For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877-1932

By Lisa G. Materson | Go to book overview

[1]
Tomorrow You Will Go to the Polls:
Women’s Voting in Chicago in 1894

The crisp clear autumn air of November 6, 1894, was punctuated with excitement and eagerness as thousands of women in Illinois traveled to the polls. Many dressed in their best attire, assembled at prearranged open houses or meeting places, and then took carriages or walked in groups to their precinct polling sites. The majority adhered to calls to submit their specially printed woman’s ballot only between 10 A.M. and 2 P.M., so as not to interfere with men’s voting before and after work and during lunch break. Working women, however, arrived early at the polls. Enthusiasm led others to enter polling booths before 9 A.M., in some precincts casting the day’s first ballot.1 Women were permitted to vote only for the University of Illinois’s board of trustees, but their large turnout and the extensive news coverage made it seem as if women were voting for all the offices that were up for election in 1894. Those women who headed to the polls understood the historic significance of their errand. Not only were most casting their first ballot, but also four women—on the Republican, Democratic, and Prohibition tickets—were candidates for the board of trustees.

In 1891, following the narrow defeat of a state constitutional amendment that would have fully enfranchised the women of Illinois, the state legislature passed the less controversial Woman’s Suffrage Bill, which legalized women’s voting for school-related offices and matters in rural areas and unincorporated cities.2 Three years later, women affiliated with the Republican, Democratic, and Prohibition parties ensured that four women were among the field of thirteen candidates who were running for the three open positions on the university’s board of trustees. In the months leading up to November 6, women of the state’s diverse ethnic population—immigrant and native-born Scandinavian, German, Jewish, Italian, Anglo-, and Afri-

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