the partial suffrage bill abandoned.

The Indianapolis Star clearly delighted in the drama. The newspaper devoted long articles to the debate, written in a patronizing tone. Front page headlines read:

Suffrage Hosts Scorn Offerings

Resentful Women in Public Meeting Condemn Bill to Give Vote on Schools

“Childish” Starts Storm

Accusation from Lone Defender of Measure Brings Heated Denial of “Imbecility” [11]

Indianapolis Star, August 2, 1912, 7, Newspapers.com.

This public disharmony was not a good look and both organizations knew it. The WFL and the ESA were experienced publicists and aware that they needed a major public event to draw positive press coverage. The groups had to come together, if only briefly, and present a united front before the General Assembly. The WFL took the lead. The group organized a march to the Indiana statehouse for March 3, 1913, the same day 5,000 suffragists marched through the nation’s capital. [12] This was the perfect opportunity to present a united front and ESA leader Dr. Hannah Graham contacted the WFL asking to join forces. The WFL agreed. Just two months after their public disagreement over partial suffrage, the groups would march shoulder to shoulder before the Indiana General Assembly. [13]

It’s unclear if Black suffragists joined the march. African American ESA Branch #7 wouldn’t be organized until that summer. Newspapers catering to a white audience made no mention of their participation and the Indianapolis Recorder seemed to have been frustrated by the lack of Black suffrage information. A vexed Recorder writer, who went only by her first name of Dorothy, wrote on March 8:

What part did the colored women take in the suffrage movement at Washington last Monday? What part are they taking at any time? What are they, women or mice? Let us hear from you. Speak up! [14]

It is likely that Black suffragists at least knew about the march. The Woman’s Civic Club was an African American organization that worked to oppose race and gender discrimination in 1913. The Indianapolis branch had ninety-one members and promoted their events with the words of W. E. B. DuBois: “Protest, Reveal the truth and refuse to be silenced.” [15] The club had recently hosted Mary Tarkington Jameson at their regular meeting. Jameson was a prominent WFL member and spoke to the Woman’s Civic Club prior to departing for Washington D.C. to represent Indiana in the suffrage parade. The Recorder reported that Jameson delivered a “splendid address on Woman’s Suffrage” for the club. [16] It seems unlikely that Jameson would not have talked about current issues and upcoming events. Whether the Black suffragists in attendance would have been welcomed or felt safe in attending, would have been another matter. Unfortunately, this information is absent from sources.

Indianapolis Recorder, March 8, 1913, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles.

On Monday afternoon, March 3, 1913, Hoosier suffragists from across the state, 500 strong, marched into the statehouse. [17] This was not a celebratory parade, nor was it a raucous demonstration.  It was a protest. The suffrage bills being considered by the General Assembly were unlikely to pass “as the house of representatives was known to be unfriendly to equal suffrage,” and the Senate had already rejected at least one of the pending propositions earlier in the day. The suffragists were there not because they thought any “immediate good” would come from the day’s session. [18] Five hundred women marched into their capitol that day to make their presence known. They were there to “work on the legislature,” to show them that this was not a fringe movement, that a large number of Hoosier women demanded the vote. [19] WFL president Dr. Amelia Keller stated,

We wanted to show the legislators that we are in earnest and that ‘we’ means not a handful of enthusiasts, but hundreds of women. [20]

A pro-suffrage stance was edging towards the mainstream in 1913 but needed a push. It wasn’t a view that needed to be kept secret like it was when the Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Society first met conspiratorially in 1878, but nor was it ubiquitous. [21] The more conservative members of the Indiana Federation of Clubs, for example, still had not endorsed suffrage at the time of the march, though they would later that year. [22] Suffrage in Indiana was at a tipping point and so they marched.

