Monday, March 31, 2014

August 18, 1920 - A Day for the Ladies

This is one last post for 2014 Women's History Month, beginning with the briefest of history lessons about the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution.


Proposing an amendment to the Constitution extending the right of suffrage to women....


The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex....

The resolution that become the 19th amendment was submitted to Congress for ratification on May 19, 1919.  In less than a month, on June 16, Ohio ratified it and just a week later, on June 24, Pennsylvania ratified it.  (Those are important states to my ancestors.)  But in order to become an amendment, three fourths of the states had to pass it.  It wasn't until August 18, 1920 that Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment.  Secretary of State, Bainbridge Colby, certified the ratification on August 26, 1920.

What of my direct-line female ancestors who were living at the time?  Were they eager to vote for a president during their first time in the voting booths?  Did they follow politics?  Did they have strong opinions about local events?  I don't know and probably never will unless I find one of their names in a newspaper.  Still, I'm interested to think of these first-time female voters in my family.

I have eight direct-line ancestors who were living in August, 1920.

My mom, Audrey (Meinzen) Doyle, was born on June 5, 1915.  She would have been five in 1920.  Although she grew into an adult who was avidly interested in politics I'm positive that she couldn't have cared less, or understood less, what women having the right to vote meant.  As an adult she was grateful to have the right to vote.

My grandmother, Emma (Bickerstaff) Meinzen, was born July 6, 1892.  She would have been nearly 28 the first year she would have been able to vote.  At the time she had two small daughters and a strong-will husband.  Was she interested in politics?  Did she have opinions as strong as her husband? 

Mary (Thompson) Bickerstaff was born on 26 Oct 1872.  She would have been 47 when the amendment was passed but probably 48 by the time she first voted.  She lived in small, peaceful Mineral Ridge.  She may have kept up with issues and candidates through local newspapers.  She may have been thrilled to be able to vote.  She had 19 more years to enter a polling both.

Lydia (Bell) Thompson, born May 8, 1851, was 69 years old when the amendment was certified.  As far as I know, Lydia was literate but at 69, would she have been interested in women's rights, in politics?  She lived until February, 1930, so she would have had nearly 10 years to cast her vote in elections.

Elizabeth (Armitage) Meinzen was born on August 24, 1852.  During the year and months that the 19th amendment was being ratified, she was dealing with cancer on her face.  She died two months before women were given the right to vote.  Was she interested in women having the right to vote?  As an illiterate adult, would she have voted?

Elvira (Bartley) Gerner turned 66 in 1920.  Of all of my direct-line female ancestors, I can imagine her being interested and opinionated about women being able to vote.  She was a midwife, had her own buggy, and hitched her own horse to help women in need in her community.  She lived another 23 years.

Tressa Rose (Froman) Doyle was born in 1867.  She was 52 or 53 when she would have had the first opportunity to vote.  Family tradition says she was strong-willed, but there's no information about whether she was interested in politics or interested in being able to cast her first vote for a president.  She would have been able to vote 15 more times.

Catherine (Saylor) Froman is my oldest female ancestor who was alive when women were given the right to vote.  She was 76; born in Germany on June 5, 1844.  Her husband, also born in Germany, became a natrualized citizen which, I believe, gave both of them the right to vote.  Catherine became a widow at a very young age, left with 7 little children.  Perhaps she was too overwhelmed to be interested in voting, or perhaps her English was limited.  Or maybe she was thrilled to be in America and have the right to cast a vote in the first election in which women in America could vote.  She would have been able to vote for eight years.

Having written this post I realized that I truly know nothing about my female ancestors' voting habits.  I wonder if voters lists are available for the areas in which they lived.  It's a new area of research for me so I will have a lot to learn when I begin that search.

Do you know if any of your female ancestors voted in the first election in which women in America could vote?  Do you have any ancestors who actively participated in the efforts to help women get the right to vote?  Do you know the voting history or political leanings of any of your female ancestors?

You can read more about the 19th Amendment on NARA's Featured Documents.



  1. As I was reading your post, I was doing the math. One grandmother was 16, the other 12. Great grandmothers were 42, 45, 50 and 51. One great-great grandmother lived to see the day. But whether any of them jumped to the opportunity, I don't know. I have no idea what any of my relatives' and ancestors' political leanings were. Add this to the growing list of questions I wish I had asked.

  2. One of my favorite discoveries was finding my great-great-grandmother in the California voter rolls (on Ancestry) the year they received suffrage there (1911). The fact that she and her husband voted different tickets only made it all the more interesting. Like you, I'd also love to see Ohio voter rolls made available. I'm kind of surprised Ancestry hasn't grown that database beyond CA.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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