THH Episode 37: Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Dawns

Transcript and Show Notes for Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Dawns

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Beckley: This is the second of a two-part series covering the long path to women’s suffrage in Indiana. If you haven’t listened to the first installment of this episode – Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Comes Slowly, you might want to do that now as it covers the roots of the suffrage movement in the Hoosier state.

[Cannon blast]

Beckley: The sound of cannon fire rang out in the gloomy pre-dawn air of a neighborhood just northwest of downtown Indianapolis. People sprang from bed, ready for a day that loomed large before them. But this wasn’t the beginning of a battle, rather, it was the end of a war – the war for the 19th amendment. The women of the fifth ward, a predominately African American voting district, rose with the sun, donned their hats, coats, and shoes, and by the time polls opened at 8:00, were waiting in lines to cast their first ever ballot. Some of these women may have been involved in the suffrage movement for decades– had been marching, speaking, petitioning…demanding the vote – and now, on November 2, 1920, their voices would finally, officially be heard. A few of these women appear in that day’s issue of the Indianapolis News under the headline “Waiting their turn to vote.” They had been waiting long enough, now was the time for action.

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

When we left off in the last episode, we were on the precipice of a global event that would change the landscape of the suffrage fight – World War I. But even before U.S. entry into the war, there was a lot for Hoosier women to be hopeful about when it came to suffrage. The 1917 legislative session brought about three major suffrage measures, all of which passed.

Each of the these differed slightly – the Woman’s Suffrage Act proposed partial Suffrage, allowing women to vote for some state and local officials, presidential electors, and delegates to the proposed state Constitutional Convention while leaving out voting for higher offices such as governor, state representatives, or senators. The second measure, the Beardsley Amendment, would strike the word “male” as criteria to vote from the state constitution, ultimately granting women the same suffrage rights as men. If passed, the amendment would be heard again in the 1919 legislative session before being put to a referendum where, ironically, only men would vote on whether women would earn the full rights of citizenship. The third and final measure took the form of a Constitutional Convention Bill. The hope was that with a brand-new constitution, universal suffrage could be written into the new document, making women’s suffrage less susceptible to being overturned. Each of these bills passed relatively easily and each held the tantalizing possibility of expanded voting rights for women.

Well, there it is. One year, three passed suffrage laws. That’s equal voting rights for women in Indiana, done and dusted, right? Of course not. When has it ever been that easy? In May, less than two months after the legislative session adjourned, the Constitutional Convention law was challenged in court on the grounds that it was an “unnecessary public expense.” In August, the partial suffrage law was also challenged on similar grounds – it would simply cost too much to effectively double the number of voters in the state. So, the two laws that would have immediately granted women in Indiana the right to vote were in jeopardy with the third stuck in limbo for at least two years.

Despite these blows, suffrage workers in the state pressed on. The Legislative Council of Indiana Women was crucial both in garnering support for the cause throughout the state and in getting the 1917 suffrage measures passed. Once that was done, they turned their sights to the next step – educating women about politics and registering them to vote. The LCIW and other suffrage groups weren’t going to let the uncertain future of the suffrage measures stop them from being prepared If the laws were to make it through the courts unscathed.

As historian Anita Morgan writes in her book, We Must be Fearless: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana, Cora Goodrich, first lady of Indiana, called for the political education of Hoosier Women at a celebration of the suffrage gains at the 1917 session, saying:

Goodrich read by Marino: We have been given the sacred power to help make a new constitution. We are not trained servants and it is most important that we study the need of the present constitution and that we make no mistake as to the attitude of the delegates toward prohibition and suffrage.

Beckley: Various suffrage organizations around the state – The Legislative Council, Equal Suffrage Association, Woman’s Franchise League, and others – answered that call. According to Morgan, the Equal Suffrage Association hosted civics courses, and included provisions for women who worked outside of the home who wished to attend. The Indianapolis Star began publishing a series of articles aimed at educating women about the mechanics of voting, authored by Franchise League member Kate Thompson. African American women’s groups invited Dr. Amelia Keller and Cora Goodrich to speak about citizenship issues at an Indianapolis church. Grant County held suffrage schools for both men and women at the local library. But all of that work to educate the women of Indiana would have been for naught if they weren’t registered to vote when election day finally arrived.

