Stepping Out of the Shadows into Politics Women in the Alabama Legislature, 1922-1990
JOANNE VARNER HAWKS
In July 1919, when the Alabama legislature was considering whether or not to ratify the woman suffrage amendment recently passed by Congress, Senator James B. Evins pleaded with fellow legislators not to force women "from the quietitude of our homes into the contaminating atmosphere of political struggle."1 With these words, he described a traditional southern belief that politics was an area of public responsibility where men should stand in the limelight while women remained in the shadows. He also evidently expressed the opinion of the majority of his colleagues, who proceeded to vote against ratification. Their rejection proved temporary, however, since action in other states ensured the adoption of the amendment, enfranchising Alabama women along with the rest of the nation.
Alabama women soon indicated that they were interested not only in voting but also in holding public office. In the election of 1922, three women ran for seats in the Alabama legislature. One, Hattie Hooker Wilkins of Selma, was elected.2 When asked why she felt women should serve in the legislature, Wilkins, a veteran of the Alabama Woman Suffrage Association supported in the campaign by the League of Women Voters, said she agreed with the "one fundamental reason claimed by woman's suffrage . . . that . . . [women] belong, by rights, there . . . because they represent at least half of the population. It is right," she said, "that both men and women's viewpoints be heard and considered before the state's lawmaking bodies."3 Wilkins said she hoped and believed that soon every county would be represented by men and women.4