Document 27: Elizabeth Piper Ensley, “Election Day,” Woman’s Era, 1 (9 June 1894), pp. 17-18, selections reprinted in Black Women in White America, ed. Gerda Lerner (New York: Random House, 1972), pp. 338-39.
Prominent Colorado suffragist and Black clubwoman Elizabeth Piper Ensley (1848-1919) was the Denver correspondent for the Woman’s Era, the official publication of the National Association of Colored Women.[A] Ensley was one of the few African American women to take leadership in the local suffrage movement. She helped to found and acted as treasurer of the Colorado [Non-Partisan] Equal Suffrage Association in 1893. In 1894, after the achievement of suffrage in the state, she, together with Ida DePriest, formed the Colored Woman’s Republican Club and worked to elect Colorado’s first Black legislator: lawyer Joseph Stuart.
In this piece, she discusses women’s participation in that first election to be held after winning the right to vote--countering the various arguments of anti-suffragists and politely reminding her Black male colleagues of their failure to support woman suffrage.
Lessons learned from the election and the campaign preceding it:
1. Women will study politics. This was proven by the great number of political study clubs formed during the past year. A populist woman, who stumped the state, says, “Politics was the theme of discussion morning, noon and night. The women talked politics over the dishwashing, and during their social calls. Politics has made them read and think more, and in new and different lines. . . .
2. Women will vote. The women of Colorado have demonstrated that conclusively.
3. They will generally vote straight. This fact was shown by the Republican women, though it may be that in this instance they believed it necessary to do so in the interest of law and order.
4. There should be thorough and systematic organization of the women of all parties.
The good government committee will now take steps to strengthen its force and organize more thoroughly for the municipal election in the spring.
The first important work of the women will be to see that the party emblem in the Australian ballot[B] is done away with, thus insuring a truly secret ballot, and therefore more independent voting.
The readers of the ERA will be interested to know what special part the colored women have taken in the election. Most of them have done admirable work in the interest of the Republican party. They also formed clubs of their own and heroically helped their brothers to elect a representative to the legislature, although the majority of those brothers voted against woman’s enfranchisement.
They made good campaign speeches. . . .
A. See the documentary project on this website, What Gender Perspectives Shaped the Emergence of the National Association of Colored Women, 1895-1920?, whose first three documents came from The Woman's Era.
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B. The adoption of the Australian, or secret, ballot by virtually every state during the 1890s brought government into the voting process and began to reform voting practices.
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