Well Done, Sister Suffragette! Celebrating the 95th Anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment at Baylor

This week marked the 95th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, the addition to the U.S. Constitution that prohibits denying the right to vote to any American citizen on the basis of sex. The amendment marked the culmination of years of activism and struggle on behalf of women across the country, and in the years leading up to its passage on August 18, 1920, two major suffragists visited the campus of Baylor University to issue their clarion call for change.

Anna Howard Shaw

Anna Howard Shaw in 1914 and the Carroll Library where she spoke in 1919
Anna Howard Shaw in 1914 and the Carroll Library where she spoke in 1919

Anna Howard Shaw was a prominent leader in the women’s suffrage movement, having been active in both the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Woman Suffrage Association. She was also a physician and one of the first ordained female Methodist ministers in the United States. She had worked with women’s activists like Susan B. Anthony  and Carrie Chapman Catt. Her prominent position in the suffrage movement made her a sought-after speaker, and her trip to Waco occurred on April 11, 1919. According to the April 17th edition of the Lariat, Dr. Shaw impressed the urgency of the situation on her listeners.

After being introduced by Dr. W.P. Witsell, Dr. Shaw outlined briefly the development of the equal suffrage movement in the United States. She then entered into her argument, refuting most efficiently the every opposition to woman’s right to vote.

The fact that we live in a democratic age and under a government, constitutionally defined as a democracy in which all people must have a share, was among the first points brought out as proof of the right of woman’s suffrage.

‘The only way to refute that argument,’ said Dr. Shaw, ‘is to prove that women are not people.’ She also said that men are allowed a voice in the government not because they are men, but  because they are thinking human beings, and she maintains that women, also, deserve the same advantage.

Dr. Shaw’s appearance at Baylor would turn out to be one of her last public speaking engagements. On July 2, 1919, she would die at her home in Pennsylvania after a bought of pneumonia. She was 72 years old.

Annie Webb Blanton

Annie Webb Blanton ca. 1929 and a peek through the trees at Carroll Chapel where she spoke in 1920
Annie Webb Blanton ca. 1929 and a peek through the trees at Carroll Chapel where she spoke in 1920

Annie Blanton was one of Texas’ leading suffragettes. In 1918, Texas held the first statewide elections in which women could cast a ballot. Blanton was elected Superintendent of Texas Public Instruction, making her the first woman in Texas elected to statewide office.

Blanton’s message to Baylor’s student body was two-fold: to discuss the passage of a statewide amendment to address Texas’ many educational needs and to encourage women to turn out at the polls to help it pass. According to the article in the August 12, 1920 Lariat, the state of the educational system in Texas at the time was very poor. Texas had lost almost all of its male teachers – primarily to service in World War I, one suspects – and the salaries for teachers statewide were among the lowest in the country. As the head of Texas’ public school system, Blanton knew the problems firsthand, and her plea to the Baylor community carries real emotion.

Blanton ended her talk by reminding the women in attendance that, should the nineteenth amendment be ratified prior to the vote on the education amendment, women would be eligible to vote regardless of whether or not they had paid their poll tax.

Baylor would celebrate its Diamond Jubilee (75th anniversary) in 1920, and the fact that its reputation had grown large enough to draw such high-caliber speakers in that short a time speaks volumes about the university’s place on the national stage.

There are lots more suffrage-related materials in our Baylor Archives. Read up on the movement today!

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