Today in 1920, nearly 52 years after they first convened, members of the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage Association watched as the Connecticut General Assembly finally ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving all American women the right to vote.
For decades, Connecticut suffragists had picketed, petitioned, and frequently found themselves arrested as they struggled to expand American voting rights to female citizens. Even as they gained popular support, they consistently found their efforts stymied by entrenched state politicians who feared what the sudden influx of over 200,000 new women voters would do to their political power. Chief among these was the triumvirate of J Henry Rorabach, the state’s Republican political boss, U. S. Senator Frank “Senator No” Brandegee, and “War Governor” Marcus Holcomb.In the face of such high-placed resistance, the ratification by the Assembly represented a great victory for the CWSA after a long and hard-fought battle.
From a practical standpoint, however, the General Assembly’s vote of September 14, 1920 has usually been seen as little more than a symbolic and politically expedient move on the part of a now-defeated resistance movement. Three weeks before, Tennessee had become the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, ensuring its implementation at the federal level.
That rendered any subsequent state votes — like Connecticut’s — effectively moot. Or did it?
Recent research by Henry J. Cohn and Allison K. Lange found that Tennessee’s vote was not quite as clear-cut as it seemed. Early in September, Tennessee’s House of Representatives, which had passed the amendment by a single vote, had, upon a motion to reconsider, overwhelmingly rejected ratification. Tennesseans then went to court to argue that the ratification of the amendment was defective.
On hearing this, Gov. Holcomb, previously a staunch opponent, reversed his stance, and — perhaps in an effort to mitigate the fallout he expected from the state’s newly enfranchised women –called a special session of the General Assembly. It ratified the Amendment on the 14th of September, and again, because of a technicality, on the 21st.
Connecticut’s ratification of the 19th amendment, though it came after the final-state-necessary-ratification by Tennessee, rendered the court challenge to Tennessee’s ratification moot, and thus assured that American women who had just won the right to vote would keep that right.
The men-only Assembly’s vote for the 19th Amendment’s ratification was seen and celebrated as a triumph by Connecticut’s long-suffering suffragists, who went on to help elect five women to the Connecticut General Assembly later that same year. With their mission finally accomplished, the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage Association proudly voted to dissolve their organization the following year.
Jessica D. Jenkins, “The Long Road to Women’s Suffrage in Connecticut,” Connecticut Explored
“19th Amendment: The Fight Over Woman Suffrage in Connecticut,” connecticuthistory.org
“Connecticut Suffragists in 1919,” connecticuthistory.org
Henry J Cohn, “Shedding New Light on the Suffrage Centennial Celebration,” unpublished paper received by Walter W. Woodward, August, 2020.