Chapter Five: "We Will Not Cease to Ask for the Ballot"
Local suffrage groups held meetings in November and December, and the executive committee of the West Virginia Equal Suffrage Association met in Wheeling in early January 1917 to discuss plans for the future. The committee discussed at length whether to seek a vote on another amendment in two years before deciding not to pursue that path. Instead, the women chose to devote time to teaching suffrage workers about the history of woman suffrage and its benefits to help them better discuss the issue with voters. At the same time, the WVESA would encourage passage of a federal suffrage amendment. Board members also supported resolutions protesting discrimination against women applying for civil service jobs.
World events soon had a dramatic impact on the woman suffrage movement in the United States. Escalating tensions between the United States and Germany reached a crisis in early 1917 after Germany began targeting the merchants of neutral countries, and Congress declared on Germany on April 6, 1917. Recognizing the potential positive image that the country might gain if suffragists were seen as patriotic and engaged in war work, the National American Woman Suffrage Association encouraged local women to participate in the war effort.
In West Virginia, Lottie Cochran of Parkersburg, president of the West Virginia Federation of Woman's Club and a supporter of woman suffrage, was named to the Advisory State Council of Defense in May 1917. Other women officers of the Woman's Committee included Dr. Harriet Jones, Julia Ruhl, and Lenna Lowe Yost, all affiliated with the woman suffrage movement. Cochran reported:
Nearly every woman's organization in the state has come in and all are working with our State Division. COmmunity kitchens have been opened in the larger cities of our state, and in the smaller towns the school houses have been used to give demonstratiions in canning and preserving fruits and vegetables. . . . We oversubscribed our Liberty Bonds, Red Cross and Y. M. C. A. pledges. Now we are collecting books for the soldiers. We had two food campaigns. Classes in auto repairing were started and girls are in training for ambulance driving. Everybody is doing Red Cross Work. In August, 1917, our State Council of Defense put on a war pageant in five of the largest cities of our state. But the work was largely done by the women. (Ida Clyde Clarke, American Women and the World War, 1918)
A few of the "Four Minute Men" women speakers who also were suffragists were Dr. Jones, Julia Ruhl, Virginia Foulk and Nancy Mann of Huntington, Alma West of Clarksburg, Ada Ford of Grafton, and Mrs. Kemble White of Fairmont.
Many of the local suffrage organizations stopped holding meetings as their members took up war work, but at least one managed to combine both. In mid-April the Ohio County Equal Suffrage League voted to engage in Red Cross work. The group made its headquarters available for an exhibit of the Council of Defense's food conservation exhibit in August and helped sell Liberty Bonds during the war. According to an article in The Woman Citizen, "Suffragists have charge of the Red Cross work in most of the cities of West Virginia . . . ." (May 25, 1918)
When the WVESA met in November 1917, the women adopted resolutions that reflected not only the continued goal for woman suffrage but also committed themselves to helping the country win the war. At the convention, Lenna Lowe Yost declined to serve again as president, and Julia Walker Ruhl of Clarksburg was elected as president "as a forlorn hope" after the 1916 defeat, she later recalled. Also elected were Jessie List Hazlett of Wheeling, first vice president; Cora/Cara Ebert of Parkersburg, second vice president; Nancy Mann of Huntington, third vice president; Daisy Peadro of Parkersburg, recording secretary; Dr. Harriet B. Jones of Glen Dale, corresponding secretary; and Harriet Schroeder of Grafton, treasurer. However, with their work for the war effort, many of West Virginia's suffragists were not able to accept chairmanships or offices within local or state suffrage organizations.