As registration opened, it was clear that this wouldn’t be an issue. Suffrage organizations mobilized to ensure that the women of Indiana would be ready for their day at the polls. Franchise League members became notaries and organized trips into rural farming communities, bringing with them blank registration forms to ensure women who were unable to register in person were able to vote. Franchise League member Celeste Barnhill spent all her spare time taking incorrectly filled out registration forms back to women to have them corrected, ensuring they would be able to vote when the time came. In one rather amusing instance, she returned a form to a woman who had failed to provide her year of birth on the form. When asked to correct it, the registrant in question stated,

[Record scratch]

Quote read by Marino: Oh, I didn’t forget it. I just thought it wasn’t any of your business.

Beckley: In the end, Mrs. Barnhill convinced the registrant to fill out the correct information, and one more woman was ready to make her voice heard.

In some places, women registrants outnumbered men. Women of all ages and from all backgrounds rushed to get their registration cards in. In Muncie, Nelle Reed registered to vote because her husband died of alcoholism and through Prohibition legislation, she hoped to prevent her son from suffering the same fate. She was illiterate, so she simply signed an “X” for her name. In Vanderburgh County, all women at the Rathbone Home, an institution for single women, registered to vote. Gary’s first registrant was a 23-year-old woman, while in Bedford, one woman in her 80s and another in her 90s were driven to their registration site, where they signed up with trembling hands. And, in Bartholomew County, Black women were at the front of the registration line.

Unfortunately, all of this mobilization, excitement, and anticipation was for nothing. Defeat came quick on the heels of the successes of the 1917 legislative session. In July, the Indiana Supreme Court declared the Constitutional Convention law unconstitutional and in October the Woman’s Suffrage Act of 1917, Hoosier women’s last hope for immediate, albeit partial suffrage, was ruled unconstitutional just 11 days before the election.

Interwoven through all of this – in between the education, the push for registration, and the ongoing court battles, women were engaged in war work. Upon the U.S. entry into World War I on April 6, 1917, suffrage organizations were in the ideal position to organize Hoosier women to help the war effort – after all, they’d been organizing women for decades.

Just as factories on the home front shifted from peacetime to wartime production, suffrage organizations utilized their pre-existing networks to efficiently adapt to war work. To them, war work and suffrage went hand in hand – what better way to convince skeptics of their loyalty and patriotism? Surely, if they assisted in this war, which was framed as a defense of Democratic principles, the injustice of the women’s disenfranchisement couldn’t persist much longer.

Women around the state threw themselves into their work. Before the state itself organized for defense, Julia E. Landers of Indianapolis organized the Indiana League for Woman’s Service, which was tasked with helping the Jeffersonville quartermaster locate women willing to make 2 million shirts for the army. Ten thousand southern Indiana women answered the call and made the garments in their homes.

Katherine Greenough of Indianapolis led Woman’s Franchise League Liberty Loan drives and devised a plan to encourage League members to purchase bonds. Her efforts raised over one and a half million dollars in bonds. When the state did organize for defense, one woman was named to serve on each county defense council. That woman would establish a Woman’s Committee who would then organize the women throughout the county. Franchise League member Julia Henderson organized the Fourteen-Minute women, who traveled throughout the state giving talks on war-related topics such as food conservation, food production, registration of women for war work, child welfare, liberty loans, and home economics.

Marion County’s African American woman’s committee, made up of the Black members of the Marion County Council of Defense Woman’s Committee’s, named chairwomen to oversee food production, child welfare, foreign relief, education, public speaking, and more. Indianapolis’s Ella Clay organized Black women to deliver talks throughout the city, similar to those given by the Fourteen Minute Women. Flanner House, an African American Community Center, hosted first-aid and nurse training classes, where over 200 women were instructed. Flanner House also hosted its own Red Cross unit, which, according to Dr. Morgan, made items like pajamas, shirts, and surgical bags for the war effort.

When it was all said and done, 626,292 Hoosier women had registered for war work, the second highest number in the nation. Unlike during the Civil War, women didn’t drop the suffrage cause completely during this crisis.

