Woman Suffrage

The greatest effort of nineteenth-century suffragists in Nebraska was their attempt to amend the state constitution in 1881 and 1882 to provide for woman suffrage. In January 1881 Erasmus M. Correll of Hebron introduced in the Nebraska House of Representatives a bill to submit the question of extending suffrage to women to a vote by the state electorate, then male only. Correll deliberately allowed his first bill to die in committee to avoid prospective opposition over several minor points. On February 3 he introduced a replacement bill as a joint resolution. Both the initial bill and the resolution were aimed at eliminating the word “male” from the state constitution’s definition of the state electorate.

Correll and his few allies faced a difficult task. A quiet canvass revealed that only ten members of the Nebraska House in 1881 favored the joint resolution. Correll, however, pointed out to the doubtful that the measure would not initiate woman suffrage, but that its passage would only submit the question to a vote of the Nebraska electorate. The measure was eventually passed by both houses of the Nebraska Legislature.

An intensive campaign for the proposed change in the state constitution was waged by members of local and national suffrage groups. Both the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association held conventions in Omaha in 1882. National suffrage leaders spoke there, and pro-suffrage literature circulated widely. Correll founded the Western Woman’s Journal at Lincoln in April 1881 to boost campaign efforts, and it achieved a national reputation.

The defeat of the proposal to amend the constitution to provide for woman suffrage in November 1882 was decisive. The final vote count was 25,756 for; 50,693 against. A number of factors were responsible. Key segments of the state’s male electorate, such as the immigrant population and opponents of prohibition, opposed it. It was not until the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century that woman suffragists regained the ground they had lost in Nebraska in 1882.

After decades of parades, debates, and rallies, the Nebraska Legislature passed a limited suffrage act in 1917, giving women the right to vote in municipal elections and for presidential electors. Women still could not vote for candidates for statewide offices. National woman suffrage efforts were more productive. In August 1919 the Nebraska Legislature, in special session, unanimously ratified the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A year later, Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the federal amendment, and women were finally allowed to vote in all elections after August 26, 1920.

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