Woman suffrage is one of my favorite topics, and I was therefore quite excited this morning when I stumbled upon this letter. It is even more relevant considering we have just celebrated the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment.
The women of Wyoming voted in their first general election in September 1870. Herman Glafcke, who served as Secretary of Wyoming Territory between 1870 and 1873, shared his recollections of the event in a letter to Isabella Beecher (Mrs. John) Hooker, a well known suffragist in Hartford, Connecticut. Dated May 6, 1871, Glafcke begins by stating his opposition to suffrage before he moved to Wyoming. “You are aware that, when I left your state for Wyoming Territory about a year since, I looked upon woman suffrage as an impracticable idea; a movement, if carried into effect, likely to undermine the fundamental principles governing our social system.” The September election, however, served as a catalyst for an incredible change of opinion.
Glafcke watched as a seventy-eight year old woman was the first to cast a ballot. The men, he wrote, “took off their hats and remained uncovered, while she performed the sovereign duty of an American citizen.” After this, numerous women followed. According to Glafcke, everyone at the polling place was on their best behavior.
The records from Glafcke’s office indicated that approximately two-thirds of eligible women voted (he noted that the numbers did not include Indians). In addition to voting, women earned the right to serve on juries. Wyoming Supreme Court judges, according to Glafcke, “concur in the opinion that, since women have served on our juries, crime has decreased wonderfully; criminals have been brought to justice; and a due regard for the law has been instilled into those who had formerly committed crimes without fear of being punished.” Certainly the fundamentals of the social system were not being harmed.
At the end of the letter, Glafcke boldly comments, “Our community is satisfied with the result and could not be induced to return to the old, barbarous system of disfranchisement of a portion of our citizens any more than our nation could be persuaded to return to allegiance to Great Briatin.” It would be difficult to find a more rousing endorsement. Glafcke had clearly been convinced that the benefits of giving women the vote far outweighed the risks.
A record for this letter will be added to our online catalog at the end of August. Please search the catalog to learn more about our collections, including other Isabella Beecher Hooker items, suffrage material, and anti suffrage material.
This letter is open for research. Please see our website for more information about visiting and researching at CHS. Don’t forget, we also have a special hallway exhibit currently on view regarding suffrage.
I would love to talk to you about this and other IBH-related documents.