Yes. Next question.
The 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, and officially became the law of the land on August 26. As we celebrate the anniversary of this milestone in the development of women’s suffrage in the U.S. – which paralleled similar movements in Canada and the U.K.—it seemstimely to acknowledge the early and important work of the Junior League of St. Louis, the first League to adopt women’s suffrage as a League issue.
If the fight for women’s suffrage seems like ancient history now, it was a burning issue in 1914 when a small group of young women from the St. Louis Junior Suffrage League gathered together to discuss how they could put their “leisure time” to constructive use through volunteer service. They chose the still-young Junior League model used to great success in New York City and a handful of other cities around the country.
While JLSL would go on to pursue all of the activities and initiatives of its sister Leagues, its founding members also adopted women’s suffrage as their first outreach project. One close friend of the founding members of the League wrote later, “They knew they believed in suffrage for women, they knew that industrial conditions were not as they should be for a great many women and child workers. And they wanted to find out how they could best take some intelligent action in these and various other phases about them.
JLSL members walked in local parades, sponsored lectures, wrote letters, held meetings in theirhomes and even traveled to Washington D.C. to march in national events. One early First Lady, Mrs. Julius Polk (1925-26), recalled, “My husband was a proper Southern gentleman who believed a wife should be dressed in dignified black silk with a white lace collar, sitting at home with needlework. She definitely should not be in the streets marching for women’s rights or at the polls where some men drank and use vulgar language. When the time came for me and many of my League friends to decide on this issue, we felt that for our nation’s good, women should be permitted to vote. To win our point, we threatened to march in the streets until our husbands promised to vote for suffrage.”
When St. Louis became a focal point in the suffragists’ national campaign when the city hosted the Democratic National Convention in 1916, JLSL was at the forefront. Instead of the hunger strikes and sit-downs used elsewhere, JLSL members joined more than 7,000 of their fellow advocates in a silent protest along the route that convention delegates had to travel to get to the hall. They made their point, and the Democratic Party adopted a plank for women’s suffrage. Four years later, that right became law.
It’s somehow fitting that 53% of the votes cast in the 2012 Presidential election were by women. The founders of JLSL would be pleased!