Board of Election Commissioners verse William Knight

The South Bend Tribune, South Bend, Indiana. August 10, 1917

While the women of the Woman’s Franchise League of Muncie were moving forward, a legal battle began. In May of 1917, an Indianapolis businessman by the name of Henry Bennett filed a lawsuit against the constitutional convention law. Bennett also objected to the constitutionality of the partial suffrage law because the law allowed women to cast ballots for delegates to the constitutional convention. While the Indiana Supreme court ruled that the proposed convention violated Indiana’s Constitution, they did not rule on the partial suffrage law.

This ruling opened the door for another Indianapolis businessman, William W. Knight, to file a lawsuit against the Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Indianapolis in October of 1917. Attorney C.J. Spencer presented Mr. Knight’s case to the Indiana State Supreme court, stating:
 
“It is his contention, briefly, that under the Constitution of the state the right of suffrage may not be extended to women, and this appeal is taken from a decree of the Marion Superior County which sustains in substance the prayer of the complaint” (Reports of Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of the State of Indiana, vol 187, 1918).
 
Knight believed that the Indiana General Assembly, under the Indiana State Constitution, did not have the legislative right to extend voting rights to women. 
  

Dissenting Opinion. Indiana State Archives.

The Muncie League continued their work in supporting the soldiers of World War I through book and canned food drives, continued to meet, discuss and receive information about the ongoing lawsuit. State Senator McKinley attended and spoke during the October 9th, 1917 meeting and according to the minutes, it was an interesting and instructional talk. Senator McKinley urged the members of the league to continue their stand for good citizenship. Additionally, Mr. Horace Murphy, Mrs. Electa Chase Murphy’s husband and local attorney, had attended the hearing in front of the Indiana Supreme Court. He presented his account of the day to the membership and outlined the arguments for and against the suffrage law.

State Supreme Court Judge Lawson Harvey filed a dissenting opinion in the case stating that he could not agree that the General Assembly lacked power to pass the Senate Bill no. 77 granting women the right to vote in town and city elections. State Supreme Court Judge Moses B. Lairy wrote a concurring opinion that the partial suffrage bill violated the state constitution.  

Concurring Opinion. Indiana State Archives. 

The court ruled in favor of Knight, siding that the partial suffrage law violated Article II, Section 2 of the Indiana Constitution. In late October of 1917, eight months after receiving partial suffrage, women in the state of Indiana lost their limited voting rights.

Filed lawsuit against the Board of Election Commissioners. Indiana State Archives.

Hoosier Suffragist, October 1917. Indiana Pamphlet Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library.

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