Women in the United States began agitating for the right to vote back in 1840, well before many men in the Commonwealth of Virginia had the right to vote. It wasn’t until 1870, after the Civil War, that Anna Whitehead Bodecker, of Richmond, started the Virginia State Woman Sufrage Association.
Although the movement started by Bodecker played an important role in emphasizing the needed position of women in public policy making, it was not until 1909 that inroads were finally made. The first meeting of the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia met at the home of Anne Warfield Clay Crenshaw.
Taking place at 919 W. Franklin Street on November 20th. of 1909, the first meeting was attended by 18 women. They all were interested in the rights of women to vote. What they didn’t realize was that their organization would grow and play a major role in women’s rights on a national level.
The story of women’s sufrage actually began before the Civil War, when many women and men, being staunch abolishionists, worked to help slaves to find freedom. This continued through the war and it was then that many women began to consider their own rights.
These women realized their freedoms were being enfringed apon by their not having equal opportunities to vote, engage in many occupations, or hold office. Elizabeth Cady Stanton rose from the mass of women suffragettes as a leader of the movement.
It was Stanton that publically proposed a solution to the problem of women not having equal rights in something so vital as voting. It was considered ‘radical’ thinking. But the more she advocated for womens rights, the more appeal it generated.
Stanton’s movement then combined with Susan B. Anthony’s suffrage movement in 1869 to become the National Women’s Sufrage Association (NWSA). Stanton and Anthony’s organization was to become a very powerful lobby for women in this country.
By the time the ESL held it’s first meeting in 1909, they were already lagging behind the National movement. Whereas the National movement had already been through the process of educating their followers, and creating lobbyist groups in Washington, the Richmond group were babes in the woods.
Rather than take on the National government, they concentrated their eforts on the State legislature in Richmond. And to their dismay, it was a very long, hard process. Despite being outspoken in their beliefs, they were constantly being downplayed by antisuffrage elements.
Twice, before 1920, the Virginia legislature failed to pass a state amendment allowing women the right to vote. Finally, in 1920, the 19th. amendment to the constitution was passed by congress. Women were allowed to vote. It took the state of Virginia until 1952 to ratify their vote on this important amendment.