Kansas suffrage referendum, 1867
The U.S. state of Kansas held a referendum on November on a proposed constitutional amendment to grant women the full right to vote on November 5, 1867. It was the first-ever referendum on women's suffrage in U.S. history, and specifically sought to amend Section 1, Article 5 of the state constitution to "eliminate the word "male" from the clause defining the qualifications of an elector." The amendment had been approved by the legislature, but had to be ratified by the all-white-male electorate of the state; the proposed amendment shared the November ballot with a proposition to "eliminate the word "white" from the clause defining the qualifications of an elector" and allow African-American males the right to vote.
In the summer of 1865, Republicans proposed a Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution that would enfranchise the two million newly freed black men. This was the first time the word "male" would be introduced into the Constitution, and women were now explicitly not guaranteed the right to vote. Thus, suffragists, in an effort to secure their political rights alongside freedmen, resolved to combine the abolitionist and suffragist movements into one Equal Rights Association, an idea officially proposed by female suffrage activists Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony at an antislavery meeting in January, 1866. The suffragists believed they had support for the proposal from the abolitionists, who had previously supported their cause. However, when the Republican Party chose to make black suffrage part of their program during Reconstruction the Republicans began to collaborate more closely with the abolitionists, and by 1867, most were full supporters of the Republican Party. The Republican party believed that black suffrage, which was a party measure in national politics held far more prospects than women's suffrage, and the Republican cry was "this is the negro's hour."
After the defeat in New York in 1867, Samuel Newitt Wood, leader of a rebel faction of the state Republican Party, arrived in Kansas by request of Stone, and invited the Equal Rights Association to help launch their women's suffrage campaign. Wood had emigrated to Kansas to prevent the extension of slavery. A true abolitionist and successful politician, Wood won election to the Kansas senate in 1867. Though he genuinely cared about women's suffrage, Wood also hoped to make his campaign in Kansas a success so that he could get enough recognition to run for national office. He directed a strong rights campaign, forcing the Republican Kansas legislature to submit two separate bills for black and women's suffrage. The Equal Rights Association tried to sway the abolitionists to campaign alongside them, but received no response. Wood, supported both women's and black suffrage, but was accused of being only interested in women's suffrage. Many abolitionists began to question Wood's motives when they thought he opposed black suffrage as a member of the house in 1864. They began to heavily criticize his campaign, accusing him of promoting women's suffrage only to defeat black suffrage. Wood actually supported Impartial Suffrage, supporting both the rights of blacks and women. Nonetheless, the equal rights campaign managed to stay afloat through the spring of 1867, due to a large female populace in Kansas that produced "the largest and most enthusiastic meetings and any one of our audiences would give a majority for women."
The 1867 defeat of women's suffrage in New York strengthened the Republicans' position against women's suffrage, and on August 31, they opened their anti-female suffrage campaign in Kansas. By the time Stanton and Anthony arrived in September, Anthony wrote that "the mischief done was irreparable," and the universal equal rights campaign, faced with a fierce Republican anti-suffragist campaign and the refusal of support from ambivalent abolitionists, had fallen apart. Stanton and Anthony, desperate for support, looked towards the Democrats, who made up one-fourth of the Kansas legislature. They, however, expressed opposition to both women's and black suffrage and refused to lend aid. One wealthy Democrat, George Francis Train, a former Copperhead, was willing to help Anthony and Stanton. Train was blatantly racist, and he campaigned by attacking black suffrage. Though his racist standpoint conflicted with the policy set forth by the Equal Rights Association, Stanton and Anthony, with no other political allies to turn to, chose to work with Train to keep women's suffrage alive in Kansas, although they had long been abolitionists.
The results of the Kansas election saw both women's and black suffrage defeated, with black suffrage receiving 10,483 votes and women's receiving 9,070. With the defeat, equal rights activists were forced to realize that their campaign had failed.
The failure of the campaign stemmed from the tensions within the Equal Rights Association. The major problem arose from the fact that many members were "feminists" and abolitionists torn between supporting suffrage, or fighting for freedmen and women at the same time.
- Dubois, Ellen Carol, Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women's Movement in America, 1848–1869, Cornell University Press, (1978), 53
- Stone, Lucy & Blackwell, Henry, Loving Warriors, The Dial Press, (1981), 212
- Dubois, Feminism and Suffrage, dick74–75
- Sister Jeanne McKenna, "With the Help of God and Lucy Stone," Kansas Historical Quarterly 36 (1970), 13–21
- Letter from Samuel Wood to Susan B. Anthony, Topeka, Kansas, April 5th, 1867
- Anthony & Stanton, Selected Papers, 57
- Dubois, Feminism and Suffrage, 88–92
- Dubois, Feminism and Suffrage, 94–95
- Stone & Blackwell, Loving Warriors, 222
- Dubois, Feminism and Suffrage, 67–68
- 1867 Suffrage Campaign in Kansas from Kansas Memory, the digital portal of the Kansas Historical Society