By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist
Featured photo: Abigail (Woods) Hoge with her grandchildren. Abigail was one of the women in line early on that first Election Day on November 2, 1920. A young teen when the Seneca Falls convention took place in 1848, Abigail survived the entire struggle for suffrage and was ready at the polls every election well into her 90s. (Item no. BAKM_AN003_0003, Margaret Leah (Waddell) Baker Collection, Greene Connections Archives Project (www.GreeneConnections.com)).
On June 24, 1919, Pennsylvania became the 7th state to ratify the 19th Amendment that would ultimately give women the right to vote. (See more about how Greene County voted.) It was on August 26, 1920, after the required 36th state ratified it, that the amendment was certified and made a part of the United States Constitution. This was just in time for women to register to vote in the Presidential Election of 1920.
The Waynesburg Republican newspaper was a champion of Women’s Suffrage and celebrated the victory of the amendment. Immediately after the amendment’s adoption, the newspaper began publishing front page, highly visible columns encouraging Greene County women to register and participate in the fall election.
Local women took up the opportunity eagerly. They literally had just days to register if they wanted to vote in November. Between the amendment’s adoption on August 26th and the registration deadline on September 1st, 7,074 women in Greene County registered to vote, compared to 8,082 men who were already on the rolls.
On Tuesday, November 2, 1920, Greene County women joined their sisters across the country at the polls. The Waynesburg Republican had much to celebrate in their weekly issue on November 4th. They heralded the victory of the Republican candidate Warren Harding as President and wins of their party throughout the state, but above the President-elect’s expressions of gratitude, was an article praising the first female voters of the hometown precincts. The language of the day is worth reading exactly as it was written for the sake of both its history and its era and so it is below in its entirety. It both celebrates women and shows how far we had yet to come. Most of the ladies highlighted are identified as being the “Mrs.” attached to their husbands’ names rather than their own. A tone of surprise at the lack of nervousness upon entering the voting booth for the first time echoes the misperceptions of the day.
Women’s Suffrage was a bi-partisan and cross-party issue. Republicans and Democrats struggled within their parties with members both for and against. Both parties were anxious to receive credit for the Amendment’s passage. This is a history we can celebrate together.
The downfall and embarrassment of the suffrage movement is the way it positively impacted white women over their sisters of all colors. Throughout the suffrage movement there was constantly a struggle with race equality. Bewildering examples of beloved leaders in the women’s movement not standing up for the equality of all, or worse being willing to sacrifice the rights of others to their own advantage, diminishes the celebration of the 19th Amendment’s successes. This is history that we must confront and we must do better. We do not know the exact statistics related to this aspect of voter registration yet for Greene County, nor what the atmosphere regarding voter registration and participation was like here. We hope to learn more as we delve into the identities of each woman on the voter rolls and this topic in our community’s history. We do know from the Waynesburg Republican feature that a former slave Mary Elizabeth “Aunt Betsy” (McDonald) Workman cast her ballot on November 2, 1920, at the North Ward No. 2 precinct in Waynesburg. She was born in Virginia in 1841 and ultimately married Cornelius Gillespie “Neil” Workman of Greene County, Pennsylvania.
Visit our Archives section of Greene Connections throughout the next year as we add to this research. Using the Tags tab in the Archives, you can look at related subject search terms as well as the names of those involved in the fight for suffrage and among the first 7,074 women who registered to participate in the first electoral opportunity.
“New Voters Show Interest in Election” article, Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 4 November 1920, page 1. Transcribed by Candice Buchanan.
“New Voters Show Interest in Election
Notwithstanding Jupiter Pluvius acted as unchivalrously as it was possible for him to do, the new voters of Waynesburg and Greene County braved the bad weather and voted. They turned out in goodly numbers in every ward and precinct and were at the polls early. They were much interested and while it was a new experience they knew how they wanted to vote and marked their ballots and placed them in the ballot boxes as quickly as the men, showing little or no nervousness over their new privilege. At some of the polling places voters were waiting when the officials arrived. In the North Ward No. 2, Waynesburg, several women voters were waiting, among others being Dr. Jane Teagarden, who is believed to be the first woman to cast the ballot in Waynesburg. Miss Minerva Minor and “Aunt Betsy” Workman, who was once a slave in Virginia, were voters in this precinct who have passed the eightieth mile stone.
The following women were appointed watchers at the polls: Misses Anna Mary Cooke, Jane Sayers, Nella Hoskinson, Mrs. William Bennet, Mrs. John Clark, Mrs. L. M. Hoge, Mrs. A. A. Purman, Mrs. J. B. F. Rinehart, Mrs. Ella Miller, Mrs. A. E. McKee, Mrs. John Huffman and Miss Blanche Hickman.”