Common Misconceptions: Women Couldn’t Vote Before the 19th Amendment

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Thu, May 14 - 9:00 am EDT | 3 years ago by
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The Morse Code - Women Voting

There seems to be this prevailing myth that before the 19th Amendment was put into action in 1920, women in America were about as valuable as a gimp donkey with one eye and a meth addiction, and had just as much voting power.

I hear this all the time within feminist circles. Because of the first feminists, women were allowed to leave the kitchen and enter the voting booths! There is truth in this, but like much of the sensationalism coming from the modern feminist movement, it’s only about half true. Yes, the tale that suffragettes of old opened the doors for their daughters and granddaughters to hold say in our nation on a political level is a very real and very fascinating tale, but there’s one thing that third wave feminists like to leave out when talking about those in the past whose legacy they claim to inherit…

Women were already voting.

That’s not to say women in some areas didn’t have a hard time getting their political say in an official capacity in the past, especially before the 19th Amendment was passed. There were some hard times, but a woman voting in America was not an unheard of thing throughout our history, and in some places, they had already become a political force to be reckoned with. In fact, you can find records going all the way back to the founding period of our nation and a little ways before and beyond.

To begin with, there was never anything in our constitution that forbid women from voting, nor did the 19th Amendment rectify a founding ideal that prohibited women from casting ballots. That was solely left up to the states, as most things are today. From the get-go states only allowed landowners to vote, and at least one of these landowners happened to be a woman.

Some states, typically those in the south and east, such as Alabama, Texas, New Jersey (which originally allowed women’s suffrage until it rescinded that law in 1807), and Pennsylvania were the ones to halt women from voting. States to the west – like Colorado, Oregon and a handful of others – were already allowing women to vote in their states prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment. Other states such as Utah and Montana were allowing women to vote before they were even included in the Union. It was a mixed bag of rights depending on where you went. Even then, some of those states prohibiting the vote, such as the state of Texas, were well on their way to giving women voting power.

It’s not a fact you hear often, even in official capacities. The History Channel uses the language “granted women the right to vote.” It’s not untrue, but that’s really only applicable to 21 states. Even in some of those states, women were becoming powerful, key figures.

Women and men (I see that often left out too) worked together, and were already winning the battle before the amendment was passed. In fact, if the 19th Amendment had never been passed, I’m pretty sure America would have turned out much the same as it is today. It may have taken a handful of states a little longer to get there, but given more time, 19A would have very likely been a redundant law.

On a personal level, the suffragettes and -gists tickle my libertarian sensibilities and claim a healthy dose of my respect. Many today like to take note of the marches, and protests, but those, in my opinion, are the most boring parts of the story. These people worked hard, organized and chaired associations like NAWSA, opened and taught at schools, created hospitals, and were inventors. They fought for true equality under the law.

And they were a vastly different breed from the radical feminists claiming their mantle today.

The overall point is that women were not as dominated and enslaved as many would have you believe. Yes, women didn’t have the same rights as men for a good chunk of the history of the U.S., but if history proves anything, it’s that women are tenacious and capable of achieving major change whether for good or ill.

While the 19th Amendment is definitely one of those good changes, women were already storming the battlefield and winning.

Hailing from Austin, Texas, Brandon Morse has been writing about politics and culture across many websites for the last six years, with a heavy emphasis on anti-authoritarianism. Aside from writing articles, he is also known for voice acting and authoring scripts. He is an avid gamer, dog person, and has a bad habit of making vague references to things no one has heard about or seen. Follow him at @TheBrandonMorse on Twitter.

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  • Locjus

    Baseless misogyny accusations in 3… 2… 1…

    • TtTreatise

      It’s not misogynist, it’s just irrelevantly stupid. It’s clearly to get one over on those wacky feminists by pointing out pedantry while missing the actual importance of federally recognized rights rather than locally granted privileges.

    • Bordeaux Vixen

      three cheers, minus the wacky feminists bit

    • TtTreatise

      I don’t think feminists are wacky, that’s just how I perceive the author’s point-of-view regarding feminism.

    • Bordeaux Vixen

      oh! i agree with that then :)

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  • Bordeaux Vixen

    i had no idea!

  • TtTreatise

    You learned how federalism works. Great.

    Some states also banned slavery before the federal government banned it completely. We are currently in a transition from when some states ban discrimination based on sexual orientation for the purposes of marriage, employment, etc. but not yet at the federal level.

    You win at irrelevant pedantry and wrecking strawmen. Congrats.

    • TtTreatise

      Remember, MRA bros

      > I hear this all the time within feminist circles. Because of the first feminists, women were allowed to leave the kitchen and enter the voting booths! There is truth in this, but like much of the sensationalism coming from the modern feminist movement, it’s only about half true. Yes, the tale that suffragettes of old opened the doors for their daughters and granddaughters to hold say in our nation on a political level is a very real and very fascinating tale, but there’s one thing that third wave feminists like to leave out when talking about those in the past whose legacy they claim to inherit…

      > Women were already voting.

      Women voting at the local level in the absence of federally recognized rights…totally not feminist suffragists.

      That checks out, amirite bros? Stupid feminists and their feministing lady facts.

      This a great site if Maxim is a little too erudite for your tastes.

    • Brandon Morse

      In 12 States women could vote for President before the 19th. Also, no one is federally guaranteed the right to vote, not even the dreaded white male. I’m impressed, though. Even despite the facts, you still managed to find something to get foot stampy about. http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2013/may/30/mark-pocan/us-constitution-not-explicit-right-vote-wisconsin-/

    • TtTreatise

      You continue to misrepresent your sources.

      > “It is correct that there is not an explicit provision in the Constitution guaranteeing the right to vote,” he said, “but several amendments guarantee the right to vote at age 18, free of racial discrimination, and protected by the Equal Protection doctrine

      Your article in fact agrees thay there is not an explicit constitutional clause that guarantees the right to vote, but rather it implies it through the various clauses the explicate rights that depend on a inherent right to vote.

    • Brandon Morse

      Person who says I use “childish sarcastic attacks” while making the Maxim crack, just declared victory over an article that used nothing but facts by putting up semantic arguments, is proclaiming further usage of facts are semantic.

      You’re just precious.

    • TtTreatise

      Your “facts” are used out of context, misleadingly reworded, and used to whip a strawman argument attributed to feminism. You have a bizzare narrative, but have at it; there is clearly not much of a editorial standard on this site. I’m glad you think I’m precious, though.

    • David Cedarbridge

      I like how you put the word “facts” in scarequotes as though you were above such prattle. Why bother with actual evidence to counter factual claims when you can resort to sophistry and sarcasm.

    • Bordeaux Vixen

      too erudite haha

  • Randal Trimmer

    Low-population states in the west… So, what percentage of the women in the pre-19th USA could vote?

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