Members of the Indianapolis branch of the Franchise League spent much of their time at the Red Cross workroom at the W.H. Block Department Store knitting socks and slippers for soldiers alongside volunteers from local charities and churches. But more than knitting was happening in the workroom – as the Hoosier Suffragist put it,

Suffragist read by Marino: A great opportunity is at hand, not to make suffragists into Red Cross workers, but to make workers into suffragists.

Beckley: When there was a lull in war work, League members hit the streets to recruit new members, collected signatures for a petition to Congress regarding a federal amendment, went on suffrage auto tours similar to those mentioned in the last episode, and created suffrage schools to prepare speakers.

One such “Suffrage School” was organized in June 1918 in Merom, Indiana. This week-long course taught attendees how to spread the “suffrage doctrine,” as they put it. The women studied topics such as the history of suffrage, speaking, organizing, and finances. Students took a journalism class and practiced writing for publications. They would debate each other about suffrage, one taking the pro and one the anti side. They practiced their public speaking skills in front of crowds in nearby towns, and there was even day care provided for attendees with young children.

It was essential for Hoosier suffragists to be prepared – the 1919 legislative session was just around the corner and with it came another chance to finally secure the vote. As the 1919 session opened, the playing field was set:  two of the three suffrage measures passed in 1917 had been ruled unconstitutional. The Beardsley Amendment, which would remove the “male” qualifier from the Indiana state constitution, was up for the second vote in the General Assembly. If it passed again, it would go to a referendum. World War I had ended just two months earlier, and women, who had worked tirelessly throughout the war in support of their government, expected equal voting rights to follow. Both the house and senate had expressed support for increased woman suffrage. Governor Goodrich himself urged the General Assembly to enact suffrage legislation in his opening address. Change was in the air.

But, this was the fight for suffrage. It had been dragging on and on for well over half a century, and by this time, after so many defeats, many suffragists saw a federal amendment as their only hope for a suffrage measure that wouldn’t inevitably be overturned in the courts. And there was a version of the Anthony Amendment – which would become the 19th Amendment – winding its way through the United States Congress after having failed to pass in September 1918 by just two votes. However, suffragists had learned not to put all their eggs in one basket – they continued to push for suffrage measures at the state level.

The first new suffrage measure, created by Franchise League leaders, was for partial suffrage. Similar to that passed in the 1917 session but revised to resolve the issues deemed unconstitutional, this bill passed easily. Then came a bit of a curve ball that’s hard to understand, even with the hindsight we have today.

On January 14, 1919, the Indianapolis News announced that the Beardsley Amendment, which was up for the second and final vote before going to a referendum, would be withdrawn and re-introduced as a new amendment, which would have to once again pass two separate legislative sessions and a referendum. This was being done with the support of the Woman’s Franchise League. From our standpoint, this seems unthinkable – suffragists had been working to secure the vote for nearly 70 years and this was the closest they had ever come to getting a constitutional amendment passed. Why allow it to be delayed for at least another two years? The answer seems to be two-fold.

First, the General Assembly had several other amendments it wanted to vote on in the 1919 session, but if the suffrage bill was passed and put to a referendum, all others would be put on hold until the next session, two years later. Thus, a new Beardsley amendment could be proposed in 1919 and passed in 1921 without obstructing the other proposals.

The second reason for the withdrawal and re-introduction of the Beardsley Amendment is . . . less bureaucratic and more distasteful.  The new version of the amendment, like the original, struck out the word “male,” thus providing full suffrage to women. It also removed suffrage rights from immigrants voting on what was called “first papers,” which were basically forms proving that an immigrant intended to apply for citizenship. Throughout the war, suffragists had often used anti-immigrant language to make a case for the vote, capitalizing on increased nativism brought about by the war. They painted immigrants as ignorant, disloyal, and undeserving of a say in governing a country that was not “theirs,” and they contrasted them with the educated, loyal, all-American women who had worked so hard for the war effort. In August 1918, Indianapolis Suffragist Grace Julian Clarke wrote:

Clarke read by Marino: Another reason for considering suffrage a war measure is found in the fact that while we are sending millions of our young men across the water to fight for democracy and civilization, being thereby deprived of their votes in important elections here at home, we yet permit millions of pro-Germans to exercise this function.

