In 1893, over a quarter of a century before the achievement of national women's suffrage in 1920, women won the right to vote in Colorado. Victory in 1893 culminated a lengthy struggle on the part of Colorado suffragists. In 1876, a petition to the state's Constitutional Convention for equal suffrage was rejected, with the exception of school board elections. A popular referendum also went down to defeat in 1877. Why were women in the state of Colorado able to win this early, significant, and surprising suffrage victory? And why in 1893 and not in 1877? Examining the woman suffrage movement in Colorado helps us to answer these questions and, through a close look at one specific historical example, to understand more generally how women in the past built a social movement and achieved their political aims.
To learn about the history of Colorado women's suffrage; to explore how the political process worked in Colorado to bring about a change in voting rights; to understand why Colorado women succeeded in winning the right to vote in 1893 and not in 1877; to analyze the arguments for and against woman suffrage; to ascertain how and why different groups in Colorado came to support coalition votes for women by 1893; to examine the ways in which cartoons were used in this political campaign; and to assess the impact of Colorado suffrage on the national debate.
Discuss the political process by which laws are written and changed in the United States. Read, "Judge Bromwell's Minority Report on Suffrage" (1876), Election Results of the 1877 Woman Suffrage Referendum (1877), "The Woman Suffrage Bill" (1893), Election Results of the 1893 Colorado Equal Suffrage Referendum (1893), and "Proclamation by the Governor of the State of Colorado" (1893). Use these documents to explain how the Colorado Constitution was written, how the 1893 woman suffrage bill became law, what was the impact of the results of the 1877 and 1893 popular referenda on the question of votes for women, and why the Governor needed to issue a proclamation in 1893. What role(s) did political parties play in this process? How did the political process handle disagreement over woman suffrage? How did those in the minority get their voices heard by those in the majority?
Divide students into two groups -- one focused on Colorado women's suffrage in the 1870s and another in the 1890s.
Group One reads:
Ask Group One to consider these questions as they read: Who supported woman suffrage in 1876-1877? Who opposed it? Be sure to pay attention to geography. Name three reasons why woman suffrage failed in 1877.
Group Two reads:
Ask Group Two to consider the following questions as they read: Who supported woman suffrage in 1893? Who opposed it? Be sure to pay attention to geography. Name three reasons why woman suffrage succeeded in 1893.
Then, in class discussion, compare and contrast reasons for failure in 1877 and success in 1893, assessing what had changed over the intervening sixteen years to bring about a different result.
Divide students into two groups -- one playing the role of the opposition to woman suffrage and another the proponents of woman suffrage.
Group One reads:
Ask Group One to consider the following questions as they read: What arguments did opponents of woman suffrage make? What did they fear would happen if women won the right to vote? Do they understand women to be different from and/or equal to men?
Group Two reads:
Ask Group Two to consider the following questions as they read: What arguments did proponents of woman suffrage make? What did they believe would happen if women won the right to vote? Do they understand women to be different from and/or equal to men?
Then, organize a class debate between the contending forces, with the aim of understanding the positions taken by both sides. Discuss the equality and difference arguments for suffrage (see Introduction) and ask students which argument was most convincing, with what groups, and why.
Divide students into six groups. Ask each group to answer the following question based on their reading: Name three reasons why your group supported Colorado woman suffrage and what they might have hoped to achieve with its passage.
Group One, Colorado suffragists, should read:
Group Two, farmers in the Grange and Farmers' Alliance and workers in unions, should read:
Group Three, male politicians, should read:
Group Four, members of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, should read:
Group Five, women journalists and Black and white clubwomen, should read:
Group Six, national and other state suffrage leaders, should read:
Then, have a class discussion that brings out the motivations of the six groups, showing how political coalitions made up of different groups can come together around a single issue.
Examine the three cartoons in Colorado Equal Suffrage Association Leaflet 5 (1893), "Don't Forget the Women When You Vote on Tuesday" (1893), and "The Ideal--The Real" (1893). What arguments do these cartoons make about woman suffrage? How do the words contribute to the argument? How do the images contribute to the argument? Why would cartoons have been a useful way for both proponents and opponents to get their arguments out to the public?
Have students read Elizabeth Piper Ensley, "Election Day" (1894), Ellis Meredith, "What It Means to Be an Enfranchised Woman" (1908), "A Colorado Voter's View" (1909), and Martha Wentworth Suffren, letter to the Editor of the New York Times (1912). How was the experience of Colorado women with suffrage after 1893 used to make arguments for and against female enfranchisement at the national level? Why would the case of Colorado have been so important to national debates about woman suffrage?