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Kansas holds a very special place in the history of the women’s suffrage movement, being one of the first states to make real progress towards the vote for women. As the first state to hold a referendum on women’s suffrage and the eighth earliest to extend full voting rights to women, Kansas was continually involved in the movement and acted as a leading state in the fight for equal suffrage.  

Women’s Suffrage and Statehood 

Kansas’ involvement in the women’s suffrage movement goes as far back as its statehood, and even before the state constitution had been drawn. The Seneca 

Falls Convention of 1848 prompted the official start of the national campaign for suffrage, only a matter of years before Kansas Territory became an official state. Many suffragists believed that the newly organized states in the Midwest were perfect places to push for women’s suffrage, since their constitutions and political systems were still being developed. 

 

Suffragist Clarina Nichols moved to Kansas Territory from Vermont and played a key role in the suffrage movement, particularly at the Constitutional Convention on July 5, 1859. At this convention, delegates gathered together to discuss the creation of the state constitution for Kansas, at which Nichols revealed a petition asking for equal political and civil rights for women. 

 

While Nichols and the petitioners didn’t succeed in gaining equal rights for women, Kansas still played an early and progressive role regarding women’s suffrage when it became an official state in 1861, with women’s issues being at the forefront of debates. Immediately after Kansas achieved statehood, women were allowed to vote in school district elections, which is an important moment to mark on any American timeline of suffrage.

 

Kansas was the first state to hold a referendum on women’s suffrage in 1867, showing the state’s forward-thinking attitude towards women’s rights. Even though this referendum was defeated, it prompted other states in the Western area to hold similar referendums. Kansas suffragists continued fighting the battle, and in 1887, women were granted the right to vote in local elections. This was a huge step forward for Kansas women, giving them the opportunity to enjoy some political responsibility. 

 

Equal Rights for Women in Kansas

The Kansas Equal Suffrage Association was responsible for leading the suffrage campaign, which was experiencing successes towards the end of the century. 

Mamie Dillard and Carrie Langston were two suffragists based in Kansas, both of whom worked with white and black communities and recognised the importance of inclusivity when fighting for women’s suffrage. They encouraged more black women to get involved in women’s suffrage and emphasized the need for the vote for women of all backgrounds. 

 

The work of these suffragists, and many others, continued the pattern of progress into the 20th century when Kansas voters agreed to the Equal Suffrage Amendment to the state’s constitution. In 1912, Kansas women were granted equal voting rights to men. At the start of the 20th century, only four states had extended the franchise to women, all of these being in the West. Kansas was also the first state in the Midwest to allow women full voting rights and became involved early on with the educating and informing of women voters. 

 

Kansas and the 19th Amendment

While Kansas women had achieved the full vote in their state, women in Kansas continued to work towards national suffrage. Suffragists in Kansas had adopted the Kansas state flower, the sunflower, when campaigning for a suffrage referendum within the state itself. It was from this association that Votes for Women adopted the iconic yellow and black colors, which became symbolic of the national women’s suffrage movement. 

 

Following World War One and after the committed efforts of suffragists across the country, the 19th Amendment granting women equal voting rights was officially certified on August 26th, 1920. Kansas ratified the amendment a year earlier than this on June 16, 1919, once again placing itself ahead of the majority in terms of women’s suffrage. 

 

All throughout the women’s suffrage movement and its statehood, Kansas had been at the forefront of progressing towards votes for women. With early referendums and equal voting rights for women eight years before the 19th Amendment, the state had always been committed to fighting for suffrage and giving women a political voice. 

About the Author:
Alanah Reid is passionate about women's suffrage, not only in America but globally. Using old newspapers as her sources, she writes extensively on this subject and many others for Historic Newspapers.