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.
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
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
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.
The 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.