While the NAWSA and the WVESA came out in support of the war effort, there were other suffragists who took a different course Beginning in January 1917 and continuing for the next two years, the militant National Woman's Party picketted outside the White House in support of woman suffrage. Their picketting was criticized after the United States entered the war in April, and beginning in June many were arrested, imprisoned, force fed, and beaten. Given the conservatism of many West Virginians, it is unlikely that the National Woman's Party found many adherents among West Virginia women, although the party did enlist some supporters. The Ohio County Equal Suffrage League made its disapproval clear in information sent to the local newspaper in June. In September, the league reiterated their position at a time when representatives of the National Woman's Party were in Wheeling. One league member, former president Florence Hoge, reacted differently. Not only did she support the women picketers, she tried to obtain help for them from U.S. Senator Howard Sutherland in the early Fall. Finally, in October, she resigned from the "older and more conservative organization" and became chairman of the National Woman's Party in West Virginia.
After her election as president of the WVESA in November, Julia Ruhl also wrote to Howard Sutherland, but she sought the senator's attendance at a meeting of West Virginia suffragists with their congressional representatives on December 12. Sutherland did not attend; in fact, only two of the legislators met with the seven women--Senator Nathan Goff and Congressman Edward Cooper--the others citing pressing business. Goff favored a national amendment, while Cooper stated that he personally favored woman suffrage but considered the vote on the 1916 referendum in his district, which he believed more opposed to women having the right to vote than other parts of the state, a mandate for him to vote against it. Though not in attendance, Congressmen Harry Woodyard and Matthew Neely declared themselves in favor of the proposed amendment.
The U.S. House of Representatives had formed a Committee on Woman Suffrage a few months earlier. The committee met early in January 1918 and heard testimony from such witnesses as Carrie Chapman Catt, Anna Howard Shaw, representatives of the National Woman's Party, those opposed to woman suffrage, and others. The committee received telegrams from men and women around the country urging passage of a federal suffrage amendment, among them messages from West Virginians in Wheeling, Parkersburg, Morgantown, Huntington, and elsewhere in the state. A group of more than one hundred women from the Huntington area sent a telegram to committee chair John E. Raker: "With all the strength of our voteless might and a firm belief in the views expressed by President Wilson to the French people concerning right of expression of those who are governed we urge you to favorably report woman suffrage." (Extending the Right of Suffrage to Women, 315) On January 8, the committee made such a report; on the 9th, President Woodrow Wilson came out in support of the federal amendment; and on the 10th, the House of Representatives narrowly passed the bill by the required two-thirds margin. Of West Virginia's delegation, Congressmen Matthew Neely, Harry Woodyard, George Bowers, and Adam Littlepage voted for the amendment. Edward Cooper and Stuart Reed, neither of whom was present, were paired, Cooper against and Reed for passage. After postponing a vote several times, the Senate finally voted on the woman suffrage amendment on October 1 but failed to pass it by the necessary majority. The Senate again failed to pass the amendment in February 1919.
The WVESA met in Charleston in early April. NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt, NAWSA secretary Mrs. Frank Shuler, and U.S. Congressman Matthew M. Neely made appearances at the convention. Catt predicted that women would "move out of the House of Prejudice and into the House of Freedom" within two years. In his remarks, Neely called on "God [to] give one or two wicked United States senators a little more brain so that the American women may have what they justly deserve--the vote." (Charleston Gazette, April 4, 1919)
With a new Congress taking office in March 1919, the House of Representatives again voted in favor of the woman suffrage in May, and the Senate finally approved the Susan B. Anthony Amendment on June 4, 1919. West Virginia's entire congressional delegation (Congressmen Bowers, Neely, Woodyard, Reed, Leonard Echols, and Wells Goodykoontz; Senators Sutherland and Davis Elkins) voted for the amendment. Henrietta Arbenz Romine of Wheeling, a member of the state suffrage executive committee, said of the victory: All suffragists of West Virginia have every cause to rejoice over the good news, not only from the standpoint of the wonderful victory women have gained after a long and at times bitter struggle, but because we had a 100 per cent standing in congress, every one of six congressmen and our two senators standing absolutely pat for suffrage. The solid south, eleven states, is conceded against equal suffrage, so West Virginia has the great distinction of being the pivotal state to secure the necessary thirty-six for ratification. (Wheeling Intelligencer, June 5, 1919)
Continue on to Chapter Six: Ratification of the 19th Amendment