This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Kansas was a critical state in the long struggle for passage of the amendment, which continues to have relevance for our political future.
Leading suffragettes came to Kansas as early as 1854 to cross the territory campaigning for universal suffrage. In 1867, Susan B. Anthony campaigned in Kansas for an amendment giving women and black men the right to vote, in spite of significant financial and physical hardship.
“We must not lose Kansas now,” she wrote, “at least not from lack of work done according to our best ability.”
Anthony and the Kansas suffragettes would lose that vote but continue to fight for Kansas. In 1912, they would make Kansas only the eighth state in America to grant the right to women.
This history is part of a traveling exhibit the League of Women Voters of Kansas created in honor of the anniversary. The exhibit, made up of seven panels, exhibit has toured 52 locations in 21 Kansas cities and continues to cross the state. A full schedule of appearances may be found at lwvk.org/centennial.
“Women died for the right for women to vote,” Joan Wagnon said in The Topeka Capital-Journal. “Now it is up to every single woman and man to vote. Our push is to get people registered so there’s no barrier. We are nonpartisan. We are not telling them who to vote for — that’s their choice — but it’s exercising that right to vote.”
As voters, women are a strong group. More than 900,000 Kansas women are estimated to be registered voters, according to data from the Kansas secretary of state. Researchers from Pew Research Center have found that as a group, women are slightly more likely to turn out to vote than men, at least in presidential elections.
However, women are still underrepresented as candidates and elected officials. Less than a third of state legislators across the United States are women according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, and even fewer serve in federal elected offices. When women run for office, they are equally likely as men to win their races, but fewer women choose to be candidates.
To achieve equal representation, we certainly need women voters, but we truly need female candidates. Women certainly face barriers in running for office, including social expectations and lack of access to the significant financial resources now required to run serious campaigns for major office — but voters have shown they are ready for female candidates.
It’s time for women on the fence to jump into the race.