Beckley: It’s hard, even for me, to look at my historical heroes and see their flaws. It would be easy for us to avoid the nativism of the suffrage movement and celebrate women’s suffrage wholeheartedly. It would also be easy to portray Indiana’s suffrage movement as being integrated harmoniously – Black and white suffragists working side by side for a common goal. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. There were Black suffragists across the state, but particularly in Indianapolis, and Black women attended large, integrated suffrage meetings and hosted white suffragists at their own meetings– but in reality, Black and White suffragists often worked parallel to each other (even if fighting for the same goal) and operated out of separate groups.  As Susan Hall-Dotson, African-American history collections coordinator at the Indiana Historical Society, points out in an interview with the Anderson Herald Bulletin, Black and white women living in Indiana in the early 20th century were segregated, and we had a largely segregated suffrage movement as a result.

Ignoring these unsavory elements of historical events and figures to only focus on the positives is dishonest and just bad history – we must recognize the flaws of these figures and doing so doesn’t erase their achievements – it makes them human.

This new Beardsley Amendment, which at once expanded and contracted voting rights throughout the state, passed easily and would be voted on again in 1921. However, by then, the “Suffrage question” was settled, or at least, so it seemed.

The United States Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in June 1919, after five failed attempts in as many months. Indiana suffragists immediately began calling for the governor to convene a special session of the General Assembly to ratify the 19th Amendment. The governor, however, wanted to wait to see what other states would do before spending time and money on a special session. Months later, with still no sign of a special session, Franchise League president Helen Benbridge delivered petitions signed by 86,000 Hoosiers, saying,

Benbridge read by Marino: As we believe that the calling of a special session of the Indiana legislature is a matter of a few days away, or at the outside, a few weeks, we want you to realize what an enormous demand there is over the state for ratification.

Beckley: Finally, Governor Goodrich agreed to call a special session, as long as suffrage was the only topic of discussion.

On January 16, 1920, Indiana ratified the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The vote was 43 to 3 in the Senate and 93 to 0 in the House.  Hundreds of women were in attendance, adorned with the yellow flower that represented suffrage. The Indianapolis News reported:

News read by Marino: The main floor and gallery of the senate were packed when the suffrage resolution was taken up. Several hundred women were in the chamber, and standing room was at a premium.

Beckley: The News continued:

News read by Marino: As soon as the house passed the resolution, a band in the hall began playing ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah.’ Women joined in the singing. Scores rushed into the corridor and began embracing. Many shook hands and scenes of wildest joy and confusion prevailed.

Beckley: Women literally danced in the halls – Indiana’s first lady Cora Goodrich was seen waltzing with Mary Tarkington Jameson as the band played “Until We Meet Again.”

Governor Goodrich signed the ratification resolution surrounded by the state’s leading suffrage workers, who had dedicated their lives to this very achievement.

Seven months later, on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment and the measure became law, women around the Hoosier state celebrated. In Terre Haute, women staged a “whale of a parade,” and families lined the streets shouting and cheering as they passed. Suffrage workers in Fort Wayne hired an airplane to drop thousands of circulars over the city announcing the victory and encouraging women to register. In Indianapolis, women hosted a “jollification luncheon” at the Claypool hotel where the state song of Tennessee was sung as a tribute to the state that sealed the suffrage deal. On August 28 at noon, cities and town around the state sounded factory steam whistles and church bells in a collective celebration of the end of a struggle that had lasted lifetimes.

The 19th amendment was a monumental accomplishment, imbuing women with the full rights of citizenship. It expanded voting rights to millions. But not to all people living in America.  Barriers preventing Native men and women from voting weren’t removed nation-wide until 1947. Asian Americans weren’t eligible for citizenship, and thus to vote, until 1952. While there were no state-wide legal restrictions placed on Black voters in Indiana, voter suppression laws in southern states limited Black men and women from voting until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even in northern states, like Indiana, intimidation tactics employed by groups like the KKK suppressed Black turnout throughout the 1920s. Today, American citizens living in Washington D.C. and U.S. territories have no vote in congress, while voter I.D. laws, voter purges, and the disenfranchisement of felons disproportionately affect people of color. The 19th amendment was a monumental accomplishment, but it was just a step on the long road to equality that we’re still travelling today.

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 This episode was written me, Lindsey Beckley, with research supplied by Jill Weiss Simins and Nicole Poletika. 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 Facebook and Twitter as the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to like, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Newspapers

“Suffrage Petitions are Signed by 86,000,” Indianapolis News, November 18, 1916, 23, Newspapers.com.

