On June 10, 1919 Illinois was the first state to ratify the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting the right to vote to all American women. There was a race to be first to ratify, and Illinois beat Wisconsin by one hour. Michigan also ratified the amendment on June 10th, so the three states surrounding Lake Michigan led the country that day.
The campaign for women’s voting rights in Illinois began in 1869 with the founding of the first woman’s suffrage organization in the state. Illinois women were critical in the women’s rights and suffrage movement throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. They articulated strategy and developed techniques that played a significant role in statewide and national campaigns.
In 1913 Illinois was the first state east of the Mississippi to give women the right to vote. The vote was limited, but powerful. Illinois women were able to vote in all elections where it was not prohibited by state law, and this included choosing Presidential Electors. With its large population, Illinois women could now sway national elections with their votes.
Illinois women continued to press for full suffrage throughout the U.S., and were involved beyond the state’s ratification in 1919, seeing the battle won with the final passage of the 19th amendment on August 26, 1920.
For Illinois to play this role in American women’s history may seem surprising. But it really should not be. Much of the battle over woman’s suffrage in the U.S. from the years just following the Civil War until the 19th amendment was passed in 1919 involved Illinois women.
Women such as Elizabeth Boynton Harbert, Frances E. Willard, Jane Addams, Ida B. Wells, Catharine McCulloch and Grace Wilbur Trout, and organizations like the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, made Illinois a central place for the development of the women’s suffrage movement and a key location for the advancement of women’s rights.
This website is meant to honor the work of all the many Illinois women who worked so hard for so long to bring women in the U.S. the full benefit of citizenship. That battle did not end in 1920 – and it continues to this day.
Though this website is based in Evanston, and Evanston women and women’s organizations played a critical role in the movement, it is meant to serve as a hub of information about Illinois and its role in the fight for the women’s suffrage in the United States. In addition, as anniversary commemorations develop in the state, this website will highlight events and programs that are taking place throughout Illinois.