History of Women's Suffrage
American Suffrage Timeline
Indiana Suffrage History
In 1851, Winchester native Amanda Way called for a women’s rights convention—the kick off to a 69-year effort to guarantee women’s right to vote in Indiana. Between then and the moment when Gov. James P. Goodrich, also a Winchester native, oversaw the state’s ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, Indiana women organized, marched, petitioned and sometimes resisted.
There were ups and downs along the way, including two major wars and a brief moment in 1917 when it seemed the state would beat the nation in the race for women’s suffrage—an exciting summer when Indiana women flooded the polls before the franchise was snatched from them again. In 1920, Hoosier women’s continuous and tireless work paid off and their goal was realized. On January 16, the Indiana General Assembly approved the national amendment for women’s suffrage; then, at last, on August 26, the U.S. Congress approved the final paperwork ratifying the change to the Constitution.
Propylaeum and Suffrage
The Indianapolis Propylaeum was formed in 1888 by May Wright Sewall, a pioneer and powerhouse in the women’s suffrage movement, as a place for women and women’s organizations to meet. Sewall recognized the need for women to be able to share ideas on arts and culture, as well as civic engagement, and started the Indianapolis Woman’s Club, the Contemporary Club, and the Indianapolis Council of Women. As well, Sewall recognized the need for a place where women’s organizations could meet and created the Indianapolis Propylaeum. The original building, built on North Street in Indianapolis, was one of the first women-owned buildings in the United States.
The Indianapolis Propylaeum continues to carry on the traditions started by Sewall. The Propylaeum focuses on women’s leadership, arts and culture, and historic preservation and remains a place for women and organizations to meet and attend women’s leadership and arts and cultural programs. The Indianapolis Propylaeum is a rich part of the history of Indianapolis women.
Today, the Indianapolis Propylaeum has taken the lead in bringing together women and organizations to plan, promote, and execute programming focused on the largest and most important step forward for gender equality to date in the United States – the right to vote. The Indianapolis Propylaeum is uniquely situated to be at the forefront of this city-wide commemoration, not just because of our history of women’s suffrage, but also for the part we play by continuing to focus on women’s leadership and civic engagement.
For the suffrage centennial, the Propylaeum has brought together representatives from over forty Indianapolis organizations to discuss and plan programming commemorating the centennial of women’s suffrage. These organizations represent women in art, academia, history and historic preservation, women’s empowerment and equality, leadership and mentorship, activism, and civic engagement.
The Propylaeum has developed a schedule of programming for the centennial that covers not just the history of the suffrage movement and the ratification of the 19th amendment, but also the forgotten history of suffrage. Minority women and women of color struggled for the right to vote well into the 1960s. Local experts in history, women’s studies, and other areas of academia will participate in panel discussions, individual presentations, as well as recommend written materials to supplement discussions. Propylaeum programming will also include discussions regarding the lack of female representation in leadership positions including senior levels of corporations and state and national government.
Members of the Propylaeum have been active in the Women’s Movement throughout the organization’s history. Beginning with our founder, May Wright Sewall, members have taken roles in suffrage, reform, and equality struggles.
May Wright Sewall was a leader in the women’s movement on a national and international level. She organized the Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Society in 1878. She attended the International Council of Women in 1888 and 1894. In 1893 she was the chair of the World’s congress of Representative Women at the Chicago World Columbian Exposition. and chair of the National Women's Suffrage Association from 1882-1890. In 1915 she served as a delegate on Henry Ford’s peace trip to Europe.
The suffrage movement heated up in the nineteen teens, culminating with the final ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Prop members took active roles in the movement, locally, statewide, and nationally. Louella McWhirter was a delegate to the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1914. Katharine Greenough served on the board of the National Women’s Franchise League.
The Legislative Council of Indiana Women linked actions of the General Assembly to the Indiana Franchise League chapters. Sara Lauter served on the council and analyzed bills presented to the legislature about women’s causes and communicated their impact to Franchise League members at a statewide convention in 1917.
The Suffrage Movement in Indianapolis benefitted from the involvement of Prop members. Leaders of the Indianapolis Women’s Franchise League included Louella McWhirter, Celeste Barnhill, Edna Christian, and Mary Jameson. Jessica Brown shared her knowledge and speaking skills, delivering and address at the 1916 Marion County Teacher’s Institute. She deplored the lack of rights available to Indiana women, as a stain on the state, compared to the rest of the nation.
Not all Prop members supported the suffrage movement. In 1917, Sarah Atkins made headlines saying, “When the time comes that men need the assistance of women in running political affairs they will be the first to give them the ballot.”
After the passage of the 19th Amendment, Katharine Greenough held an active role in the forming of the national organization of the League of Women Voters. The early actions of the league focused on preparing women to approach their new-found right. Greenough wrote pamphlets for nation-wide distribution about how to mark a ballot and ways to make an informed decision about the candidates.
In the last three decades of the twentieth century, women’s activism turned to different causes. Jill Chambers served as president of the Indiana and Indianapolis chapters of the National Organization for Women. While serving with NOW, she examined FCC renewal licenses at radio and TV broadcasters for hiring, promotion practices regarding women and minorities; A project Jane Pauley credited with opening the door for her first media job. Chambers marched in cities through the nation in support of the Equal Rights Amendment and other causes related to the health and welfare of women.
Don your sash and join the march as Propylaeum members commemorate the 1913 Washington D.C. Suffrage March. The delegation will be part of the Indianapolis St Patrick’s Day, Indy500 and Carmelfest 2020 parades, as well as participating in the Indian Statehouse celebration on January 16, 2020 and a variety of Propylaeum events during the year.
Marching for women's rights has been a time-honored form of speech for women since the 1840s when textile workers came out of the mills because of poor working conditions, health hazards, supervision and pay. In the early 1900s, Congressional Committee leader Alice Paul latched onto the march as a publicity grabbing tool to push for women's suffrage in the pre-inaugural march of 1913 in Washington, DC. At that time, Paul was a member of the National American Woman's Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and called for a display of numbers and beauty (all marchers were in white with gold sashes with purple lettering) to impress Congress and the President-Elect Woodrow Wilson. Eventually, Wilson saw the wisdom of supporting the 19th Amendment and endorsed the amendment in 1919. The “Votes for Women” movement became known for their fervor and all-white outfits.
And we march...
Indiana Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission
Established in July 2019, the Indiana women's suffrage centennial commission seeks to promote activities that commemorate the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The commission is chaired by Lt. Gov. Suzanne Couch and includes Propylaeum President Rose Wernicke.
Indiana Suffrage History
Indiana Suffrage 100
Indiana Suffrage 100 is a collection of Indiana organizations focused on commemorating the Indiana Women’s Suffrage Centennial through education, programming, and partnerships. They invite Hoosiers to honor the ideas and ideals that fueled the suffrage movement in Indiana, and the people who led the way; to engage in a conversation about inclusion, equity, perseverance and power; to consider what remains to be done to ensure that our democracy truly includes everyone; and to identify and act on the lessons of the women’s suffrage movement.