Indianapolis Star, March 4, 1913, 3, Newspapers.com

Several unlikely suffrage measures were before the Indiana General Assembly on the day of the march. Representative Earl K. Friend had introduced a resolution to amend the constitution, removing the word “male.” This resolution was pending in the House Judiciary Committee B, also known as the “graveyard committee” because it is where dead bills were buried. There was no hope for the suffragists there. The identical resolution introduced by Senator Harry E. Grube had already failed in the Senate that morning. [23]

The United Press wire service reported that several suffrage leaders had also been working with Rep. Friend on an amendment to the bill introduced by Rep. Stotsenburg, which also aimed to amend the constitution to remove the word “male.” Some of the women may have warily hoped that this proposal would gain support, but were not expecting any immediate results. Even if the bill passed, it had to be approved again at the next session in 1915, and then voted on in a statewide referendum in 1916 at the earliest. [24] Hoosier suffragists had lost this battle before, celebrating the passage of suffrage bills at one session, just to be disappointed at the next. [25] The women marching in the statehouse that day would not have had anything to celebrate, even if the bill passed, because they would have been made again to wait for equality. Their spirit would have been somber and determined, not hopeful. Their solemn march matched the moment.

The 500 Hoosier suffragists walked through the statehouse stopping to pin suffrage ribbons on a few willing lawmakers. Governor Samuel Ralston “cheerily” accepted a ribbon as did the legislators representing the Progressive Party, the only party to add a suffrage plank to their platform. [26] Most Indiana lawmakers did not take a ribbon, and pages mocked the women’s efforts. [27]

Indianapolis News, March 1, 1913, 11, Newspapers.com.

Indianapolis newspapers either misunderstood the suffragists’ goals or reporters intentionally decided to recast the scene through a condescending lens. The Indianapolis Star called their attempt to distribute ribbons to lawmakers “a game of hide and seek.” [28]  The newspaper claimed that prominent writer and WFL leader Grace Julian Clarke “moaned in grief” because her husband, Senator Charles B. Clarke refused a ribbon. [29] The Indianapolis News was even more patronizing.

The News sarcastically described the suffragists as wearing “warpaint of fine feathers and pretty gowns” and commented on the group’s choice to walk up the stairs en masse instead of splitting up to take the elevators. [30] The News claimed that one woman stated that by taking the stairs they hoped “the men will see that we are not afraid of some of the hardships,” but that if they gained the vote “one of the first things that we will do will be to add more elevators to the statehouse.” [31] This quote is dubious in authenticity, and the jab was certainly patronizing, but all in all, a comparatively harmless aside. The rest of the News article, however, must have been infuriating to these politically savvy suffragists.

The Indianapolis News claimed that while the suffragists marched around the statehouse, they had no idea what legislation was pending, or that the suffrage amendments were being dismissed. The newspaper claimed that the suffragists were in the chambers when Sen. Grube introduced the resolution calling for the constitutional amendment but that “it was done so unobtrusively that the women did not seem to know that it had been done.”[32]  And about the identical resolution introduced in the House by Rep. Friend, the writer scoffed:

The women had hardly been out of the state house more than an hour, however, when the house judiciary committee B voted in favor of killing the Friend house resolution . . . [33]

In case the newspaper’s readers missed this claim of female ignorance, the writer drove home the point:

Although hundreds of suffragists were jammed in the senate when Senator Grube introduced a resolution providing for an amendment to the state Constitution to allow women suffrage, not one of them seemed to realize what ‘was doing.’ No demonstrations of any sort took place. [34]

This claim is certainly false. First, these suffrage leaders were the most prominent women in the state. Indiana legislators were their friends, husbands, and family members. Second, the leaders of the WFL and ESA kept current on political issues related to suffrage at the state and national level. They wrote articles, gave speeches, organized meetings, and gathered signatures for petitions based on this knowledge. Most importantly, they had been working with members of the General Assembly on the legislation pending that day. The UP reported:

The leaders of the women planned to have Friend introduce a new resolution in the form of an amendment . . . [35]

They didn’t just know about the resolution, they were integral in its introduction to the legislature.

They knew the General Assembly would fail them that day. Their march was a protest, and this is why they chose silence. They came to make it clear to lawmakers that large numbers of the state’s most upstanding citizens were watching them. The General Assembly would have to face them before voting to continue to deny them their right as citizens. The UP reported that “dignity marked the demonstration,” as women representing “the best type of Indiana’s womanhood” gathered in the statehouse corridors.[36] They silently filed first into the House and then to the Senate. The UP reporter continued,

It was a silent demonstration. The leaders of the women attempted to make no speeches. They merely hoped that the number of mothers, wives and daughters, society leaders, professional women and working girls would cause the legislature to think about woman suffrage. [37]

The Indianapolis newspapers interpreted or framed their silence as ignorance, but it was the opposite. The suffragists knew that March 3, 1913 was not their day, but they made it clear that they would not stop their work until it was.

