1893 Colorado women's suffrage referendum

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On November 7, 1893, a referendum on women's suffrage was held in Colorado that secured women's voting rights. Subsequently, Colorado became the first American state to enact women's suffrage by popular referendum. The act granted women the right to vote "in the same manner in all respects as male persons are."[1]

Historical Background[edit]

Before Colorado, many western states had already granted women's suffrage, most notably Wyoming and Utah. Influenced by the actions of female activists in those states, Colorado's own suffrage movement began to gain traction in the 1870s. Throughout the earlier half of the decade, many propositions urging legislators to grant suffrage were defeated.

On January 10, 1876, suffrage advocates held a convention at the Unity Church in Denver, intending to influence the state's constitutional convention. The convention established the Territorial Women's Suffrage Society, which turned into the Women's Suffrage Association of Colorado once Colorado was granted statehood. The Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association was eventually backed by Governor John Routt. A minority report was created and sent to the convention.[2] Women were not granted the right to vote, but they were granted the right to vote in school elections and hold school offices.[3]

Men and women outside a polling station in Colorado 1893.

With the backing of John Routt, the women's suffrage movement gained traction. In 1877, male legislators decided to hold a referendum to determine the voting status of women. Although the movement gained the recognition of many popular suffrage advocates, such as Susan B. Anthony[4], suffrage was defeated.[5] Efforts between 1877 and 1893 were sparse. In 1881, a bill for municipal suffrage was sent to Legislature and lost. However, during that time, many grassroots organizations still were still holding meetings and advocating for women's rights.

In 1893, the Ninth General Assembly passed a motion to put the question of women's suffrage up for election. As a result, the Colorado Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association was integral to the 1893 referendum. It was a grassroots coalition of women's organizations, churches, political parties, charity groups, unions and farmers alliances. Having no members or money to their name, the organization toured around the state, rallying for support. Their campaign pivoted to directly address the women of Colorado: "Women of Colorado, do you know the opportunity that is before you this fall? Do you know that there is a possibility you may rise to legal equality with man?” one leaflet asked the state’s women. “Awake from your indifference . . . The ballot is the greatest power and protection of this day and age.”[6]

1893 Referendum[edit]

The act itself was drafted by lawyer J. Warner Mills of Denver and sponsored by Rep. J.T. Heath of Montrose County.[7] In the end, 55% of the electorate turned out to vote, with 35,798 voting in favor and 29,551 voting against.[8] Thus, the bill passed and Colorado women were able to vote.


In the months after the passing of the 1893 Suffrage Bill, the number of women learning political history skyrocketed. One Denver firm reported selling a larger number of books on political economy during the first eight months than they had in the 20 years before. [9]The following year, three Colorado women - Clara Cressingham, Carrie Clyde Holly and Frances Klock - became the first women to be elected to any legislature in U.S. history when they were elected to the Colorado House of Representatives.[10] However, despite this support, the General Assembly was almost entirely controlled by men. Women were, however, able to exert their influence a little, through the enaction of Prohibition bills. Even after legislation passed, the Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association remained active for many years, advocating for suffrage in other states across America.[11]

In 1919 the US congress voted in favor of the 19th amendment and needed 36 states to vote in its favor. This amendment was ratified on December 15th, 1920 by Colorado. Colorado was one of 35 other states that had recognized women's suffrage rights in 1920.[12]


  1. ^ "Notice of General Election" (Vol 4, No. 41). Silverton Standard. August 19, 1893. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  2. ^ "Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association". Colorado Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  3. ^ Rodriguez, Alicita. "Colorado Celebrates Women's Vote Centennial". CU Denver News. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  4. ^ "Women's Suffrage Movement". Colorado Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  5. ^ "Election Returns" (Vol. 5, No. 44). Colorado Springs Gazette. October 6, 1877. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  6. ^ "Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association". Colorado Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  7. ^ Pomeroy, Eltweed (1903). "Hon. J. Warner Mills of Denver, Col". Direct Legislation Record. X: 81.
  8. ^ "Election Results, 1893". Womhist.alexanderstreet.com. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  9. ^ Brown, Joseph (1898). The history of equal suffrage in Colorado, 1868-1898. Denver, Colorado: News Job Printing Co. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  10. ^ "Women Wielding Power-Colorado". Nwhm.org. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  11. ^ "Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association". Colorado Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  12. ^ "Colorado and the 19th Amendment (U.S. National Park Service)". www.nps.gov. Retrieved 2018-12-05.