The first woman's rights convention was held at Seneca Falls, New York, in July 1848. A host of issues important to 19th century women were addressed at this meeting, but suffrage (the right to vote) quickly became the cornerstone of the movement. When Kansas Territory was organized six years later, women's issues, and suffrage in particular, were of immediate concern. National leaders saw the newly organized western territories and states as ideal battlegrounds for women's rights in America. Kansas women saw some early victories; they gained the right to vote in school district elections in 1861 and municipal elections in 1887. The crusade for equal voting rights, however, continued to elude supporters. In 1912, eight years before the ratification of the national woman suffrage amendment, Kansas became the eighth state to extend equal voting rights to women.
Clarina Nichols, a recognized leader in the women's rights movement, moved from Vermont to Kansas Territory in October 1854. A champion of many other reform causes, Nichols would play an important role at the constitutional convention July 5, 1859. When delegates assembled at Wyandotte to draw up a state constitution, Nichols presented a petition calling for equal political and civil rights for Kansas women.
In 1867 the State Impartial Suffrage Association, led by Governor Crawford, Samuel Wood, and others, campaigned to convince the voters to ratify an amendment that would have granted equal suffrage to women and blacks in Kansas. In a circular issued by the executive committee, Wood called for "impartial suffrage, without regard to sex or color.
But the vote failed in 1867. After this defeat, women turned their attention toward efforts to gain the franchise in municipal elections. The Kansas Equal Suffrage Association led the suffrage campaign. Success in this area finally came early in 1887. In the April elections women captured several local offices. They won all five seats on the Syracuse city council, and Susanna Madora Salter of Argonia was the first woman in the nation to be elected mayor.
With the tide of reform running high during the first two decades of the 20th century, the campaign for woman's suffrage took on new life. On November 5, 1912, Kansas voters finally approved the Equal Suffrage Amendment to the state constitution. With the help of progressives like Republican Governor Walter R. Stubbs, Kansas became the eighth state to grant full suffrage to women.
After gaining equal suffrage through state action for themselves, Kansas women continued to work for a national suffrage amendment. Governor Capper lent his support to their crusade. The national suffrage movement continued through World War I. Finally, on August 8, 1920, the long fought for goal of a national woman's suffrage amendment was achieved. The states ratified the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. Governor Allen called a special session of the legislature so that Kansas could act quickly on this issue. Lawmakers ratified the amendment on June 16, less than two weeks after it was proposed by Congress.
Entry: Women's Suffrage
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: November 2001
Date Modified: July 2012
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.