Indianapolis News, March 4, 1913, 4, Newspapers.com.

They did, in fact, achieve their goal in marching. The ESA and WFL presented a united front, countering the picture painted by their clash over partial versus full suffrage months earlier. All of the newspapers, even the condescending ones, that covered the march noted the joint appearance by the state’s major suffrage organizations. The UP reported that the event “was said to evidence the friendly relations between the two societies.”[38] Dr. Graham explained that this show of solidarity meant that “the legislators can no longer doubt the sincerity of the request of the women.” [39]

While Hoosier suffragists had a long road ahead of them, organized protests like this one, combined with lobbying, street meetings, sharp speeches, and savvy publicity stunts, helped to move public opinion and force lawmakers to give in to their demands. The press painted them at times as flighty, catty, or any other manner of stereotype, but their actions showed otherwise.  While their methods sometimes produced discord between them, it was through the constant political work of these knowledgeable, experienced, calculating suffragists that they won for themselves the vote. As they marched on the statehouse, they chose silence, but through their numbers, dignity, and righteousness, they roared for the vote.

Notes and Sources

[1] Anita Morgan, We Must Be Fearless: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2020), 101, 111.
[2] Ibid., 112-13, 117-18; Jill Weiss Simins, “‘Suffrage Up In The Air:’ The Equal Suffrage Association’s 1912 Publicity Campaign,” accessed Indiana History Blog.
[3] Anita Morgan, “Taking It to the Streets: Hoosier Women’s Suffrage Automobile Tour,” accessed Indiana History Blog. Prior to the discussion, Senator Stotsenberg withdrew his school suffrage bill and replaced it with a bill that would allow women to serve on school boards but not vote in the elections. Despite this change, the suffragists debated partial school suffrage versus full suffrage.
[4] Morgan, We Must Be Fearless, 118-19.
[5] “Bill Is Approved: Equal Suffrage Association Board Favors School Franchise Measure,” Indianapolis Star, January 25, 1913, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.
[6] “Suffrage Hosts Scorn Offering,” Indianapolis Star, January 25, 1913, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid. Stotsenberg’s full suffrage bill, even if it passed in 1913, would have had to pass again in 1915, and then go to a statewide referendum in 1916 or 1917.
[9] Ibid.
[10] “Women Divided on Ballot Bill,” Indianapolis Star, January 28, 1913, 6, accessed Newspapers.com.
[11] “Suffrage Hosts Scorn Offering,” 1.
[12] “Woman’s Franchise League Will Go to Statehouse Monday and Ask Suffrage Amendment,” Indianapolis News, March 1, 1913, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.
[13] Morgan, 122.
[14] Dorothy, “Of Interest to All Women,” Indianapolis Recorder, March 8, 1913, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
[15] “Woman’s Civic Club Notes,” Indianapolis Recorder, March 8, 1913, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
[16] “Woman’s Civic Club Notes,” Indianapolis Recorder, March 1, 1913, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
[17] “500 Suffragists Invade Capitol,” Indianapolis Star, March 4, 1913, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.
[18] “Indiana Women Work on the Legislature,” Huntington Herald, March 3, 1913, 1, accessed Newspapers.com. The Herald ran the article received from the United Press wire service.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] “500 Suffragists Invade Capitol,” 3.
[21] Morgan, 62.
[22] Ibid., 95.
[23] “Indiana Women Work on the Legislature,” 1.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Morgan, 75. See Morgan for the political tricks that killed a suffrage bill in 1881 only to disappear from consideration in 1883.
[26] “500 Suffragists Invade Capitol,” 3.
[27] Ibid.
[28]Ibid.
[29] Ibid.
[30] “Assembly Besieged by Nearly 500 Women,” Indianapolis News, March 4, 1913, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Ibid.
[35] “Indiana Women Work on the Legislature,” 1.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Ibid.
[38] Ibid.
[39] “500 Suffragists Invade Capitol,” 3.

