“Girls, if you want to vote…”: fraud, condescension, and voting rights in 1919 Nebraska

Anti-suffragists reacted to Nebraska’s 1917 limited suffrage law with a mix of condescension and actual fraud. But it didn’t work.

Newspaper clipping, headline: "Girls, If You Want to Vote, Tell Your Exact Weight, Height, and Worst of All--Age"

Ladies, would you like some condescension to go with those ballots? Anti-suffragists resorted to fraud to derail Nebraska’s 1917 limited suffrage law, but two of the women shown here uncovered the deception and won a court battle. Suffrage workers Katherine Sumney and Grace Richardson checked thousands of signatures to prove their case. Their detective work paid off, and the law went into effect in 1919.

Years later, Richardson compiled the suffrage materials they collected into a set of scrapbooks she donated to History Nebraska. This yellowed clipping from the Omaha Daily Bee, May 28, 1919, is preserved in one of their scrapbooks.

The law allowed Nebraska women to vote in municipal elections and for presidential electors, but not for governor, judges, or other officers provided for in the state constitution. (The law was superseded in 1920 by the 19th Amendment, which granted full suffrage rights to women.) Nebraska law required a voter to give weight, height, age, and other identifying information when registering.

“I am not ashamed to tell you that I am 63, although many take me for 20 years more than my real age,” replied Mrs. Smith (pictured in the center) when the election commissioner asked her age. “Why not just put me down as short, stout, and gray?”

It was a running joke among anti-suffragists that women would not register if they had to give their real age. But the extensive petition fraud showed that powerful interests understood clearly that many women would register to vote, and that they’d inform themselves about candidates and issues before entering the voting booth.

As you will do on November 6—correct, dear reader?

The women shown here—plus many others—devoted years of their lives to the suffrage issue because they understood that the ballot equals power, from the top of the ticket down to the most obscure local races.

The year 2019 marks the centennial of Nebraska’s ratification of the 19th Amendment. We’re planning programming and a special publication to commemorate the event. Stay tuned to learn more (but go vote first)!


–David L. Bristow, Editor

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

State Song Sing-Along

State Song Sing-Along

Robert Ball Anderson’s journey “from slavery to affluence”

Robert Ball Anderson’s journey “from slavery to affluence”

Marker Monday: The Savidge Brothers, Aviation Pioneers

Marker Monday: The Savidge Brothers, Aviation Pioneers

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.