For the first time in history, women make up the majority of a political caucus in the Indiana General Assembly. Seventeen of the 33 House Democrats are female.
It's a notable achievement – until you consider it was 100 years ago today the legislature ratified the 19th Amendment, allowing women to vote. And the General Assembly's three other political caucuses are far from gender-balanced.
But women's suffrage also was a long time coming. Anita Morgan, a senior lecturer in history at IUPUI, outlines the hard-won fight in Indiana at the Indiana Women's Suffrage Centennial website.
Just three years after the suffrage movement was launched at the historic 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, Hoosier women convened in Dublin, Indiana, to form the Indiana Woman's Rights Association. The group presented its first suffrage petition to the General Assembly in 1859, but the movement was sidetracked by the Civil War. Efforts were renewed in 1869, only to suffer a serious setback in 1883, when it was discovered that a vote to amend the state constitution had “mysteriously not been recorded in the official legislative record from the previous session.” But they persisted, Morgan writes:
“Indiana women asked for and were assigned offices at the Statehouse so they could lobby legislators; to keep up the pressure, they learned how to call in extra suffragists at a moment's notice. Susan B. Anthony, during one of several visits to the Hoosier state, asked a joint session of the General Assembly to request a national suffrage amendment, memorably declaring, 'I want the politicians of Indiana to see that there are women as well as men in this state, and they will never see it until they give them the right to vote. Make the brain under the bonnet count for as much as the brain under the hat.'”
A law passed in 1917 gave women partial suffrage, including the right to vote for delegates to a state constitutional convention. Women rushed to vote at their first opportunity, but the men who opposed their right to cast a ballot successfully challenged the constitutionality of the 1917 law. The women then turned their attention to the federal level.
“In 1918, Indiana suffragists set themselves the task of recruiting 100,000 members and 700,000 signatures petitioning Congress to pass a suffrage amendment,” Morgan writes. “Mrs. Fred H. McCulloch of Fort Wayne, the chairwoman of this effort, said it would 'be the instrument by which we can do it.'”
It was. After Congress approved the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Indiana became the 26th state to ratify it, on this date 100 years ago. Indiana Gov. James Goodrich described ratification as “an act of tardy justice.”
Full participation by women in state and federal government still lags after a century, however. Republicans added female lawmakers in caucus elections this year to boost the percentage of females in the General Assembly from 24% to 25%. Only two of 11 members of the Indiana congressional delegation are female.
Rep. Cherrish Pryor, who graduated from Fort Wayne's South Side High School, is a member of the historic House Democratic caucus and the Indiana Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission.
“January 16th will be a meaningful day as we look back and remember the sacrifices of the resilient women that came before us,” she wrote in a statement this week. “There is one thing that every woman can do to honor the centennial celebration: make sure you are registered to vote, and vote. We cannot depend on men to understand what is in the best interest of Hoosier women, and voting is a key part of ensuring that our voices are heard in the state legislature.”