 

Taking It to the Streets: Hoosier Women’s Suffrage Automobile Tour

Indianapolis Star, June 6, 1912, 5, courtesy of Grace Julian Clarke’s scrapbooks.

“Five prominent suffragists wooed Nora, stormed Carmel, showed Westfield the sun of political equality rising in the East, and splintered their verbal swords, maces, spears and daggers against two club closing days and a bridge party in Noblesville.”  The June 6, 1912, edition of the Indianapolis Star vividly described what was probably the first women’s suffrage automobile tour in the state. The suffragists in question—Sara Lauter, Grace Julian Clarke, Mrs. R. Harry Miller, Julia Henderson, and Mrs. W.T. Barnes—represented the Woman’s Franchise League (WFL), one of the two major suffrage organizations in the state (the other was the Equal Suffrage Association).

This Hamilton County event was part of the Woman’s Franchise League’s re-energized campaign to get the vote.  After sixty-one years of petitioning state legislators to enact laws that recognized women’s right to vote with no success, the WFL decided to take its arguments more directly to the people.  Suffragists wanted to better inform the public about the benefits for all people when women voted and hoped that constituents would in turn pressure their legislators to enact women’s suffrage legislation.  The WFL needed to garner enough support over the summer of 1912, when travel was easiest in the still very rural state, to have suffrage legislation introduced in the 1913 state legislative session. Gov. Thomas Marshall had added an urgency to the task with his proposed new state constitution.  Marshall wanted only “literate male citizens of the United States who were registered in the state and had paid a poll tax for two years” to be permitted to vote. The existing state constitution, with its arcane amendment system, which had prevented women from gaining the vote in 1883, at least did not designate a sex as criteria for voting as Marshall’s proposal did.

To get their message to the people, the WFL came up with innovative publicity ideas. At the WFL’s request, women’s suffrage supporter and former U.S. Vice-President Charles W. Fairbanks hosted a heavily attended suffrage-themed lawn party at his Meridian Street home. WFL member Lucy Riesenberg suggested a suffrage baseball game. The Indianapolis Athletic Association, owners of the local field, agreed to host the event as long as the WFL sold 3,000 tickets at 50 cents each.  The suffragists deemed those terms “unreasonable” and dropped the idea. Grace Julian Clarke, ardent member of both the WFL and the Federation of Clubs, urged the group to pursue a suffrage auto tour as she heard had been completed by suffragists in Wisconsin. Sara Lauter offered the use of her car for the occasion and they almost immediately put the plan into action.  What better way to reach women than to go directly to them.

Indianapolis News, June 6, 1912, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.

On June 5, the five suffragists fastened a yellow “Votes for Women” banner to the side of Lauter’s car, loaded suffrage flyers and themselves into it, and set out from Indianapolis at 9:30 a.m.  Traveling north, they left some of the flyers behind in Nora and then motored to Westfield.  A group of men and women suffragists hosted the travelers at the public library, where everyone enjoyed lunch and the Indianapolis women gave short talks about how women voters could improve the lives of mothers, working women, and everyone else. Westfield suffragists formed a new WFL branch league on the spot, with Mrs. N.O. Stanbrough named President of the new group, Anna D. Stephens named Vice President, and Lizzie Tresmire as both Secretary and Treasurer.  The enthusiastic Westfield women even offered to travel to the village of Carmel, just three or four miles to the south, to establish a branch suffrage league there. When the Indianapolis suffragists returned to their car to take their message to Noblesville, they found it decorated with peonies, roses, and lilacs.

Indianapolis News, June 6, 1912, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.

