Women First Vote in Indiana in 1920

If you check “first lists” for the state of Indiana, you will find Anna D. Monroe named as the first woman in the state of Indiana to vote. Other women claimed the same honor, but over time, her name has stayed at the top. Regardless of whether or not Monroe did technically vote first, her story is really the story of women’s rights in the state of Indiana and the challenge of expanding the voter pool right before a national election.

The 19th Amendment was an important milestone for women’s rights in the United States. We rightly focus on the women and men who fought for that right for years at the national level. But that fight really happened on the state level. In Indiana from 1890-1920, more than 10 bills were introduced to the statehouse that would have expanded women’s rights to vote. These were often rejected or simply stayed in committee until the session ran out. It wasn’t until January 16, 1920, that Indiana ratified the 19th Amendment, and by August the Federal Constitution gave women the right to vote in all elections.

Monroe lived in Indianapolis, and her husband was clerk of the Republican Board in the First Ward, Fifth Precinct; his job may explain why she was there bright and early to cast her ballot on November 2, 1920. Precincts around the state reported that women were waiting to vote when the polls opened at 6 a.m., outnumbering men who were willing to stand in the pre-dusk hours and terrible weather to vote. By the end of that first general election without gender discrimination for voters, as many as half a million women around the state cast ballots, bringing the total numbers of voters that day to over 1.2 million in Indiana.

Women were eager to vote. Voter registration drives before the 1920 fall election were impressive, but many of the women who registered did not list their age as was required by law, and this caused a huge problem when registrations were rejected. The Indiana League of Women Voters pushed back, bringing forth evidence that men were also lying about their age. The result was an Election Commission decision allowing voters to put down their year of birth, as we do today.

While women of Indiana could vote in 1920, they were not allowed to run for office yet; that would have to wait until 1923, two years after the first woman was appointed to serve in the General Assembly after the death of one House member. Over the decades the number of women actively voting, running for office, and being elected has varied, but in general the percentage has increased slowly or remained steady through most decades, with the exception of the 1950s, late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as in the early 21st century.

Not all women who vote will agree on candidates or policies, because gender does not equal acceptance of only one political philosophy. We should never assume that any group will to be able to vote in the future. It took over 70 years for women’s suffrage to be recognized in our nation. It’s possible for an amendment to be repealed, and indeed it has happened – the 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st only 13 years later – so to protect your, your mother’s, your sisters’, and your daughters’ right to vote, you must exercise yours, as did Anna D. Monroe and 93% of registered women voters in Indiana on November 2, 1920. Don’t disrespect our foremothers by simply not voting at all.