Suffrage in Sixty Seconds

Various Times, Daily

On July 28th, 1919, Arkansas became the twelfth state to ratify the nineteenth amendment, giving American women the right to vote. Suffrage in Sixty Seconds celebrates the centennial of Arkansas’s ratification and recounts the long journey to women’s suffrage and the state’s role in that journey.

Suffrage in Sixty Seconds is a production of the Arkansas Women's Suffrage Centennial Commemoration Committee and KUAR. It's written and hosted by Dr. Sharon Silzell, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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On June 4, 1919, the United States Congress finally passed the Nineteenth Amendment, guaranteeing women’s right to vote.

Before going into effect, the amendment required ratification by thirty-six states. The Arkansas Assembly had already passed a state suffrage amendment and Governor Brough supported women’s right to vote. The Governor quickly called a special session of the Arkansas legislature and, on July 29 Arkansas became the twelfth state to ratify the nineteenth amendment.

In 1915 Florence Cotnam became the first woman to address the Arkansas State Assembly while in session.

Cotnam was a member of the Political Equality League and the Equal Suffrage Central Committee, organizations that had been lobbying the Assembly for an amendment to the Arkansas constitution guaranteeing a woman’s right to vote in every election alongside men.

After several attempts to get an amendment added to the state constitution, Arkansas suffragists finally won a partial victory in 1917.

The flu pandemic of 1918 hit the suffrage movement hard.

Carrie Chapman Catt, the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, extremely ill with the flu herself, wrote from her sick room, “This new affliction… is presenting a serious new obstacle…We must therefore be prepared for failure.”

The Dec. 15, 1918 Arkansas Gazette attributed the defeat of a proposed Arkansas Constitution, which included a provision for women’s suffrage, to bad weather and “the prevalence of influenza in some districts.”

However, the pandemic helped highlight women’s contributions to society. For instance, in Fayetteville, the University of Arkansas’ infirmary was overflowing with infected soldiers and called for fifty women, with or without medical training, to nurse the sick around the clock.

By Oct. 1918, 12 states had recognized women’s right to vote, but a federal constitutional amendment was defeated in the Senate.

With midterm elections fast approaching, suffragists organized to oust anti-suffrage senators and campaign in support of state referendums enfranchising women. But just days after the Senate defeat, the Spanish flu pandemic swept through the country.

Just a few weeks after its formation, the new women’s suffrage organization in Little Rock was making great progress.

The March 16 , 1911 edition of the Democrat Gazette announced that the Arkansas Constitutional Committee, “overcome by female attractiveness and overpowered by forceful argument,” had “gone down to defeat before a committee of the Political Action League,” and recommended the Assembly move forward on a women’s suffrage amendment to the state constitution.

After a decade of near silence on the issue, in January 1910, Little Rock women, Lynn Hemingway, Julia Clarke, Nell Dooley, and Adolphine Fletcher announced in the Arkansas Gazette that a woman’s suffrage meeting was to be held at the YMCA.

They said, “Present inequality and untrue equality will be discussed. Tableaus will be given showing the present state of women, the uses of men, “Women as Lobbyists and Voters,” and “Relations of women and men under suffrage.”

Rather than marching in the streets, the Arkansans involved in the women's suffrage movement in the 19th century limited their actions to public lectures and educational meetings.

Activities in Jan. 1890 included the regular meeting of the Arkansas Equal Suffrage Association held in downtown Little Rock.

The gathering featured a talk by the Reverend Dr. Gray, who explained that he advocated women's suffrage because the Bible fully endorsed it.

While the collaboration of religious leaders and women activists likely began during the temperance movement, many church leaders became active and enthusiastic supporters of women’s suffrage, at times expressing their support in their sermons.

Just as women’s suffrage in Arkansas was gaining momentum, the movement suffered two debilitating blows.

In 1893, after five years of publication the Woman’s Chronicle was forced to close due to the illness of its founder, Kate Cunningham. In February 1898 Clara McDiarmid, the founder of the Arkansas Equal Suffrage Association, full of optimism, reported to the annual convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association that “There is much suffrage sentiment in our State…I believe there is a good time coming.”