The Noblesville visit did not go as planned. The WFL suffragists had unfortunately chosen an inconvenient day for their visit. Women’s clubs did not meet in the summer and June 5 was the last meeting day of the year for two Noblesville clubs. The final day of the club season was a highlight of any club’s yearly program and not to be missed—even for a suffrage auto tour. Disappointed with the small number of women who attended the meeting at the First Presbyterian Church, but understanding the importance of the last day of the club year, WFL suffragists made the best of a bad situation. First, they promised to return the following week, and Mrs. Harry Alexander, Mrs. Walter Sanders, and Mrs. Charles Neal of Noblesville agreed to make the arrangements. Second, Clarke and Lauter took to the streets, where they distributed suffrage flyers and talked to unsuspecting shoppers and business owners around the courthouse square.  At the end of the day, the suffragists headed south to Allisonville, distributed more flyers, returned to Indianapolis around 5:00, and declared their first auto tour “a good day’s work.”

Motivated by their warm reception in Westfield and undaunted by the problems in Noblesville, suffragists chose Boone County as their next destination and traveled to Zionsville and Lebanon the following week. Hanging the “Votes for Women” banner from Mary Winter’s car, Winter, Julia Henderson, and Celeste Barnhill took on the task. The Rev. G.W. Nutter hosted the suffrage meeting at his church, the Zionsville Christian Church.  He announced his full support for women voting and asked to be allowed to join the WFL.  As had happened in Westfield, other men also attended the meeting and displayed as much support for the cause as women.  Winter and Barnhill welcomed them and noted the support the WFL received from many men.  They worried more, it seems, that some women remained indifferent to the vote. They tried to turn that indifference into support by explaining how the vote had the potential to improve the lives of all women through enactment of health and sanitation laws, regulations on child labor, and even by limiting or prohibiting the manufacture or sale of alcohol.

Indianapolis Star, June 13, 1912, 7, accessed Newspapers.com.

Leaving behind suffrage flyers in Zionsville, the women trekked to the courthouse in Lebanon for their next meeting.  This time, Mary Winter stressed that women voters could bring about the introduction of new legislation that dealt with working conditions and wages, liquor legislation, and vice regulation. She noted that women who worked in factories realized the need for the ballot more than women who did not work outside the home.  She hoped that those two groups of women would join forces and improve working and living conditions for everyone.  As with Zionsville, while the crowd expressed an interest in the cause, Boone County residents did not create a new suffrage organization.

In the end, Marshall did not get his new state constitution that would have explicitly forbidden women from voting.  He instead joined the ticket of Democratic presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson and in the November 1912 election became the Vice President of the United States.  No suffrage legislation passed out of the 1913 state legislative session.  In spite of that setback, auto tours became a standard means to reach women.  In Indianapolis, suffragists used automobiles as speaking platforms for impromptu street meetings. By standing in their cars, women were elevated enough above the crowd to clearly be seen and heard.

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 13, accessed Newspapers.com.

As a sign of the success of the auto tours, street meetings, and other suffrage work, in 1917 the state legislature had granted women partial suffrage (they could vote for some state officials). After a court challenge, however, the state Supreme Court ruled the partial suffrage bill unconstitutional.  Before that ruling, suffragists, sometimes with a public notary in tow, traveled the state in cars adorned with “Votes for Women” banners to be sure that women registered to vote.  Thousands of women registered in the summer of 1917 in part because of the persistent auto tours of the WFL. The experiment of 1912 became the standard means of reaching Hoosier women and promoting suffrage in even the remotest part of the state.

On January 16, 1920, the Indiana General Assembly ratified the 19th Amendment to the federal Constitution which recognized women’s right to vote. Finally, after federal ratification, Indiana women from all walks of life, sometimes with children in tow, stood in line in the bitterly cold weather to vote on November 2, 1920. Even an automobile accident did not prevent one Indianapolis woman from voting when, after a quick trip to the hospital, a friend drove her to her polling place.  The automobile proved crucial not only in getting the vote, but to the voting booth.

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 13, accessed Newspapers.com.

Further Reading:

Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello, Women Will Vote:  Winning Suffrage in New York State (Ithaca:  Three Hills Press of Cornell University Press, 2017).

Genevieve G. McBride, On Wisconsin Women:  Working for Their Rights from Settlement to Suffrage (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993).

Eleanor Flexnor and Ellen Fitzpatrick, Century of Struggle:  The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States (Cambridge:  Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Enlarged Edition 1996).