The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified on August 18, 1920, declared the right to vote could not be denied on the basis of sex. On Election Day 1920, ten million women voted, many for the first time in their lives. Local newspapers reported long lines of joyful first-time voters. Many towns changed the once male-dominated polling places into spaces apparently more inviting to women. Some places banned smoking, gave floors an extra wash, and provided chairs for the first time.
Despite all of this, there was cause for concern. Only one-third of eligible women voted that day. Men outvoted women five to three. Mississippi and Georgia blocked all women voters by closing registration of new voters before the amendment was ratified. Many suffragists were disappointed by the low turnout and the efforts to block women at the polls. They quickly turned their attention to encouraging voter registration and participation. The National American Women Suffrage Association was renamed the League of Women Voters. A new era of women-led activism began.
This is the front page of a newspaper from Election Day 1920. West Virginia had no voting by women until the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Even without reading the articles in detail, the significance of this day for West Virginia women is clear from the headline. A closer read provides further evidence of the role of women voters. Highlights include:
- The article in column one focuses on the high early turnout of women voters despite the bad weather.
- The last paragraph of the main article in column two describes a group of Black women voters at the polls.
- The end of the article in the seventh and eighth columns mentions women who worked on behalf of political parties to recruit more women to vote.