The League of Women Voters grew out of the long struggle to achieve the vote for women. The fight for equal suffrage was waged on two levels: state-by-state and at the federal level. Women worked in their home states to get legislatures to enact suffrage bills or to pass state constitutional amendments, and at the same time, efforts were under way to pass a national constitutional amendment. Kansas women were front and center in the suffrage battle.
Early suffrage and formation of ESA 1859-1884
1859 Three feminists—Clarina Nichols, Mother Armstrong, and Mary Tenney Gray, attended the Wyandotte constitutional convention, representing Shawnee and Douglas County women’s groups, to urge the inclusion of equal suffrage in the new state’s constitution. They were not allowed to speak, but were granted the unprecedented right to acquire and possess property and to retain the equal custody of their children.
1861 The first Kansas state legislature gave women the right to vote in school elections.
1867 Woman suffrage and Negro suffrage were put on the ballot, in two separate referenda. This made Kansas the first state in the Union to consider woman suffrage. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony traveled the state campaigning for the ballot. Both proposals lost.
1868 In December, Senator S.C. Pomeroy of Kansas introduced the federal woman suffrage amendment in Congress.
1869 A women’s convention was held in Topeka to revive the cause.
1874 The Prohibition Party in Kansas endorsed woman suffrage.
1879 The first woman suffrage organization in Kansas, the Equal Suffrage Association (ESA), was established in Lincoln, Kansas.
1884 A statewide ESA was founded.
Women of Kansas get the vote 1885-1912
1885 A bill was introduced in Kansas to grant women municipal voting rights.
1887 Municipal suffrage was won in Kansas, allowing women to run for office in all city elections. On April 4, 1887, Susannah Medora Salter was elected mayor in Argonia, Kansas, in Sumner County, becoming the first woman mayor in the nation.
1888–89 Oskaloosa, Cottonwood Falls, Rossville, Elk Falls, and Baldwin elected women mayors.
1890–99 Canton, Edgerton, Iowa, Haddam, Pleasanton, Gaylord, Ellis, Jamestown, and Beattie chose women mayors.
1893 A constitutional amendment to grant woman suffrage in Kansas was again defeated.
1911 The Kansas suffrage amendment was resubmitted to the legislature and passed by a vote of 94 to 28.
1912 Kansas adopted a constitutional amendment granting women full suffrage.
Sharing our story
At the final convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the League of Women Voters was born. In March 1919, Carrie Chapman Catt, the strategist who led the suffrage movement to its final victory, called for the formation of a league of women voters to “finish the fight.” The occasion was the 50th Anniversary Jubilee Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Jane Brooks of Wichita, wife of a prominent attorney and president of the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association, was elected chair of the national league of women voters, because, as a contemporary said, “She was attractive, able, and not tarred up as an old suffrage warhorse.” She went home to Kansas and set about dissolving the KESA and establishing the first local League of Women Voters in the country.
The KESA held its last meeting on Wednesday, June 4, 1919, and laid the foundation for the Kansas League of Women Voters. The Sedgwick County League of Women Voters elected its first officers. One week later, the first meeting of the Kansas League of Women Voters was held June 10-11, 1919, at the Hotel Lassen in Wichita. In January 1920, the Kansas League held the “First School of Citizenship and Called Convention of the Kansas League of Women Voters,” again at the Hotel Lassen. Members from Topeka, Enterprise, Hutchinson, Emporia, Manhattan, Wichita, Lawrence, Leavenworth, and Winfield attended. Kansas Governor Henry J. Allen spoke on “Land Tenantry and Industrial Courts” and the heads of 25 local women’s organizations ranging from the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Kansas to the Thursday Afternoon Cooking Club served as “patronesses.”
In February 1920, the National American Woman Suffrage Association held its Victory Convention in Chicago, Illinois. Knowing that the battle was won and that the suffrage amendment would be ratified later that year, the Association reconstituted itself as the League of Women Voters, which Catt called “a mighty experiment.” Having won the vote, the women wanted to be well informed and use it wisely.
Throughout the 1920s, the Kansas League held “citizenship schools” in conjunction with its state conventions. Said Carrie Chapman Catt, “We have faith in women to vote right only when they know what is right. Women do not need to be told whom to vote for. They need to know the facts, facts the citizenship school will go a long way to give.”
League advocates on policies 1919-today
1919 The Kansas League urged all local Leagues to appoint court visiting committees to monitor cases in which women and children were tried.
1920 The Kansas League supported the League of Nations and membership in the World Court 1922. Carrie Chapman Catt visited the Wichita and Topeka Leagues and spoke on the role of the U.S. in international affairs and world peace.
1924 Standing committees included child welfare, education, living costs, social hygiene, uniform laws, women in industry, international cooperation to prevent war, legislation, and efficiency in government.
1925 The state organization was incorporated as the League of Women Voters of Kansas.
1926 LWVK studied sterilization of the unfit, due to a situation at the Institution in Beloit, which had aroused a storm of public interest.
1927 The League worked against the Equal Rights Amendment because the law was considered “too sweeping in scope and liable to varied interpretation, thus causing endless litigation.” Supported the Child Labor amendment.
1931 LWVK pushed the enactment of the Standard Milk Ordinance.
1932 The League successfully campaigned against the ratification of a proposed amendment to the State Constitution to limit taxes on real and personal property. Studied adequate financing for state libraries.
1956 The League discovered millions of Kansas taxpayer dollars on deposit in Kansas banks earning no interest. League action resulted in substantial benefits to the taxpayer by mandating interest on revenue deposits.
1965 The League studied county government in Kansas. Many local Leagues had studied their local county governments, but found local officials unable to make changes due to a lack of authority at the county level. The state study enabled LWVK to lobby for changes in state law to bring about the changes our members supported.
1966 The year of the tornado—a tornado destroyed the LWVK office and many materials were lost.
1967 At the suggestion of former-Governor Alf Landon, the League invited the heads of all the farm organizations, the executive secretary of the AFL-CIO, the state Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas members of the national Chamber of Commerce, and Senator Frank Carlson, to state convention. Appearing on the same platform at the same time, each spoke about the Kennedy tariff legislation. As Landon later said, “that broke the issue wide open in Kansas.” In the end, all the Kansas delegation voted for and influenced members of congress from other Midwestern states.
1972 Delegates to national convention vote to support the Equal Rights Amendment.
1974 LWVK began working to preserve part of our state’s natural heritage in a Tallgrass Prairie Park. Membership in the organization opened to men.
1984 League members in Kansas and Missouri assisted in hosting the Presidential Debate between President Reagan and former Vice President Walter Mondale in Kansas City, Missouri, sponsored by LWVUS.
1988 LWVK and the Secretary of State formed “The Committee of ’92” (the year reapportionment of the state’s congressional districts would be finalized) to promote a constitutional amendment to permit Kansas to use the Federal census rather than the expensive and less reliable state census.
1989 LWVK adopted a Voter Advocacy Project, which obtained data from 4,317 Kansans.
1990 “Why Don’t Americans Vote” was a symposium co-sponsored by LWVK and the University of Kansas.
1993 President Bill Clinton signed the National Voter Registration Act (“Motor Voter”), which Leagues across the nation supported, into law. The League inaugurated the ongoing Paraguay Project, cooperating with citizens of that country to exchange strategies and resources for strengthening democracy.
1996 LWVK cooperated with the Secretary of State, Department of Education, and Kids Voting to provide voters guides for Kansas students.
2000 LWVK took a position in support of a living wage.
2001 LWVK announced its position on the privatization of children’s service by the state of Kansas, following two years of monitoring the changes and two years of study.