Laura M. Johns
Laura Mitchell Johns was born December 18, 1849, in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, to John Ross and Angeline Ayers Mitchell. As a child she enjoyed reading and her family encouraged her to pursue an education. She worked as a school teacher in Pennsylvania and Illinois before her marriage. She married James B. Johns on January 14, 1873, in Lewiston, Pennsylvania. She and her husband both espoused ideas of industrial, political, and social equality for women.
The Johns family moved to Salina, Kansas, in the early 1880s. In fall 1884 Laura Johns became involved in the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association in an effort to circulate petitions to promote legislation that would give municipal suffrage for women. “. . . it was the avowed intent and well considered plan to take the fortress of woman’s disenfranchisement by graduated approaches,” she said, “capturing the outposts, getting possession of every vulnerable piece of vantage ground before advancing upon the main stronghold, and wresting from prejudice, precedent and constitution the last vestige of our claim, our heritage of full citizenship. This, we deemed, would be the best method of warfare while the time was ripening for final action.”
Johns worked during the 1885, 1886, and 1887 legislative sessions. She helped to establish a woman’s suffrage organization in Salina and organized a series of congressional conventions in Kansas to promote the cause. Finally in 1887 the Kansas legislature passed the bill.
Once the bill had passed, Johns’ work continued in building public support for full suffrage for women. In 1889 she wrote a pamphlet, targeting school teachers, in support of prohibition that was distributed to 11,500 school students. As part of her involvement with the national suffrage movement she conducted public speaking in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, Missouri, Rhode Island, District of Columbia, South Dakota and Arizona Territory.
Johns helped coordinate 30 conventions across Kansas to promote full suffrage for women, beginning in 1892. The conventions featured speakers like Anna H. Shaw, Clara H. Hoffman, Florence Balgarnie, Mary Seymour Howell, and Lucy Browne Johnston.
At the conference of the National Woman Suffrage Association in September 1888 Johns addressed attendees. “I am partially enfranchised, as I have a municipal vote,” Johns said. “I am asked to tell you something about municipal suffrage in Kansas, and I want to tell you that Kansas is the first State in the Union to confer this honor upon women.”
She said that women throughout the state took pride in their new civic responsibility. “And we have not repented that we voted,” she said. “We are not only unrepentant, but proud that we vote, and proud of the consequences—that everything good and nothing evil has resulted from it. We have spent a little time since that in circulating a petition for full suffrage, just a little time, and I brought here thousands of names to that petition for full suffrage for women, and since I have been here I have received more petitions with more thousands of names on them.”
Johns said that women prepared themselves to vote. “During this year they have bought books and studied political economy. They have studied elective methods and local governments, and municipal governmental machinery, and they are very much more intelligent on the matter than they were last year. I wager that the constitution of Kansas has been better read this year by the women than in all the previous history of the State.”
Reelected six times as president of the Kansas State Suffrage Association, Johns was also president of the Republican Woman's Association in 1892. When full suffrage for women passed in 1893 in Colorado, Kansas women were hopeful for a similar victory. Anthony and Shaw encouraged political party support of the effort. While the Populist Party platform supported full suffrage for women, the Republican Party reversed its previous support of the cause. As president of two organizations with opposing platforms, Johns was placed in a difficult position. Anthony, Shaw, Rachel Childs, Carrie Chapman Catt, Elizabeth Yates, Mary Ellen Lease, Anna Diggs, Dr. Eva Harding, and Anna C. Wait joined Johns in promoting the cause to the legislature. The amendment was lost by a vote of 130,139 to 95,302. With its defeat, Johns was blamed, and supporters waited some time before launching another effort.
The Johns lived in Salina until about 1910; they had no children. They moved to Long Beach, California, where they spent the remaining years of their lives. James died prior to 1930. The date of Laura’s death is unknown.
Entry: Johns, Laura M.
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: July 2012
Date Modified: October 2015
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