Founded in 1888 as a Temperance newspaper, the Woman’s Chronicle soon became the primary voice of the women’s suffrage movement in Arkansas, and in 1889 began including a section dedicated to “Suffrage News.”

The Chronicle avowed that the “column was open for the discussion of suffrage, pro and con.” This new section of the paper ran announcements for Equal Suffrage Association meetings in Little Rock, as well as news on the suffrage movement across the country and around the world.

In June of 1888, Eureka Springs lawyer and suffragist Lizzie Fyler reported in the National Woman's Journal that the growth of the women's suffrage movement in Arkansas has alarmed some conservative clergymen in Little Rock. 

The Rev. Mr. Carnahan, she said, had recently avowed in a sermon in his Episcopal church, that if the word "obey" were not in the marriage ceremony, he would never marry another couple.

On the same Sunday, the Rev. Mr. Miller in the Southern Methodist pulpit declared, "I am the king in my home. When I cease to be king, I will move west."

Suffrage In Sixty Seconds: Battle Hymn Of The Suffragists

Oct 22, 2019

On August 6, 1890 the Arkansas Woman Suffrage Association held its annual meeting in the Hall of Representatives at Little Rock.

The meeting opened with a rousing rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

This choice of song is emblematic of the attitudes of Arkansas women at the heart of the suffrage battle. But there was another reason for the musical selection. This Civil War-Era song was written by Julia Ward Howe, an ardent suffragist and much sought-after speaker at women’s rights events.

Suffrage In Sixty Seconds: The Arkansas Equal Suffrage Association Grows

Oct 22, 2019

Although small when it formed, by February of 1889, the Arkansas Equal Suffrage Association had grown significantly. The Little Rock chapter now boasted sixty-seven members including some gentlemen whose wives refused to join.

Suffrage In Sixty Seconds: The Early Arkansas Equal Suffrage Association

Oct 21, 2019

When Clara McDiarmid established the Arkansas Equal Suffrage Association in Little Rock in 1888, the organization was small but young and energetic.

Miss Ida Joe Brooks, then a professor of Mathematics at Little Rock University, described those early days of the movement in Arkansas.

“There were thirteen of us” in the original association, three of whom were under the age of twenty-one. Five women were not even residents of the city. It was not a formidable party,” Brooks commented.

“We are few in numbers, weak in influence, poor in purse, but valiant in spirit.”

Susan B. Anthony is, perhaps, the most famous name in the American women’s suffrage movement, and with good reason. Born into a family of reformers, Anthony was active in the temperance movement and she was also an ardent and tireless abolitionist. But she was most passionate about gaining for women the right to vote.

Suffrage In Sixty Seconds: Susan B. Anthony Speaks In Little Rock

Sep 1, 2019

On Thursday, February 21, 1889, national suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony spoke at the Capital Theater in Little Rock. The following day, the Arkansas Gazette reported on the event.

Electing not to include or describe any of Anthony’s remarks, the writer claimed that “No very large percent of the women of America embrace Miss Anthony’s radical view [and]…It is a truth that suffrage is a boon not desired by a very heavy majority of the most refined and intelligent women of the country.

Early in February of 1889, the Woman’s Chronicle began advertising the upcoming visit to Little Rock by Susan B. Anthony. The newspaper billed the event as “Miss Anthony’s First Visit South.” After her lecture on “What Woman Wants,” the Chronicle reported that “Miss Anthony proved very conclusively…that what women needed was the ballot."

The 1883 Eclectic Society’s debate on women and the right to vote reveals several prominent pro-suffrage Arkansas men. S.F. Clark, a Railroad director, said the notion that “the right to vote would unsex a woman was absurd,” calling the argument “weak, shallow – and mere poppycock.”

