WOMAN SUFFRAGE IN CONGRESS
American Expansion and the Politics of
In the years between 1878, when Senator Aaron Sargent of California first proposed a woman suffrage amendment to the federal Constitution, and 1887, when the first Senate debate on Sargent's amendment took place, suffragists, like other Americans, had their eyes on the West. 1 Beginning soon after the Wyoming Territory enfranchised women voters in 1869— followed by Utah in 1870 and Washington in 1883—suffrage activists regularly petitioned Congress to establish the precedent that “no more states shall come into the Union, except on the basis of perfect equality of rights to women—civil & political.” 2
Where suffragists saw new political opportunities, legislators saw potential dangers. Territorial expansion refocused national attention on Indians and Mormons, whose “uncivilized habits” and “licentious practices” were perceived as equal threats to the health and vitality of American institutions. Widely understood to reflect the multiple possibilities of what America could become, territorial expansion therefore raised to the forefront of political debate the character of the Union.
The partisan battling that accompanied the admission of new states into the Union revived the pre-Civil War debate over states' rights and national power with an added, gendered dimension. Because women could vote in Wyoming, Utah, and Washington territories, legislators found themselves confronting the possibility that turning the territories into new states might inadvertently set national precedents authorizing women's