N.H. women get the vote

Published: 5/14/2021 9:04:04 AM

Just over 100 years ago, women celebrated victory in a hard-fought campaign for the vote when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in August 1920. It marked the culmination of decades of struggle, in New Hampshire and beyond.

New Hampshire’s role in the suffrage movement was complex and even contradictory. Despite glimmers of progress, like progressive legislation in the 1870s that acknowledged women’s right to vote in school elections, New Hampshire was generally viewed by Americans during this period as a conservative bulwark, unlikely to embrace such a forward-thinking reform as women’s suffrage.

For scholars studying women’s suffrage, New Hampshire has been almost uniformly overlooked. Anyone relying on academic histories of the suffrage movement would be forgiven for thinking that nothing happened here. Yet such a conclusion ignores the efforts of hundreds of people in New Hampshire, some of whom may have familiar names but many more who are virtually unknown to Granite Staters today. New Hampshire also produced leaders — both women and men — of national significance, like Marilla Ricker, Armenia White and Parker Pillsbury.

This special edition of Historical New Hampshire addresses an episode of the state’s history that has been largely forgotten. It is the first narrative account of women’s suffragism in the state, and the stories are well worth the telling. The articles in this issue explore the work of Armenia White and Marilla Ricker, follow in the path of Granite State parade marchers who faced down angry, violent crowds, expose the backroom political deals that thwarted suffrage efforts in the first decades of the twentieth century, and ultimately celebrate the New Hampshire women who went to prison, challenged the governor and the executive council, and eventually cast their ballots in the election of November 1920. And yet in a curious twist of history, New Hampshire voters did not consent to remove the word “male” from the state constitution until 1956, 36 years after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.

The fight for the women’s vote was a defining civil rights battle for America. Suffragists created models that would be widely employed in subsequent rights movements, while they irrevocably changed the country’s political landscape by enfranchising more than half the population. The story of New Hampshire’s suffragists to secure the fundamental right to vote, never before presented, will inform and inspire us today.

Historical New Hampshire is a benefit of membership in the New Hampshire Historical Society. Copies are available through the Society’s online store at nhhistory.org; or by calling 603-228-6688.

Founded in 1823, the New Hampshire Historical Society is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to saving, preserving, and sharing New Hampshire history. Nowhere will you find a more extensive collection of objects and archives related to New Hampshire’s history. The Society shares these vast collections through its research library, museum, website, publications, exhibitions, and youth and adult educational programs. The Society is not a state-funded agency. All of its programs and services are made possible by membership dues and contributions. For more information about the Society and the benefits of membership, visit nhhistory.org or call 603-228-6688.

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