News that Tennessee’s legislature had ratified the woman suffrage amendment on August 18, 1920, flashed over the wires and supporters around the country rejoiced. This was victory in a long war, Armistice Day for those who had fought so long to secure women the right to vote. That very night suffragists in Fairmont, West Virginia. threw a party to celebrate, and I believe the comments made by guests are representative of what was being said at joyous gatherings around the country. (I should acknowledge I have ties to Fairmont; I graduated college there and was later its Main Street Director.)
“The Woman’s Hour Has Struck,” Fairmont’s West Virginian newspaper said in a story on August 19 about the fête, written by Elizabeth Stone. Fairmont and Wheeling had been the state’s foremost towns in the campaign for suffrage. Among the guests were women who had been present when the state’s first women’s organization formed in 1895.
The celebration was at the Main Street home of Mrs. Allie Haymond, president of the local suffrage organization. The West Virginian quoted her as saying, “As far as I’m concerned its (sic) the crowning event of my whole life.” She had been injured in a fall some years earlier and used a cane to walk, but this night her associates noticed she was perambulating about sans cane. (“Allie,” as she was generally known, was Alice Comerford Haymond, a registered pharmacist, according to “Fighting the Long Fight: West Virginia Women and the Right to Vote,” a West Virginia History and Archives Online Exhibit.)
The 1913 Suffrage Parade
She and one of her guests, Mrs. Beulah Boyd Ritchie, had participated in the first suffrage parade in the nation’s capital in 1913 (the article erroneously placed it “eight years previous,” which would have been 1912). “They were taunted and jeered at, banners were torn from their automobiles, and a line which originally marched eight abreast was forced into single file.”
“Coal diggers” and “snake hunters” were among the insults hurled at the West Virginia delegation as they followed the state’s suffrage banner borne by Miss Florence Hogue (sic—her name was Hoge) of Wheeling.
Several of those present at Haymond’s home had gone to Charleston the previous March to help convince state legislators to ratify the 19th Amendment. On this August night the gathered to celebrate shook hands all around, sang songs, told stories “of the years past,” and lit 36 candles, one for each of the states that had ratified the amendment. An American flag and streamers of yellow, the color of the suffragist movement, “announced to the outside world that the little band of faithfuls was celebrating the great victory.” Discussion of politics was pushed into the background as the group rejoiced “over the fact that woman had at last come into her own and were recognized as real American citizens.”
Well, that last part wasn’t exactly true. Twenty years after women received the right to vote they still couldn’t serve on juries in half the states, and wouldn’t get that privilege in West Virginia until sometime after the Korean War. Today in America they still fight for equal pay, equal respect, and the ability to go to work without being sexually harassed. One of the party guests, Mrs. J. Walter Barnes, said at the time, “I do not think it will prove a cure for all the social evils in existence, but I believe it to be a wonderful step in progress.”
Some thoughts on ratification of the 19th Amendment
Mrs. George DeBolt, president of the West Virginia Federation of Women’s clubs, was present. She had only recently come to advocate for suffrage, saying she was converted by observing women’s part in the late war.
On the other hand, when Mrs. A. L. Lehman was asked how long she had been a suffragist, she replied, “I was born one.” She was glad the amendment had been ratified during the lifetime of her mother, Mrs. William Parry, from Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, near the West Virginia border, who had been a lifelong advocate. Mrs. Parry’s father had championed women’s suffrage when he was a chaplain in the Civil War, she said, and had been considered eccentric.
(Mrs. William Parry apparently got to vote in several elections, not dying until 1939. She was born Mary A. Sammons, the daughter of Rev. Lewis Sammons, according to A Biographical History of Greene County, Pennsylvania, by Samuel P. Bates. I could find no reference to her father having been a chaplain, but her husband, a doctor, served in the 12th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry.)
Mrs. O.S. McKinney, another former president of Fairmont’s political equality club, noted, “The women have worked and fought, but their efforts would have been useless had it not been for those men who have stood by loyally, and credit should be given them for their cooperation.”
Mrs. James A. Meredith believed, “That in ratifying the amendment we have wiped out a blot that has been on our name as a nation and that is the duty of all level headed women to seriously go to work and convince the friends and enemies of the cause that we are capable to use the new power intelligently.”
