Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Women's History Month 2015: Women's Suffrage

Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Suffrage collection, 1877-1961. https://flic.kr/p/gKcx1d

When did the women in your family first vote? You might automatically reply "1920" since that's when the 19th amendment was passed. But your female ancestors may have voted even earlier than that. A lot earlier.

Women gained suffrage on a local and state level at various times prior to 1920. One example is New Jersey where women voted for a limited time between the years 1776-1807. For the most part, women in Western states were granted the right to vote by 1914, starting with Wyoming in 1869. A short timeline of when women could vote by state can be found on the web page Women's Suffrage Timeline State by State.

A history of  women's suffrage can be found in the multi-volume  work History of Woman Suffrage edited by Susan B. Anthony et al. Volume 4 includes information on suffrage history in each state, as well as Britain and Canada. These volumes are digitized and available at Internet Archive.

So where do you find voting records?

To find voting records check subscription websites like Ancestry.com, under their Census and Voter Lists category page. FamilySearch  has microfilmed voting records. To find them search on your ancestor’s place and then the category “voting registers.” To learn more about voting records for a state, consult the FamilySearch Wiki. Some states have a voting register page such as this example from  Illinois.

Make sure to check the state archive or library where you ancestor resided to find records that document voters. You can find a list of their websites at the Directory of State and Territorial Archives and Records Programs. Once you find the website you need, conduct a search in their online catalog.

Cyndi’s List has locality specific links for voting records on the page Voters, Poll Books, Electoral Records . 

At the beginning of Women's History Month I mentioned the special subscription price being offered by Accessible Archives. Their website offers resources on women's suffrage including volume 3 of History of Woman Suffrage. They have several blog posts about the issue as well as a  look at early suffrage in New Jersey. 

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