In the November election of 2008, most voters will mark their ballots without much regard for candidates outside the Republican and Democratic parties. A century or more ago, however, minor parties sometimes played a larger role in state and national elections. One, the Prohibition Party, first nominated a state ticket in Nebraska in 1874, and attracted a loyal following here until well after 1900.
The Prohibition Party platform during these years included not only the prohibition of alcohol but other reforms such as the direct popular election of U.S. senators, civil service reform, public ownership of railroads, and suffrage for all of voting age regardless of sex or race. In Nebraska several women, including at least one African American, ran for public office on the Prohibition Party ticket long before women could legally vote.
Perhaps the best known such woman candidate was Ada Cole Bittenbender, a leader in the woman suffrage and temperance movements, who was also one of Nebraska’s first woman lawyers. In 1891 she ran on the Prohibition Party ticket for Nebraska Supreme Court judge and received nearly five percent of the (male) vote.
In 1894 Belle G. Bigelow was nominated for lieutenant governor by the Nebraska Prohibition Party. The New Republic (Lincoln), a prohibition newspaper, on October 20 introduced Bigelow and the party’s other candidates to readers before the upcoming November election. The nominee for governor was E. A. Gerrard of Monroe, editor of the Monroe Looking Glass. Bigelow, his running mate, was an active member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and came from a family with a strong interest in politics. Her husband, George E. Bigelow, a Lincoln real estate broker, ran for Nebraska governor in 1888 on the Prohibition Party ticket.
Several other women candidates ran for state office under the auspices of the Nebraska Prohibition Party in 1894. F. Bernice Kearney, active in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, ran for superintendent of public instruction. Mrs. C. M. Woodward, another WCTU member, who was also active in Chautauqua, ran for Congress from Nebraska’s Fourth District. (Nebraska in 1894 had six congressional districts.) George W. Woodbey, an African American minister and temperance lecturer from Omaha, ran for Congress from the Second District. Woodbey was well known among Nebraska prohibitionists and had run for lieutenant governor in 1890 on a state ticket headed by B. L. Paine.
The next year in 1895 the Nebraska Prohibition Party nominated Woodbey’s wife, Anna R. Woodbey, for university regent. Regents were then elected on partisan ballots in odd-numbered years. The Prohibition newspaper, Our Nation’s Anchor (Lincoln), on July 20, 1895, reported, “Mrs. Woodbey is, we think, the first Negro woman ever honored with a nomination on a state ticket by any political party in the United States.”
Although none of these candidates was successful at the polls, the New Republic of October 20, 1894, advised outnumbered prohibitionists: “A vote for principle is never thrown away; it is planted, and is sure to spring up in due time and bear fruit.”