1895 founding of Fairmont Political Equality Club
While Elizabeth Stone was interviewing women at Allie Haymond’s house for the West Virginian’s story, she talked with some who had been present at the founding of the Fairmont Political Equality Club on November 2, 1895, which the article said may have been the first such organized in the state, no record having been found of an earlier one. (Nine clubs were organized in 1895, all in the northern part of the state, but as nearly as I can determine all formed in November. Two years later, only Fairmont’s and Wheeling’s remained active.)
In describing the 1895 meeting, Stone wrote, “a little band of half-timid women and a few men” met in the old normal school building (Fairmont Normal School, founded to train teachers after the Civil War, was forerunner to Fairmont State University) to hear an address on suffrage by Miss Anna Dregs of Kansas and “if advisable to organize a suffrage band.” (“Anna Dregs” was Anna “Annie” Diggs, described as barely five feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, “Annie Diggs championed women’s right to vote,” by Beccy Tanner, The Wichita Eagle, January 30, 2012. Diggs returned to Kansas rather disillusioned about suffrage prospects in West Virginia.)
“So timid and afraid were the women at this time that not one of the gathering could be prevailed upon to introduce the speaker for fear of public censure,” the article stated. Even the men were afraid, but finally Hon. Bernard L. Butcher was prevailed upon to introduce the speaker.
“So splendid was the address delivered that the women took courage and when a rising vote was taken as to how many believed in the suffrage cause nearly every woman in the gathering stood to her feet, some of them, according to one present, hardly holding up their heads and almost hiding their faces.” When a call was made to pass the hat for a collection, “much hesitation resulted as many of the women feared to take such a forward step and place themselves in the limelight as exponents of the cause, while firmly believing in the cause yet afraid of the censure that might result.” Eventually, Mrs. Charles Manley and Mrs. Charles M. Ritchie passed the hat. (Both would serve as presidents of the state woman’s suffrage organization, and both were present at Allie Haymond’s 1920 gathering.)
The Fairmont Political Equality club began with a charter membership of 44. The first president, Mrs. Margaret J. Grove, was later president of the National Suffrage organization, which honored her with a life membership. “Fighting the Long Fight” says she was Margaret J. Harn Grove. Born in Maryland, she came to West Virginia in 1870 after her husband died. At the time the 1920 West Virginian article was written she was 88 and still living in Fairmont. (She died in 1933.)
Her daughter, Jessie Grove Manley, wife of Marion County Deputy Sheriff Charles E. Manley, was first president of the West Virginia Equal Suffrage Association, which formed November 26, 1895, at Grafton, near Fairmont. A Fairmont Free Press article, November 22, 1895, had said West Virginia was one of only two states without such an organization. (The first vice president was Harvey H. Harmer of Clarksburg, who would introduce into the state House of Representatives that year an unsuccessful bill to grant women the vote, and in 1920 he introduced into the Senate the bill to ratify the 19th Amendment.)
In 1899, the Fairmont club hosted a pancake supper to raise money to bring Rev. Anna Shaw, the first woman minister of the Methodist Protestant Church, from New York to address the state legislature. The Senate adjourned to the House to hear her speak, but no action resulted from her presentation.
Arduous and uphill
The work of these organizations, Stone wrote, “has been arduous and uphill, as they have met with little encouragement from the general public, many of whom looked askance at these big visioned women and thought of them as strong minded women who wanted to appear in the limelight.” (A hundred years later, has that attitude really changed?)
As Mrs. Bernard L. Butcher (presumably the wife of the man who introduced Annie Diggs at the 1895 meeting) expressed it, “All honor and glory to the women who have fought the long fight to achieve this end.”
To read about the dramatic events that led to a razor-thin ratification of the 19th Amendment in the West Virginia legislature, see my blog Woman’s Suffrage vote in W.Va. worthy of Hollywood.
“Giddap!” by Gordon Grant, Puck magazine, March 14, 1914. Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-12370
Miss Lucinda L. Rose. Photographer unknown. Library of Congress, LC-DIG-anrc-03346