19th Amendment is Ratified, Women Granted the Right to Vote.

The Awakening by Hy Mayer. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

Indiana legislative laws were complicated and hard to navigate.  The Woman’s Franchise League of Indiana had put their efforts behind the partial suffrage bill in 1917 only to have it overturned. Refocusing their efforts towards federal suffrage, the State League joined forces with the National American Woman Suffrage Association for a federal amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote. In the meeting minutes of November 9, 1917, Mrs. Margaret H. Gill

“spoke of the need of bringing pressure to bear on the legislators in order to secure the passage of the Susan B. Anthony amendment to the National Constitution. The State League has planned to carry out a systematic educational campaign for suffrage through the newspapers of small towns of the state.”

Mrs. Gill was the League’s representative at the state board meetings. During this particular meeting she met Mrs. Beardsley and Mrs. Stilwell, who were appointed by the State League President to represent Indiana in the recent conference with President Wilson. According to the minutes of the Muncie League, this was a time in the Suffrage movement when President Wilson’s opinion of the matter began to change. The United States House of Representatives Suffrage Committee was formed and as Mrs. Gill states, in the minutes,

“The appointment of a suffrage committee in the House marks a long stride towards success. Indiana women will have to work very hard to bring sufficient pressure to bear on the members of the next legislature to secure a formidable vote on the proposed suffrage amendment.”

Woman Suffrage. Bonefire on Sidewalk Before White House. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

From 1917 to 1919, the Muncie League continued to draft petitions and lobby their state legislators to support a bill for women’s suffrage. While many states in the union had extended equal voting rights to women, it was not a recognized national right.

From that point forward, national suffragists counted on the support of progressive lawmakers. At the same time, they continued to work towards gaining the support of Republicans and Democrats, including Woodrow Wilson, who was elected President in 1913.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, national suffragists saw an opportunity. The more conservative NAWSA put their efforts behind the war. They encouraged their associated leagues at the state and local levels to do the same, and countless suffragists began knitting socks, gathering supplies, and doing everything they could for the war. Their hope was that, as a reward for their efforts, President Wilson would back their cause and push for a federal suffrage amendment.

While NAWSA embraced the war, their radical counterpart, the National Woman’s Party took another approach. Very quickly, they mobilized activists from around the nation to take part in public protests in front of the White House. Carrying large banners with hot-button messages, they criticized the President and the United States Government for their hypocrisy of fighting for world rights while not ensuring the rights of their own female citizens.

By 1919, the pressure from both groups had taken its toll, and President Wilson endorsed a federal women’s suffrage amendment. With his support and encouragement, other federal lawmakers came on board with the measure and a federal amendment to the United States Constitution was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives that Spring. On May 21, 1919 the House passed the measure – sending it to the Senate for approval.  

Susan Ryan Marsh. Ball State University Libraries.

In June of 1919, the federal amendment passed in the United States Senate. For the amendment to become law, ratification was required by 36 state legislatures. In July, the members of the Muncie League received two presentations, a formal paper on the federal amendment and a paper titled “What it means to ratify an amendment.” The members continued their education around the constitution and waited for their work since 1912 to come full circle.

In February of 1920, the League of Women Voters was formally organized in Chicago. It was originally within the National American Woman Suffrage Association to organize the states where suffrage had already been won. The Ninth Annual Convention of the Woman’s Franchise League of Indiana would include the First Congress of the Indiana League of Women Voters. The convention was to be held in April of 1920 in Indianapolis. The state organization of the Woman’s Franchise League was considering reorganizing into the League of Women Voters. According to the minutes of the Muncie League, there was a discussion about whether to send delegates to the state convention. The Muncie League voted to send delegates but were “instructed not to obligate itself to adopt the constitution of the League of Women Voters, at the present time.”  

Upon returning from the state convention, the delegates, including the current President Mrs. Meeks, delivered a report. The members discussed their concerns regarding the League of Women Voters and being against such a league. At this time, the Woman’s Franchise League of Indiana was moving to reorganize under the Indiana League of Women Voters. While the minutes of the Muncie League do not go into detail about the discussion following the report from the delegates, there was a vote to thank the current and past officers for their service to the League. Additionally, there was a motion that all the books and papers belonging to the League be given to the first President, Mrs. Susan Ryan Marsh. 

April 19, 1920 minutes:

“[M]otion was presented and after much difficulty was finally and carried as all present seemed to hate, very much, to vote in the affirmative. Whereas, the Woman’s Franchise League of Indiana will, on May 1st be dissolved. Be it resolved, that the Muncie Branch of the Woman’s Franchise League known as the Woman’s Franchise League of Muncie, as now dissolved through the action of the State organization, and its good will be transferred to the New League of Women Voters of Muncie.”

Postcard of the Kirby Hotel, Downtown Muncie, Indiana. Muncie and Delaware County Historic Photographs Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Ball State University Libraries. 

At the Kirby Hotel in downtown Muncie, the nine year history of the Muncie League came to an end. Like many other Woman’s Franchise organizations, the Muncie League played their role. They supported and educated women in the community of the partial suffrage bill in 1917 and the final push towards the ratification of the 19th amendment granting them the right to vote. Through their work, they continued to educate and disseminate information about Women’s rights, local and current issues, and gaining a voice in their community.

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