Weekly Feature

2017-11-08 / Letters to the Editor

Suffrage battle had Illinois roots

I read David Sherman’s piece about the New York suffrage centennial, and feel moved to stand up for the claims of the great state of Illinois.

It is certainly accurate to say that New York was the first state east of the Mississippi in which women won “full” voting rights. But if the word “full” is left out, then the statement slights the accomplishments of the suffrage activists in Illinois.

In 1913, women waged and won a campaign to obtain partial voting rights in Illinois by legislative enactment. (In New York what happened in 1917 was a referendum to amend the state constitution.)

The rights won in Illinois in 1913 included the right to vote for presidential electors. In other words, the Illinois suffragists won the most important voting right that exists in the U.S. The 1913 victory was widely hailed as an east-of-the-Mississippi breakthrough. Within a few years activists had won similar campaigns in other states, so that by August 1920 women had full voting rights or at least presidential suffrage in almost 30 states (about one half of those were full-voting-rights states).

This is an important part of the larger picture about how the 19th Amendment fight was won.

I think, though, that it is also fair to say that the New York victory in 1917 was the single most significant win in the whole long battle in the U.S. It was also, up to the time of November 1917, the greatest victory suffragists had won anywhere in the world.

Nate Levin
Rye, New York

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