Kansas became an official territory in 1854 and was settled by a mix of both anti-slavery and pro-slavery settlers. It became a hotbed of politics and clashes between the two groups. The phrase “Bleeding Kansas” refers to the fact that 56 people on both sides of the slavery debate were killed in guerilla warfare conflicts between 1854-1861 leading up to the Civil War. However most settlers who came were peaceful and were looking to open businesses, have farms, and start a new life. The various Plains Indian Tribes such as the Pawnee, Kansas, and Osage as well as the other tribes placed there by the Indian removal policies were mostly located to Oklahoma by the end of 1854.
Kansas was one of the earliest leaders in equal rights for women. In 1859 Clarina Nichols, Lucy “Mother” Bigelow Armstrong, and Mary Tenney Gray were already fighting for women’s rights. They attended a convention for creating a proposed state constitution. They were allowed to listen but not speak at the meeting. However, they “unofficially” talked to the men during the breaks. They didn’t get the full suffrage they had wanted but they did gain the right for women to own property and have equal custody of their children.
In 1861, Kansas became a state and women won the right to vote in school elections which was another huge step towards full suffrage. In 1867, Kansas became the very first state in the union to actually have a suffrage referendum on the ballot. Supporters of women’s right to vote wore yellow ribbons in honor of the state flower, the sunflower. Full suffrage did not pass.
Women in Lincoln, Kansas, formed the Equals Suffrage Association (ESA) in 1879 and by 1884 it is a state-wide organization. By 1885 they were able to get a bill proposing municipal suffrage up for a vote which meant that women would be able to vote for and run in city elections. It passed in 1887. That same year, Susannah Medora Salter of Argonia became the first female mayor in America. Within the next few years, Kansas elected several female mayors. Despite these gains, women of Kansas still could not vote in presidential or state elections. (Separate ballots were used for men and women voters.)
In 1911, buoyed by the wave of western states which had passed full suffrage, the women of Kansas introduced an equal voting rights bill for a third time. This time, it passed quickly with a vote of 92 to 28 and was signed into law by Governor Walter R. Stubbs. The male electorate ratified it in November of 1912 and Kansas became the 8th state to grant full voting rights to women and the first of the mid-western states to do so.
This week’s song pick:
The traditional American folk song “Simple Gifts” sung by Alison Krauss and accompanied by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Episode 58 Sources:
List of Kansas suffragists: