West Virginia State Museum Education



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Chapter Eight: Women and the Political Process

While West Virginia women voted in the 1920 General Election, by the time the 19th Amendment was approved, it was too late for them to participate in the primary process or seek political office. Their first opportunity to do either came in 1922. The League of Women Voters disseminated information to explain the primary election. A number of women sought local positions connected to education: At least 18 women around the state ran for local boards of education. Several women ran for county school superintendent, and nine (Bessie D. Kilmer, Berkeley; Virginia Foulk, Cabell; Florence C. Kuhn, Kanawha; Clara Wilson, Marion; Bertha J. Filson, Mason; Myra Nefflen, Mineral; Ida Peryl Morris, Pleasants; Anna M. Wallace, Pocahontas; and Eva M. Keyser, Raleigh) were elected.


Mason ad
Ad for Ora Mason, who was defeated in her bid for school superintendent in Marion County, The West Virginian, July 29, 1922
Wilson ad
Ad for Clara Wilson for school superintendent, The West Virginian, July 29, 1922
Brown ad
Ad for Izetta Jewell Brown event at Marlinton, Pocahontas Times, July 13, 1922

On June 21, 1922, after months of speculation as to whether she would run for office, Izetta Jewell Brown of Kingwood announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Running for the seat of Senator Howard Sutherland, a Republican, Brown first had to beat a formidable opponent in the Democratic primary, Congressman Matthew M. Neely. Brown campaigned for world peace, a reduction in taxes on land, elimination of red tape in relief for soldiers, clean government, and other goals. She lost in the August 1 primary, 39,736 to 62,472, but won majorities in 12 counties.


Izetta Brown
Izetta Jewell Brown, speaking at the Democratic National Convention in 1920. The The Suffragist, August 1920
Izetta Brown's Senate announcement
Excerpt from Mrs. William Gay Brown's Announcement for the Senate, Charleston Daily Mail, June 22, 1922
Hattie Stein
Hattie Stein, Charleston Gazette,
July 2, 1922

Republican Hattie Stein of Madison, who had come to West Virginia in 1920 as a chapter organizer for the American Red Cross, ran for the House of Representatives 6th congressional district seat held by Leonard Echols, of whom she was strongly critical. In a speech at the Kanawha County courthouse, Stein accused Echols of failing to do anything to keep the South Charleston Naval Ordnance Plant. "Mr. Nichols congressional record has been furnished me by a research expert, and not once has he ever supported or worked for a measure that was of benefit to the great body of people. A number of times he is reported 'not voting'," Stein stated. She asked, "Has this West Virginian represented or mis-represented you?" (Charleston Gazette, July 30, 1922) With considerably less name recognition than a candidate such as Izetta Jewell Brown, Hattie Stein finished third in the primary with 1,831 votes.

At least six women ran for the West Virginia House of Delegates. Three of them--Mrs. Tom Gates (Democrat), Nina Blundon Wills (Republican), and Mrs. Charles A. Reilly (Socialist)--were from Kanawha County. Socialist Amy Walker was from Fayette, Republican Martha E. Harmon was from Mercer, and Republican Mrs. E. A. Grose was from Marion. Harmon lost in the primary election, but the other five were on their county's ballot for the general election in November. Together, the two Socialist candidates received fewer than 1,000 votes, although both women received the highest number of votes among the Socialist candidates running for those seats. In Marion County, where three delegates were elected, Artha Morgan Grose finished sixth with a respectable 7,370 votes, the top voter getter receiving 8,925 votes.


Artha Grose
Artha Morgan Grose, candidate for the
House of Delegates, The West Virginian,
July 24, 1922

At least six women ran for the West Virginia House of Delegates. Three of them--Mrs. Tom Gates (Democrat), Nina Blundon Wills (Republican), and Mrs. Charles A. Reilly (Socialist)--were from Kanawha County. Socialist Amy Walker was from Fayette, Republican Martha E. Harmon was from Mercer, and Republican Mrs. E. A. Grose was from Marion. Harmon lost in the primary election, but the other five were on their county's ballot for the general election in November. Together, the two Socialist candidates received fewer than 1,000 votes, although both women received the highest number of votes among the Socialist candidates running for those seats. In Marion County, where three delegates were elected, Artha Morgan Grose finished sixth with a respectable 7,370 votes, the top voter getter receiving 8,925 votes.


Kanawha County could elect six delegates, and Nina Wills finished in seventh place with 14,940. A former president of the West Virginia Federation of Women's Clubs and member of the WCTU, she notably received more votes than any of the other Republican contenders for the seats. Anna Johnson Gates had been active in the Democratic Party since 1920, when she served as chairman of the Women's Democratic Executive Committee of Kanawha County. She also belonged to the Womans Club and the Business and Professional Women's Club. With 16,568 votes, Gates finished in fifth place and thus became the first woman in West Virginia elected to the House of Delegates.

Nina Wills
Nina Blundon Wills, The Silver Gleam,
West Virginia State Archives
Wills speech
Anna Gates
Anna Johnson Gates, West Virginia
Legislative Handbook
, 1924

Women would continue to expand their involvement in the political process after 1922 and build on the work on those who had struggled for decades for the right to vote. As Mrs. Bernard L. Butcher remarked when the 36th state ratified the 19th Amendment in August 1920, "All honor and glory to the women who have fought the long fight to achieve this end." (The West Virginian, August 19, 1920)


Primary Documents:

"Mrs. Brown Makes Reply to Editorial," 1922

"Party Leaders Back Mrs. Brown for the Senate," 1922

"Record Crowd Hears Speech by Mrs. Brown," 1922

"Woman for Congress," 1922

"Miss Stein Makes Appeal for Votes," 1922

"Charleston Woman Seeks to Represent Local District in Legislature," 1922

"Lion's Club is Addressed by Mrs. Tom Gates," 1922