Black ExperienceBlack HistoryStacy M. BrownWomen's Suffrage Movement

Suffrage Battle Encounters a Negro Problem in Wyoming

This is part of an ongoing Washington Informer series about the Women’s Suffrage Movement and an initiative that includes Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes that will use the lens of history, the fabric of art and culture and the venue of the public square to shine a light into dark places, equipping all with a compass to chart the way forward. The initiative lives in the institutional home of the Washington Informer Charities.

The fight for women’s suffrage saw success, at least temporarily, when on Dec. 10, 1869, women gained the right to vote in Wyoming Territory, roughly a half-century before all women in America received the right to vote. What happened? What was the status for Black women?

The new legislature decided votes for women weren’t such a good idea after all, however, and passed a bill to repeal the 1869 law, according to wyohistory.org, which recounts the history of Wyoming.

Then-Gov. John Allen Campbell vetoed the repeal. The House came up with the two-thirds vote necessary to override his veto, but the council fell one vote short. That left the new law standing, and it was never challenged again.

However, the issue was more tied to race than suffrage for women.

From wyohistory.org:

“The Legislature met in October 1869 in Cheyenne. All those Democrats seem to have had it on their mind not to protect Black people’s rights, like the Republicans wanted to do, but to protect women’s rights.

“They passed a resolution allowing women to sit inside the special space where the lawmakers sat.

“They passed a law guaranteeing that teachers — most of whom were women — would be paid the same whether they were men or women. And they passed a bill guaranteeing married women property rights separate from their husbands.

“The idea that women deserved the same rights as men had been growing steadily in the United States since the 1840s. For a long time, many people who supported the abolition of slavery also supported women’s rights. Both feelings were strong in the Republican Party before the Civil War.

“But after the war, Republicans felt they had to do all they could to make sure the freed slaves got the right to vote and were able to keep it. So, the Republicans put women’s rights on the back burner. Some women were furious about this and felt betrayed by the party.

“In 1854, meanwhile, the legislature in Washington Territory tried and failed to give women the right to vote. Nebraska Territory did the same in 1856. In Congress, a senator introduced a bill after the Civil War to give women in all the territories the right to vote.”

However, that failed as well as bills in 1868 that would have amended the U.S. Constitution to give all women in the United States and territories the right to vote.

Early in 1869, Dakota Territory came within one vote of passing a so-called woman suffrage bill.

From wyohistory.org:

“The idea was not new in American politics. Many of Wyoming’s legislators came from states or territories where the question had been discussed often.

“Many of the legislators believed strongly that if Blacks and Chinese were to have the vote, then women — especially white women — should have it, too. The following spring, a Cheyenne newspaper reported this as ‘the clincher’ argument. ‘Damn it,’ an unnamed legislator supposedly said, ‘if you are going to let the niggers and the pigtails [the Chinese] vote, we will ring in the women, too.’

William Bright, an Alexandria, Va., native who was uneducated saloon-keeper, stalwart Democrat, ex-Virginian, Union Army veteran, and president of the council, was the man who had introduced the bill to give women the vote.

Bright “was one of the main backers of this argument,” wyohistory.org reported.

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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