Founding of the League
Through canvassing, distributing leaflets, and public speaking, the Equal Suffrage League intended to educate Virginia's citizens and legislators and win their support for woman suffrage. Nearly 120 members joined during the league's first year. By 1911, the state headquarters for the Equal Suffrage League had been established in Richmond; the following year, the league opened an office at 802 East Broad Street, conveniently located near Capitol Square.
That same year, Clark worked crowds wherever she found them. At the state fair she helped to organize the showing of a suffrage film and distributed buttons and yellow "Votes for Women" flags. She also participated in street meetings in Capitol Square and on street corners, coaxing crowds to come hear the suffragists speak by standing up her easel and grabbing her paintbrushes. "It reached the point," she remembered, "where I couldn't see a fireplug without beginning 'Ladies and gentlemen.'" Beginning in 1914, the group published its own monthly newspaper, the Virginia Suffrage News, and author Mary Johnston visited women's colleges to rally faculty and students to the cause. A group of Richmond businessmen formed the Men's Equal Suffrage League of Virginia; suffragists began distributing literature and visiting schools, fairs, and union meetings; and soon local suffrage leagues sprang up across the state.
Battle for Suffrage in Virginia
Questions about race complicated the campaign for suffrage in Virginia. The Virginia Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage vigorously attacked the Equal Suffrage League's campaign. Organized in 1912 when woman suffrage first came before the General Assembly, these antisuffragists promoted the idea that giving women the right to vote would encourage black women to vote and therefore endanger whites' control at the polls, which would lead to the demise of white supremacy. The Equal Suffrage League initially responded by ignoring the claim, believing the assertion to be bogus. According to historian Suzanne Lebsock, "In its original form this was a strictly defensive argument that rendered no judgment on the justice of white supremacy itself."
The League Disbands
Within a few weeks of the national victory in 1920, the Equal Suffrage League disbanded. Its successor, the Virginia League of Women Voters, began work shortly afterward to make the new vote an informed one. The league sponsored registration drives, voter education programs, and lobbying efforts on behalf of social welfare issues. Virginia women were given only one month to register to vote in the November elections, prompting the Richmond Times-Dispatch to complain in advance about the inevitable confusion and congestion at the polls. By early in October 1920, more than 13,000 Richmond women had registered to vote in the November presidential election—10,645 white and 2,410 black women. Clearly women were not to be discouraged by long lines and disgruntled clerks. On Election Day, the newspaper ran an advertisement for a sale at a downtown department store on "coats for the kiddies," with an invitation to stop by "When Mother and Father Go Voting Today."
The campaign for the vote may have faltered in Virginia, but the suffrage movement did not. While the Equal Suffrage League ultimately failed to win the vote, it secured bills concerning juvenile delinquency and child neglect, and helped defeat legislation to lower standards for milk and increase the working hours of women and children in factories. The work of suffrage ultimately extended the role of women to encompass the world of politics and progressive reform, and opened a new chapter in Virginia history.
November 27, 1909 - A group of women, including Kate Waller Barrett, Kate Langley Bosher, Adèle Clark, Ellen Glasgow, Nora Houston, Mary Johnston, and Lila Meade Valentine, found the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia.
February 1910 - The Equal Suffrage League of Virginia joins the National American Woman Suffrage Organization.
1912 - Lila Meade Valentine persuades a group of Richmond businessmen to form the Men's Equal Suffrage League of Virginia.
1912 - The General Assembly defeats a bill that would give women the right to vote.
1914 - The Equal Suffrage League of Virginia begins publishing a monthly newspaper called the Virginia Suffrage News.
1914 - The Equal Suffrage League of Virginia has forty-five local chapters.
1916 - The Equal Suffrage League of Virginia has 115 local chapters.
1919 - Membership in the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia reaches 32,000, making it most likely the largest state association in the South.
February 12, 1920 - The General Assembly votes not to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees women the right to vote.
September 1920 - The Equal Suffrage League of Virginia disbands.
- Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman's Party. Library of Congress American Memory Web site
- Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897–1911
- Library of Virginia Working Out Her Destiny Online Exhibition
- Library of Virginia Images and Documents from Working Out Her Destiny
- National Archives and Records Administration: Teaching with Documents, Woman Suffrage and the Nineteenth Amendment
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
McDaid, J. D. Equal Suffrage League of Virginia (1909–1920). (2019, September 12). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Equal_Suffrage_League_of_Virginia_1909-1920.
- MLA Citation:
McDaid, Jennifer Davis. "Equal Suffrage League of Virginia (1909–1920)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 12 Sep. 2019. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: January 15, 2009 | Last modified: September 12, 2019
Contributed by Jennifer Davis McDaid, a historical archivist at the Norfolk Southern Corporation.