By February 18, 2020 Read More →

Lawmakers recognize women’s suffrage efforts in W.Va.

By Eric Beck, Register-Herald of Beckley

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On the floor of the West Virginia House of Delegates’ chamber Monday, Belinda Biafore, chairwoman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, and Melody Potter, chairwoman of the West Virginia Republican Party, sat side by side, talking to each other and smiling.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican and the first female United States senator in West Virginia history, gave the keynote address. WV Legislative Photo

They were co-chairwomen of an event marking 100 years since West Virginia became the 34th state to ratify, or formally consent, to the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote.

“It was not an easy victory, however,” said Mary Johnson, historian for the WV Division of Culture and History, who spoke at the event. “One thing in looking back that it’s important to understand is that it had only been three and a half years since West Virginians had voted on a state constitutional amendment on women’s suffrage, and overwhelmingly defeated it. There were only two counties in the entire state that approved that amendment and overall more than 70 percent of West Virginia voters, admittedly men, opposed giving women the right to vote.”

Program participants prepare to enter the House chamber as Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, speaks. WV Legislative Photo

Johnson spoke about the legislative maneuvers that some lawmakers tried to keep the resolution from coming to a vote.

Finally, the state Senate ratified the amendment, which had already been ratified by the House, in a close vote on March 10, 1920. Organizers recognized the ratification on Monday instead of holding it in March, so the Legislature would be in session.

“According to one account, pandemonium broke loose,” Johnson said. “Women screamed, threw articles in the air during the excitement, hugged each other and wept in their joy,” she said. “After the Senate adjourned, there was a demonstration in the corridors, blowing of tin horns, cheering and noise that lasted for 15 minutes.”

Lawmakers needed 36 states to approve the amendment for it to become law. Tennessee became that state in August 1920. Court challenges followed, and finally the United States Supreme Court upheld the amendment in 1922.

A banner from 1920. WV Legislative Photo

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican and the first female United States senator in West Virginia history, was the keynote speaker. …

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