Maston-McKinley Partial Suffrage Bill

Senate Bill no. 77. Indiana State Archives.

Since the creation of the Muncie league in 1912, the members continued to campaign for the right to vote. Letter writing campaigns, events, and continuing education were a focus of the league.  In the state capital, legislators were fighting for both sides. In February of 1917, women in Indiana gained the right to vote in municipal, school and special elections. By November of that year, after thousands of women registered to vote, this right was taken away. 

Two junior state senators, Marion Hiram Maston, representative for Huntington and Whitley counties and the newly elected representative for Delaware County, Arthur McKinley, introduced Senate Bill No. 77 on January 16, 1917. It was a bill “for an act granting women the right to vote for presidential electors and certain other offices and certain elections.”  The bill was read aloud in the Indiana State Senate and then referred to the Committee on Rights and Privileges.

After attempts from several anti-suffrage legislators in both the Senate and House of Representatives, the bill passed both houses on February 22, 1917. On February 28, 1917, Governor James P. Goodrich signed Senate Bill no. 77 the “Women’s Suffrage Act of 1917.”

For decades suffragists around the nation had been divided on how to go about securing the right to vote for women. Some advocated for attempts to gain partial or full suffrage on local and state levels. They believed that victories in this manner would help create a stronger case for the federal government to pass a similar measure. Others felt strongly that suffragists needed to start at the top – demanding a federal amendment to the United States Constitution. At the same time, some suffragists believed amendments, whether at the federal or state level, were too difficult to get passed.

Using a variety of approaches, in the last decades of the 19th century, women gained a scattering of suffrage rights in varying states, territories, and communities around the nation. Some were able to secure voting for local matters related to libraries and schools, while others found themselves with a voice in state government.

Women's Suffrage Map. Women's suffrage movement collection, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library.

In 1913, Illinois became the first state east of the Mississippi river to grant female citizens the right to vote for presidential electors. While many state suffrage campaigns had failed at securing amendments to state constitutions, activists in Illinois had taken another approach. Rather than ask for an amendment and full suffrage, they lobbied lawmakers to pass a state bill providing only partial suffrage. While an amendment would require citizens to vote for ratification, a bill would only require the vote of the legislative body.

With the support of progressive politicians, suffragists in Illinois were able to get the votes needed. With the victory serving as a strong example, national suffragists encouraged other states to follow the lead. After 1913, a wave of states looked to pass full or partial suffrage bills through legislative action – many succeeded. These successes across the country helped increase the momentum needed to move the federal government closer to passing a federal women’s suffrage amendment. 

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