On Jan. 16, 1920 – 95 years ago – the Indiana legislature ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibited any U.S. citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of gender.
As originally adopted, the Constitution allowed each state to determine the qualifications for voting. Until the second decade of the 20th Century,most states disenfranchised women.
The 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was the culmination of a long battle launched before the Civil War. The U.S. House of Representatives authorized the Amendment on May 21, 1919. The U.S. Senate passed it, 56 to 25, on June 4, 1919.
Three-quarters of the 48 existing states were needed to make the amendment a part of the Constitution. Wisconsin was the first to endorse it June 10, 1919. Indiana was the 26th state to ratify it. Tennessee became the 36th state to approve it on Aug. 18, 1920.
It may interest some to know that Mississippi, which rejected the Amendment in March 1920, finally ratified it on March 22, 1984 (sic).
Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Louisiana did not embrace the Amendment until 1952 or later.
Vigo County was remarkably active in the crusade. Ida Husted Harper, who came to Terre Haute as the bride of a Terre Haute lawyer, ultimately achieved national notoriety as author of the three-volume biography of suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony. She later co-authored Volume 4 and wrote Volumes 5 and 6 of “The History of Woman Suffrage,” a endeavor initiated by Anthony.
Ida was born Feb. 18, 1851 in Franklin County, Ind., but moved to Muncie with her parents when she was ten years old. Graduating from high school in 1868, she entered Indiana University but withdrew from college posthaste to teach school in Peru, Ind..
She married colorful Terre Haute attorney Thomas Winans Harper on Dec. 28, 1871. Tom Harper became a close associate of Eugene V. Debs and eventually served as general counsel to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. The couple’s only child, Winnifred, was born at 672 Oak St. in Terre Haute on Oct. 2, 1874.
During her early years in Terre Haute, Ida “immersed herself in domesticity,” becoming identified with her recipes for salsa, chili sauce, catsup and piccalilli. However, she secretly launched a career in journalism by writing provocative letters to the editor of the Saturday Evening Mail, a Terre Haute weekly, using the pseudonym, “John Smith.”
When editor Perry Westfall discovered her identity, he offered her money for a regular column of “women’s thoughts.” Her husband opposed her being paid but she accepted anyway. More than 400 columns of “A Woman’s Opinion” by Harper appeared in the Mail. She also submitted work to the Indianapolis News.
In 1883, Ida became a regular contributor to “Firemen’s Magazine,” later called the “Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine,” under Debs’ editorship, and was placed in charge of the “Women’s Department.”
She also was elected secretary of the Indiana Woman Suffrage Association and was official hostess of a noteworthy conference in Terre Haute during November 1887.
When Ida became editor of the Terre Haute Daily News in 1889, her many extracurricular activities inflicted further havoc on her marriage. While the Harpers pondered divorce, Ida moved to Indianapolis, became a writer for the Indianapolis News and enrolled her daughter in May Wright Sewall’s Girls Classical School.
The divorce was granted in February 1891. In 1893, Winnifred was accepted at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Cal. Her father, who Winnifred worshiped, agreed to pay all expenses. Ida also enrolled at Stanford and, at Miss Anthony’s request, lobbied for the passage of a state constitutional amendment giving women suffrage rights. She moved to Anthony’s home in Rochester, N.Y. in 1898 to handle secretarial duties.
Though dedicated to writing books, Harper also was a prolific contributor to journals such as “The Independent” and “Harper’s Bazaar” and to newspapers in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. She also served a stint as a department editor with the New York Sunday Star.
For many years beginning in 1899, Harper was a delegate to conventions and conferences held throughout the world by the International Council of Women and the International Suffrage Alliance, headed by Carrie Chapman Catt.
As the suffrage movement gained traction, the bitterness and sarcasm of men’s inhumanity to women prominent in Harper’s early writings softened. Miss Anthony’s self-restraint toward unjust manmade laws against women also altered Harper’s attitude.
When Harper moved from Terre Haute the void she left was largely filled by Lenore Hanna (Mrs. Lewis J.) Cox, whose husband was president of Terre Haute Car Manufacturing Co. when it became a part of the American Car & Foundry. The Cox family founded “The Roost,” a residential haven east of Fruitridge Ave., just south of Wabash, in 1902.
Lenore’s untiring efforts for everything constructive made her one of the community’s most valuable citizens. She was a charter member and first president of the Franchise League of Terre Haute, a premier suffrage group, and an active leader in the American Red Cross and the Woman’s Department Club.
During World War I, when her husband was in charge of the Red Cross office, Lenore was there every day to pack supplies. She also attended City Council meetings, school board meetings and most every other meeting of community consequence.
When the Indiana legislature voted to ratify the 19th Amendment on Jan. 16, 1920, Mrs. Cox headed a congregation of Vigo County women, including Lillian White, Elizabeth Cooper, Cecelia Crawford, Sue Krog, Mae Helmer, Gertrude Callahan, Helen Benbridge and Gwendolyn Mewhinney, in Indianapolis to witness the proceedings.
Other notable local suffragists included Stella Courtwright Stimson, Anna McBride Saylor, Anna Bowles Wiley, Mabel Curry, Emma May, Ida Mae Davis and Elizabeth Boynton Harbert.
Lewis Cox died July 11, 1920 in Terre Haute. In October 1920, Lenore moved to Washington, D.C. to reside with her oldest daughter Dorothy. She died in Connecticut on Oct. 3, 1941.
Harper was one of the few pioneer national suffrage leaders lucky enough to witness the passage of the 19th Amendment. She died at age 80 in Washington, D.C., on March 14, 1931.