How the Vote Was Won: Woman Suffrage in the Western United States, 1868-1914

How the Vote Was Won: Woman Suffrage in the Western United States, 1868-1914

How the Vote Was Won: Woman Suffrage in the Western United States, 1868-1914

How the Vote Was Won: Woman Suffrage in the Western United States, 1868-1914

Synopsis

By the end of 1914, almost every Western state and territory had enfranchised its female citizens in the greatest innovation in participatory democracy since Reconstruction. These Western successes stand in profound contrast to the East, where few women voted until after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, and the South, where African-American men were systematically disenfranchised. How did the frontier West leap ahead of the rest of the nation in the enfranchisement of the majority of its citizens?

In this provocative new study, Rebecca J. Mead shows that Western suffrage came about as the result of the unsettled state of regional politics, the complex nature of Western race relations, broad alliances between suffragists and farmer-labor-progressive reformers, and sophisticated activism by Western women. She highlights suffrage racism and elitism as major problems for the movement, and places special emphasis on the political adaptability of Western suffragists whose improvisational tactics earned them progress.

A fascinating story, previously ignored, How the Vote was Won reintegrates this important region into national suffrage history and helps explain the ultimate success of this radical reform.

Excerpt

I think civilization is coming Eastward gradually.

—Theodore Roosevelt

By the end of 1914, almost every western state and territory in the United States had enfranchised its female citizens in the greatest innovation in participatory democracy since Reconstruction. These western successes stand in profound contrast to the East, where few women voted until after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment (1920), and to the South, where African American men were systematically disfranchised. The regional pattern of early western victories has remained unclear, despite many state studies, and adequate explication requires reevaluation within the contemporary political context. This study establishes western precocity as the result of the unsettled state of regional politics, the complex nature of western race relations, broad alliances between suffragists and farmer-labor-progressive reformers, and sophisticated activism by western women. It recognizes suffrage racism and elitism as major problems deeply embedded in larger cultural and political processes, and places special emphasis on the political adaptability of suffragists. It argues that the last generation of activists, often educated and professional women, employed modern techniques and arguments that invigorated the movement and helped meliorate class tensions. Stressing political and economic justice for women and deemphasizing prohibition persuaded increasing numbers of wary urban voters and weakened the negative influence of large cities. Thus, understanding woman suffrage in the West reintegrates this important region into national suffrage history and helps explain the ultimate success of this radical reform.

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