Dec. 10 – Suffrage

Gay Lynn HillAmerican History(BR), Bell Ringers

On Dec. 10, 1869, Wyoming became the first state to grant women the right to vote under universal suffrage.

While in most places and times, women were restricted from voting, there were circumstances under which women had voted before given universal suffrage.

Under English common law, when women married their legal identity was subsumed under that of their husband. In effect, they ceased to exist as legal persons, and their property was administered by their husbands. This was important because in order to vote, you needed to own property. So no property, no vote.

When a married woman’s husband died, however, she took control of the family property. If that property qualified for the right to vote, then widows were able to do so.

Starting in the early 1800s, however, the idea of universal male suffrage took hold, and property requirements for voting were eliminated. Eliminating the property requirement also eliminated the right to vote for widows. Wyoming broke the barrier by creating universal adult suffrage, followed by other states and finally, with the 19th Amendment, by the country as a whole.



Questions:
  1. What would happen if we returned to one vote per household, instead of person? Could everyone in your household agree on who the “household” should choose?
  2. The first states to give women the right to vote were in the west. Why do you think western states were more “progressive” than eastern ones?
  3. When property was required for voting, property taxes were also the main source of revenue for the government. Part of the logic of a property requirement was that only those people who paid taxes should have the right to decide how those taxes were spent. What do you think of that argument today?
  4. We think of the right to vote as a universal right today. Do you also think it should be an obligation? In some countries, it is illegal not to vote. Do you think people who don’t vote should be fined or thrown in jail?

Image Citation:
[Illustration of women voting in Cheyenne Wyoming] (2015).  Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/the-state-where-women-voted-long-before-the-19th-amendment.