Colorado Led the Way on Women's Suffrage

Women retain the upper hand in the Colorado electorate to this day.


LAKEWOOD, Colo.--This week marked an important 90th birthday: women's suffrage in the United States. On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and women nationwide were finally granted the right to vote. To which the women of Colorado responded, welcome to the sisterhood.

Women in Colorado had not only been voting for more than 25 years by then, Coloradoans had already elected and defeated women representatives to the state legislature. Colorado was the first state in the union to enfranchise women by popular vote-- with all due respect to our northern neighbors in Wyoming. Wyoming was still a territory when it gave women the right to vote by legislative declaration in 1869, before being granted statehood in 1890.

Colorado's 1893 suffrage effort included organizing African-American men. According to the Women of the West Museum:

Activist Elizabeth Ensley rallied African American (male) support in the cities while Grange women organized farmers on the eastern plains. 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.

...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.

In 1894, Colorado became the first state to elect women to the state legislature. Three Republicans elected to the Colorado General Assembly. They lost the next year.

Women retain the upper hand in the Colorado electorate to this day. In 2008, almost half of the Colorado State Assembly was female—48 percent, double the national average of 24 percent (and don't even get me started on Congress). Women actually outnumbered men in the House Democratic Caucus, with 21 female Democratic representatives to 19 men.

There are more women than men registered to vote in Colorado, and according to the Colorado secretary of state's office women outvoted men in the 2008 elections by four percentage points, 77-73.

Hanging in my guest room is an essay my great-great grandmother, Mamie Peeples Morrow, wrote in 1886 arguing for women's suffrage. In her own words and her own emphasis, "Will you not admit you are afraid of her power were she permitted to vote?"

Mamie was ahead of her time. And so were the women of Colorado.

Corrected on : Corrected on 8/23/10: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified which amendment to the Constitution gave women the right to vote. It was the 19th amendment.