Persistence: The Saga of Woman’s Suffrage

During the month of March we honor the accomplishments of generations of compassionate and persistent women who made a difference in the lives of others.

One of the most significant milestones in women’s history was the passage of the Constitutional amendment that granted them universal suffrage – the right for every woman to vote in every election in every state.

In 2018 it’s difficult to understand why it took more than 70 years to grant one-half of U.S. citizens the right to choose the representatives who would craft the laws all citizens were expected to obey. But amending the Constitution is an involved process and for passage, a majority of lawmakers must vote in favor of the proposal. Except for one woman elected to Congress in 1916, Senators and Representatives were men – men who were content to leave things as they were.

One wonders if the wives, daughters, sisters and mothers had no influence over the lawmakers, until we realize not all women were convinced voting would be a positive change for them.

In Richmond, Mrs. James Dooley not only questioned this radical change to the status of women, she worked to stop the amendment by serving on the Executive Board of the Virginia Association Opposed to Woman’s Suffrage. She may have thought, like other women, that voting booths were unsuitable places for women and the halls of the legislatures were the natural domain of men. Financially secure, Mrs. Dooley would never find herself in need of employment where she would be paid half of what was earned by a man doing the same job. The childless Sallie Dooley also had no daughter’s future to consider.

James Dooley’s sister, Josephine Houston, and her daughter Nora were equally inspired by this issue, but for the other side. They were active members of the Virginia Equal Suffrage League, rallying support among women in the city and lobbying lawmakers for change.

The 19th Amendment became law in 1920 and women were able to cast their votes alongside their husbands, fathers and brothers. We honor the women – and men – who recognized an injustice, did the right thing and improved the lives of women throughout our nation.

This post was written by Nancy Lowden, Manager of Historical Programs at Maymont