Racing to Ratify

In July 1920, Vermont had the chance to be the final state to ratify the 19th Amendment and guarantee women the right to vote. Congress passed the amendment in June 1919 and sent it to the states for ratification. By 1920, thirty-five state legislatures had voted to ratify, and only one more vote was needed. Many hoped Vermont would be the thirty-sixth state to ratify the amendment; others thought the Tennessee legislature might act first. Special Collections has two pen and ink drawings by the well-known editorial cartoonist W. Norman Ritchie that capture the tension.

Ritchie imagined “The Ratification Sweepstakes” in an energetic cartoon that ran in the Boston Post on July 9, 1920. A woman sporting a national suffragist badge fires a starter pistol to start the Great Suffrage Ratification Race between Tennessee and Vermont, brandishing a prize cup for the woman vote. Trainer James Cox, the Democratic presidential nominee, urges a runner labeled Tennessee Legislature (Democrats), “Speed up, Colonel, and show your Southern chivalry,” while Warren G. Harding, the Republican presidential nominee, tells a runner labeled  Vermont Legislature (GOP), “Go to it Vermont, you must not fail!”

Vermont did fail, despite the best efforts of the Vermont Equal Suffrage Association, due to the continued opposition of Governor Percival Clement. Clement refused to call a special session of the Vermont legislature for a vote on the 19th Amendment. An extreme strategy involved getting Clement to leave the state so that Lt. Governor Mason Stone, who favored suffrage, could arrange a special session. On July 21, 1920, the Post published Ritiche’s cartoon, “No Vacation for Clement.”

Ritchie’s drawing bears the handwritten title “A steady job for Clement.” The caption for the top panel reads, “If Gov. Clement leaves the state, the suffs may vamp Acting Gov. Stone and win the vote.” Clement heads to the railroad station with a suitcase, while a representative of the “suffs” grabs Lt. Gov. Stone and urges him to call the special session. Ritchie pokes fun at Clement’s dilemma, suggesting that the governor might need to vacation at home “on guard against the wily suffs,” and stay on the job to keep Lt. Gov. Mason from bringing the suffs and ratification to the legislative altar. On the bottom left, Ritchie illustrates a dramatic strategy: the desperate “women scorned” might kidnap Clement!

When it became clear that the final ratification vote was not coming from Vermont, suffragists turned to Tennessee. Thanks to a tie-breaking vote cast by a young legislator following his mother’s advice, Tennessee won the sweepstakes and became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the 19th amendment on August 18, 1920.

W. Norman Ritchie (1867-1947) was a news cartoonist for the Boston Post for over 50 years. Reviewing a 1932 exhibit of newspaper artists, the Boston Globe noted “the skill and imagination, together with a keen sense of humor” that characterized Ritchie’s work. Ritchie drew thousands of news cartoons during his tenure. Silver Special Collections acquired these two drawings, along with others featuring Vermont native Calvin Coolidge, in 1973.

Find more primary sources about Vermonters’ efforts to obtain voting rights for women in our latest digital collection, Women’s Suffrage in Vermont. With contributions from the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration, the Leahy Library at the Vermont Historical Society, and Silver Special Collections, the collection focuses on the period from 1870 to 1920.

Contributed by Prudence Doherty, Public Services Librarian

 

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