Abundant Caution: the Vote on June 17, 1919

On June 17, 1919 the Illinois legislature voted for a second time to ratify the 19th Amendment. They did this to ensure that the original vote on June 10th would not be questioned due to a procedural error.

On June 10th the language that the legislature voted on included one incorrect word. Suffragists in the state had experienced several constitutional challenges to the vote taken in 1913 to give Illinois women the right to vote in the state. They had successfully held on – but were well aware that such challenges could delay and even defeat previous victories. Out of abundant caution they decided to have the legislature vote again – just in case the 1919 vote was challenged at a later date.

The original vote was never challenged, nor was the date or time changed. They requested and were told by the Secretary of State of the United States (who at the time supervised voting on constitutional amendments) that the original vote was not under question. For these reasons we continue to say that Illinois was the first state to vote to ratify.

The letter below is from Grace Wilbur Trout, President of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, to Letitia Youmans, President of the Wisconsin Woman’s Suffrage Association, regarding the second vote. Wisconsin had claimed that the Illinois vote on June 10th was invalid and Wisconsin’s subsequent vote counted as being first. Wisconsin also claimed that the early arrival of their ratification papers in Washington D.C. had made their vote first. But no other votes for the amendment were counted by their arrival in Washington – only by the actual voting day and time.

Trout further explained what happened in “Sidelights on Illinois Suffrage History” which she wrote for the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society in 1920. Here’s the relevant paragraphs (the full article is below):

“A minor mistake was made in the first certified resolution sent from the Secretary of State’s office at Washington to the Governor of Illinois. To prevent the possibility of any legal quibbling, Governor Lowden telegraphed the Secretary of State at Washington to send on at once a corrected certified copy of the resolution. This was done and the ratification was reaffirmed by the Illinois Legislature on June 17th…

Owing to a misunderstanding of the facts in the case for a short time there was some controversy as to whether Illinois was entitled to first place as being the first state to ratify the Federal amendment. An exhaustive study of the case was made by Attorney General Brundage and a brief prepared showing that the mistake in the first certified papers did not affect the legality of the ratification on June 10th, as the mistake was made in copying the introductory resolution, and not in the law itself. The opinion of the Attorney General was afterwards accepted by the Secretary of State’s office at Washington. So Illinois, the first State east of the Mississippi to grant suffrage to its women, was also the first State to ratify the Federal Suffrage Amendment.”

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