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Women in Michigan politics

Eva McCall Hamilton

One hundred and fifty-one years ago, on March 31, 1869, Harriet Tenney made history when she was appointed the first female state officer (the historical equivalent of a department director) in Michigan. Despite this accomplishment, women still lacked the right to vote.

That same year, a national organization called the National Woman Suffrage Association was founded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. They began to fight for a universal-suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Throughout the late nineteenth century, the fight over women’s suffrage continued. Even while suffrage was finally becoming a reality in many states, a national anti-suffrage movement was formalized with the founding of the National Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage by Josephine Dodge in 1911.

One of their arguments was that suffrage would reverse the roles of men and women in society. Suffragettes were characterized as masculine and uncivilized, which was deemed damaging their natural roles as wives and mothers. Some scientists even argued that voting would channel energy away from a woman’s reproductive system rendering her infertile.

Locally, Abby Longyear Roberts began the local Women’ Welfare Club in 1914. It had a broad range of civic, health, and education goals and activities. In addition to strong support for women’s suffrage, they provided a police matron for dances, bought an incubator for premature infants, worked for city beautification and aided suffering people during World War I.

Cora Reynolds

The club joined the Michigan State Suffrage Association, sent delegates to the state suffrage convention, and brought the suffrage movie “Your Girl and Mine” to the Delft Theatre. Abby spoke to other women’s clubs in the Upper Peninsula regarding the value of women’s suffrage.

Michigan suffrage passed in 1919. The nation followed with national suffrage passed by Congress June 4, 1919 and ratified by the states on August 18, 1920 as the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution.

Throughout the campaign for women’s suffrage, women became more active in political life, taking roles previously held by men. Eventually there were dozens of women working in the Michigan State Capitol building as librarians, clerks, janitresses, and, starting in the 1920s, legislators.

This evening at 6:30 p.m. Capitol Historian and Curator Valerie Marvin will present Capitol Women live online for the Marquette Regional History Center.

Learn the stories of some of Michigan’s most significant early Capitol Women, including Marquette native Mary Hadrich, Secretary to Gov. Chase Osborn 1911-1913; L’Anse native Cora Reynolds Anderson, member of the Michigan House of Representatives 1924-1925; Harriet Tenney, State Librarian 1869-1891; Belle Maniates, Clerk circa 1894-1923 and bestselling author; Eva McCall Hamilton, member of the Michigan Senate 1921-1922; and Marie Ferrey, clerk turned pioneer museum curator.

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A $5 online registration is required and is open throughout the program.

Visit marquettehistory.org/ things-to-do to register, or scan this QR code:

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