The February 1883 debate by the Little rock Eclectic Society sheds light on a variety of male attitudes about suffrage for women. One of the debaters, Rabbi Benson of B’nai Israel in Little Rock, said this: “It is woman’s [duty] to love, cherish, and obey,” and “These masculine women traveling about the country crying for woman’s rights are a disgrace to their sex.”

Suffrage In Sixty Seconds: C.B. Moore And The Eclectic Society Debate

Aug 6, 2019

On Tuesday, February 6, 1883, the Little Rock Eclectic Society held a debate on women’s suffrage. This debate provides a snapshot of the attitudes of a variety of male Arkansans. It began with an essay presented by Major Charles B. Moore, a former Confederate soldier and current State Attorney General.

Suffrage In Sixty Seconds: Woman’s Chronicle Established

Jul 1, 2019

In March of 1888, Kate Cuningham launched the Woman’s Chronicle in downtown Little Rock. With associate editors Mary Brooks and Haryot Cahoon, page one of the first edition announced the paper’s deep dedication to Temperance, but in the same paragraph coyly asked, “Is suffrage essential to happiness? Who can decide? Who indeed – save time?”

After the passing of Lizzie Fyler, there appears to have been a three-year lull in suffrage activity in Arkansas. It was not until February of 1888 that Little Rock resident, Clara McDiarmid founded the Arkansas Equal Suffrage Association. In her announcement in the national Woman’s Journal, McDiarmid described their activities. “We are distributing leaflets,” she wrote, and “have a committee on program[e] and are to have two papers at each monthly meeting. Innumerable obstacles to overcome, but ‘onward’ is the catchword.”

Suffrage In Sixty Seconds: Women’s Rights In Magnolia

Jul 1, 2019

Although the struggle for the right to vote began in Eureka Springs and would be centered in Little Rock, women throughout Arkansas were agitating for suffrage. Unfortunately, documentation of these activities is scarce. We know that women in Magnolia were active because of this brief note in a February 1882 issue of the Arkansas Gazette. It reads, “We are sorry to hear that some of our ladies are advocating women’s rights, which has been a consuming cancer on the body politic of our country for many years. Can’t the curse be eradicated?”

Suffrage In Sixty Seconds: Lizzie-Dorman-Fyler Obituary

Jul 1, 2019

The year 1885 saw a number of serious blows to the suffrage movement in Arkansas. That year, the Arkansas Woman Suffrage Association established by Lizzie Dorman Fyler in 1881 had dissolved. Reporting in the November 21st issue of the national Woman’s Journal, Fyler laments the absence of an organized suffrage society and speculates that the state is not yet ready for it.

In March of 1884, Eureka Springs resident Lizzie Dorman Fyler became the first Arkansan to attend the annual National American Woman Suffrage Association convention. Fyler, one of the first female lawyers in the state, took the lectern on the fourth day of the convention and detailed the extensive legislation recently passed expanding the rights of women in Arkansas.

The “crowning glory,” Fyler believed, was the 1882 act giving Arkansas women the right to vote on the prohibition of alcohol.

Suffrage In Sixty Seconds: Woman's Christian Temperance Union

Jun 24, 2019

The Arkansas branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was founded in Little Rock in 1879 as part of the national drive supporting the prohibition of alcohol.

Because of the link between drunkenness and domestic violence, temperance was considered a women’s issue and was an obvious partner for the women’s suffrage movement. The Temperance Union had a national organizational network that suffragists could both emulate and draw on for support. At the same time, suffrage would give women the opportunity to vote for temperance legislation.

Suffrage In Sixty Seconds: The Arkansas Ladies' Journal

May 22, 2019

The voices of Arkansas women were amplified significantly with the establishment of The Arkansas Ladies’ Journal in June of 1884.

Founded and edited by Little Rock resident Mary Loughborough, the Journal featured an all-female writing staff of seven.

Suffrage In Sixty Seconds: Arkansas Woman Suffrage Association

May 22, 2019

In September of 1881, Lizzie Dorman Fyler established the Arkansas Woman Suffrage Association in Eureka Springs.

Fyler used her announcement of the formation of the Association in the national Woman’s Journal to address the women of Arkansas.