Women vote in Jamestown a century ago

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig

The women of Jamestown got an education on how to use their new right to vote a century ago.

The Sept. 16, 1920, edition of The Jamestown Alert ran a front-page headline saying “Jamestown businesswomen to conduct political school.”

The meetings were held at the high school building and were actually sponsored by the “Business and Professional Women’s Club of Jamestown.

Officials scheduled three meetings over more than a month with a note that additional meetings could be scheduled if there was a need. The program started with a presentation on the Republican Party and its platform on Sept. 20, 1920, and was followed by the Democratic Party on Oct. 4, 1920, and state and local issues on Oct. 18, 1920.

“Men who are familiar with public questions and the political platforms will address the meetings,” wrote the Alert. In a time when women were just gaining access to the ballot box, it was up to the men to explain politics although I’m sure a lot of women had their own opinions.

The final meeting was just days before the general election and dealt with the mechanics of voting.

The Jamestown Alert reported the women did alright at the polls although the 1920 election in Jamestown involved four separate ballots. “It was noted that the women voted as intelligently and as rapidly as the average male voter,” the Alert wrote. “… this is a compliment to the women who voted a complicated set of ballots for the first time.”

Elections could be a bit rowdy a century ago. The presence of women voters seemed to be a calming influence with the Alert noting “the presence of women voting in a dignified and business-like way, no doubt had its effect on the conduct of the election.”

It appears a lot of women voted. Total voter turnout in Jamestown was 2,593 people which was up from 1,183 who voted in the June primary before women’s suffrage was passed.

“The increase in the vote was due principally to the women’s ballots,” the Alert noted.

The Alert also quoted state officials saying the rate of women voting in the cities like Jamestown was about double the rate in the rural precincts..

The women of Jamestown and around the country helped elect Republican Warren Harding although his landslide victory would likely have incurred even in an all-male election.

And while the ladies may not have made an impact on who was in the White House in 1920, their presence at the polling place was good for democracy, according to the editor of The Jamestown Alert.

“If there is a ‘new day’ in store for North Dakota and the country at large, … it will be due to the women,” the paper noted in a front page article.


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