“Senate Passes Bill to Remodel Capitol,” Indianapolis News, January 25, 1917, 17, Newspapers.com.

“Convention Bill Is Signed,” Indianapolis Star, February 2, 1917, 10, Newspapers.com.

“House Now to Act on Suffrage, Richmond Item, February 9, 1917, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Department Club Action,” Indianapolis News, February 6, 1917, 22, Newspapers.com.

“Governor to Sign Maston Bill Monday,” Richmond Item, February 25, 1917, I, Newspapers.com.

“Indiana Suffrage Victory Important, Says Mrs. Catt,” Indianapolis News, March 5, 1917, 22, Newspapers.com.

“Suffrage Resolution Adopted by the House,” Indianapolis News, March 5, 1917, 16, Newspapers.com.

“The Star’s Home Study Class for Women Voters,” Indianapolis Star, March 25, 1917, 33, Newspapers.com.

“First Women to Register,” Indianapolis News, June 30, 1917, 17, Newspapers.com.

“Indiana Women Vitally Interested in the Constitutional Convention as Shown by Their Rush to Qualify as Voters at the Special Elections,” Indianapolis News, June 30, 1917, 17, Newspapers.com.

“Stiff Blow Is Given by High Court,” (Muncie) Star Press, July 14, 1917, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Indiana Women Denied the Right to Vote; Marion Superior Court Holds the Law Is Unconstitutional,” Princeton Daily Clarion, September 17, 1917, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Will Talk Wherever They Get the Chance,” Indianapolis News, October 16, 1917, 1.

“Suffrage Law Is Invalid; Women Rest Hope on Congress,” Indianapolis Star, October 27, 1917, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Suffrage School is in Full Swing Today,” Rushville Republican, June 25, 1918, 6, Newspapers.com.

Grace Julian Clarke, “Public Opinion Much Changed as to Suffrage” Indianapolis Star, August 11, 1918, 37.

“Suffrage Amendment of 1917 to Give Way,” Indianapolis News, January 14, 1919, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Indiana Suffrage Plans Started,” Indianapolis News, January 16, 1919, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Suffrage Act Is Now Signed by Governor,” Indianapolis News, February 7, 1919, 20, Newspapers.com.

“Senate Adopts Suffrage by Vote of 56 to 25,” Indianapolis Star, June 5, 1919, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Women After Extra Session,” Indianapolis Star, June 5, 1919, 1, Newspapers.com.

“G.O.P. Assembly leaders Seek Quiet Session” Indianapolis Star, January 16, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Scores of Women Attend Session,” Indianapolis News, January 16, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

“In Any Event This was a Parade. An All-Auto Victory Procession,” Indianapolis News, August 21, 1920, 1.

“Women Parade at Terre Haute, Indianapolis Times, August 21, 1920, 3, Newspapers.com.

“Suffragists Jollify Over Ratification,” Indianapolis News, August 28, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Celebrate for Suffrage Today,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, August 28, 1920, 2, Newspapers.com.

“Suffrage Workers Celebrate Victory,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 29, 1920, 12, Newspapers.com.

“Women Celebrate Suffrage Victory,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, September 9, 1920, 13, Newspapers.com.

“Voters of Indiana Go to Polls Early,” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Riot of Colors in Voting Line,” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Voting Described as Heavy and Fast,” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 1, 10, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Publications

The Hoosier Suffragist, August 1917, 3.

The Hoosier Suffragist, September 1917, 2.

The Hoosier Suffragist, September 1917, 3.

The Hoosier Suffragist, October 1917, 1.

The Hoosier Suffragist, April 1918, 3.

The Hoosier Suffragist, June 1918, 1.

The Hoosier Suffragist, June 1918, 2.

Books

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

Further Reading

On Black Suffragists:

Melissa Block, Yes, Women Could Vote After the 19th Amendment – But Not All Women. Or MenNPR, August 26, 2020.

Rebecca R. Bibbs, Historian: Suffrage largely was white women’s movement(Anderson) Herald Bulletin, August 22, 2020.

Christine Fernando, ‘Black history is American history’: How Black Hoosiers contributed to suffrage movementIndyStar, August 27, 2020.