Last week, we celebrated Tennessee becoming the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote. West Virginia was the 34th.
Earlier this year, in an interview I did for West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Renate Pore, the project director for the Kanawha Valley National Organization for Women Centennial Celebration, explained that the West Virginia House of Delegates passed the vote fairly quickly, but the state Senate was deadlocked.
There were 28 senators. One senator who had resigned the year before tried to come back and vote against the amendment, but that didn’t happen.
Another senator, Jesse Bloch from Wheeling, was in California at a golf tournament.
It ultimately turned into an ordeal to get Bloch back across country, including the Republican National Committee chartering a special train for $5,000.
He arrived in Charleston at 2 a.m. on March 10, 1920, and then voted later that morning as the tie-breaking yes vote to give women the right to vote.
Of course, it was a nearly 75-year ordeal to get women on equal footing in the first place. Women began asking for the vote as early as 1848. It took protests and marches for it to finally happen.
And, yes, women were beaten on the streets, and in jail, for their audacity to demand the right to vote.
Interestingly, the 19th Amendment doesn’t actually give women the right to vote. Rather, it says the government can’t restrict voting based on sex.
The writers of the Constitution had a habit of writing things backwards like that. I’m sure there is some logical reason, but it seems like they could have saved us all a lot of trouble later if they had been clearer.
The 15th Amendment handles race the same way.
One of the more interesting ways state legislators continued to block women from voting afterward was if they married an immigrant. I guess they worried that women would be controlled by a non-citizen.
Considering the number of immigrants pouring into the United States in the early 20th century, it shows that we haven’t come very far in that regard, either.
Often, especially when things are crazy like they are right now, we like to look back on the past with some fondness. Except, when you remember history, things weren’t really as perfect as we like to think.
At least not for everyone.
Side note: I’ve gotten several emails from people with their stories about segregation and discrimination, and I appreciate every one, but I am still looking with more stories with first-hand memories of Jim Crow laws. Send me an email with your story if you have a memory.