WOW Museum: The Struggle for Women's Suffrage


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1876-   Colorado State Constitution allows local school suffrage for women; Colorado Woman Suffrage Association founded.

1877-   State referendum for women's suffrage ends in defeat.

1879-   Caroline Churchill begins publishing the suffrage newspaper, The Colorado Antelope, later called The Queen Bee.

1890-   Journalist Ellis Meredith organizes Colorado Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association.

1892-   People's Party candidate Davis Waite elected governor on pro-suffrage platform.

1893-   Male voters approve full suffrage for women.

Colorado: Populism, panic, and persistence

Posting Bills Colorado women won the battle for the ballot in the midst of the nation's worst economic depression, the Panic of 1893. Suffragists kept the midnight oil burning that year. They built the Colorado Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association from the ground up. It was a powerful coalition of women's organizations, churches, political parties, charity groups, unions and farmer's alliances to garner grassroots support for their cause. The rallying cry of "Let the women vote! They can't do any worse than the men have!" was heard from Denver to Durango by disgruntled unemployed male voters: miners, farmers, ranchers, factory workers and businessmen. With extra help from the unionists in the Knights of Labor and the People's Party, the women's suffrage referendum passed by an overwhelming majority on November 7, 1893.

The Woman Voter Equal suffrage in Colorado did not just "happen." It required decades of work by patient, persistent women. Their first referendum in 1877 was a disappointing failure. When the newly established Colorado Legislature referred the issue to the voters, Susan B. Anthony herself made a whirlwind tour of the state to rally support. But she was booed out of mining-town saloons by unsympathetic gold seekers whose only goal was to get rich quick. Women's organizations like the Women's Christian Temperance Union and a cadre of female journalists like Caroline Nicholls Churchill and Ellis Meredith kept the movement alive during the next 15 years of economic boom and bust.

Elizabeth Ensley Activist Elizabeth Ensley rallied African American (male) support in the cities while Grange women organized farmers on the eastern pains. They all argued that working people's needs, especially those of women and children, were being ignored by mainstream politicians. Women voters, they felt, might fix inadequate schools, squalid housing conditions, unhealthy working conditions and clean up Colorado's dirty politics.

By 1893, suffragists had built a formidable network of support for women's right to vote. Door-to-door campaigning, leafleting, speaking tours and letter-writing campaigns coincided with women's relief efforts to help the thousands of unemployed and homeless workers in tent camps on the Platte River in Denver and mining towns across the state. Caroline Nichols ChurchillThe only visible opposition was the brewery industry, which launched a last-minute campaign to frighten saloon patrons. Their scheme backfired when bar girls and prostitutes made known their sympathy for the suffrage cause.

Colorado's early popular victory was an inspiration to suffragists everywhere. When victory was announced, the suffrage newspaper The Queen Bee broadcast the news all over the West: "Western Women Wild with Joy over the Victory of Suffrage in Colorado," the paper's flamboyant editor, Caroline Nicholls Churchill. The next year, Colorado women elected the first three female state legislators in U.S. history.