Delaware honors 100 years of women’s suffrage

A group of women meet at the train station in Wilmington before heading to Washington for a suffrage parade. (Submitted photo/Delaware Public Archives)

DOVER — Believe it or not, women have had the right to vote for less than half of the United States’ history.

By 1919, the issue had come to a head after decades of intense lobbying around the country. Amidst much protest, Congress approved a constitutional amendment providing suffrage — the right to vote — for men and women alike. But for the measure to become law, 36 state legislatures would have to pass it.

Soon, the state known for quickly passing the U.S. Constitution had a chance to make history again.

In 1920, the Delaware Senate ratified the amendment, only for the House to fail to do so. But the victory for those opposed to women’s suffrage was temporary, according to the Delaware Public Archives. Less than four months later, Tennessee ratified the amendment, meaning millions of women could, for the first time, legally vote when the presidential election rolled around that fall.

Suffragist Mabel Vernon leads a march on the White House. (Submitted photo/Delaware Public Archives)

To commemorate the occasion, Delaware has established a special committee and will host events throughout the upcoming year.

Planned celebrations include historical presentations and a march around Legislative Hall next fall. The walk will conclude with the erection of a monument in honor of the women’s suffrage movement. The General Assembly-created Women’s Suffrage Centennial Committee is also working on getting historical markers installed in each county, according to Sarah Granda, a member of the committee.

Individuals can learn more about the fight for women’s suffrage at de.gov/womenvote100. The website contains a history of the movement, as well as quizzes for kids and adults, reading lists for people of all ages and lesson plans for teachers and students.

Suffragist Mabel Vernon, seen here speaking in Chicago, was born in Wilmington. (Submitted photo/Delaware Public Archives)

“We hope that the resources will be used to empower the next generation of women leaders who will be committed to a modern and forward-thinking movement, building on the powerful foundation as set forth by the Suffragists,” Jackie Griffith, chair of the committee, said in a statement.

The ultimate goal is to educate the next generation to ensure Americans know how long and how much it took to win the right to vote.

“Delaware — and our entire country for that matter — is facing a significant moment with the upcoming 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. It is a time in is history we should not take lightly, so I applaud the fact-finding, creative and innovative work of the Delaware Women’s Suffrage Centennial Committee,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, said in a statement.

Delaware’s Annie Arniel (center left) is arrested by a policewoman (in white) for picketing outside the White House. (Submitted photo/Delaware Public Archives)

“The women’s suffrage movement was legendary and multi-faceted, and I am personally inspired by so many trailblazing leaders who have paved the way for women’s rights in our state. The subcommittee’s new website celebrates this effort by melding history, storytelling and current events, honoring that the right to vote is powerful and needed for women to make their voices heard.”

Delaware, by the way, did ultimately pass the amendment — in 1923, three years after it really mattered. It was at least the third try in eight years.

But that doesn’t mean the state had no role in the movement.

Suffragists Mabel Vernon and Florence Bayard Hilles were from Delaware and played roles in the founding of the influential National Woman’s Party in the mid 1910s, while several Delawareans were among those arrested for protesting President Woodrow Wilson outside the White House (and ultimately pardoned by him).

Delaware hosted a handful of notable women’s suffrage events over the years, including speeches by prominent women’s rights activists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to the state legislature, Ms. Granda wrote in an email. The state had organizations like the Delaware Equal Suffrage Association and held its first documented parade in support of women’s suffrage in Wilmington in 1914, according to Ms. Granda.

When little ole Delaware had its chance to put the 19th Amendment in stone, to back up its reputation as the First State, passionate supporters on both sides of the debate descended on Dover.

Suffragists, according to information compiled by Widener University Delaware Law School, wore yellow flowers, while their opponents — including some prominent women — donned red.

“The suffragists brought Eamon de Valera, president of the Irish Free State to Delaware to convince Irish-American representatives and at one point resorted to kidnapping the chairman of a House committee so that he couldn’t present the amendment for a vote the suffragists were sure to lose,” states Widener library’s blog, which is referenced by the Delaware Public Archives.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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