Friday, March 09, 2018

Women's History Month 2018: Not Everyone Could Vote

LSE Library via Flickr
Yesterday, I suggested voting records for tracing your female ancestor. The benefits of these records is that they place her in a specific location and time. The drawback is that women weren't always allowed to vote and those records for women who could vote prior to 1920 don't always exist.

I forgot to mention another important consideration in using voting records.

Not all women could vote in 1920. The 19th amendment did not give the right to vote to all American women.

Even though article after article proclaims that the 19th amendment guaranteed all American women the right to vote, it didn't. Sure, the amendment's language appears to grant that right to all American women.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

So who was left out?

  • Obviously, women who were not US citizens couldn't vote. That probably is not surprising. But add to that American born women who married non-US citizens. They were stripped of their citizenship upon marriage and then couldn't vote. The 1922 Cable Act started to remedy that but even then not all women could gain their citizenship back. 

  • Some Puerto Rican women were granted the right to vote in 1929 but that was a limited right reserved for those who could prove literacy. It wasn't until 1935 that all Puerto Rican women could vote.

  • Native Americans were not considered citizens until 1924. Full suffrage for Native American women wouldn't come for decades.

  • Because of literacy tests, poll taxes, and other practices meant to stop people from voting, women of color and poor white women were restricted from the polls until 1964 when the Voting Rights Act stopped discriminatory practices. (Though that doesn't mean it completely stopped.) 

So, there can be many reasons why you don't find a female ancestor in the voting records. On top of that, she may have been a believer in anti-suffrage for women (Yes, there were women who didn't want women to vote just as there were women who led the charge against the ERA). So that would also stop her from exercising her full rights of citizenship.

Are voting records great for family history research? Yes! But they, like other records, don't include everyone. The limitations of records is important for family historians to understand.

Wikipedia - Timeline of Women's Suffrage in the United States
Atlas Obscura - Why Women Led Anti-Suffrage Campaigns Against Themselves

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