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Wednesday, February 26, 2020


In researching the history of women voting in America, most references identify the beginning of the movement to fight for “woman suffrage,” as it was called by the suffragists, as the 1848 Women’s Rights convention in Seneca, New York. Consequently, I was surprised to learn that the first legally recorded woman’s vote occurred nearly twenty years before the Declaration of Independence.

So, what happened?

On October 30, 1756, Lydia Taft’s vote was recorded in the official records of the Uxbridge Town Meeting. This was an open meeting of the village of Uxbridge, Massachusetts, and the first record of an official vote by a woman in America.

While the colonies remained independent entities, each was free to handle decisions regarding enfranchisement on its own. This all changed in July, 1776, with the Declaration of Independence.

After the formal break from England, each colony wrote a new, formal constitution. Many of them attempted to reform their voting procedures, with moves to enfranchising all free, adult taxpaying males. Vermont even granted suffrage to all adult males. Some eliminated religious tests. And those who had originally given women the right to vote withdrew it one by one.

In 1777, women lost the right to vote in New York.

In 1784, women lost the right to vote in New Hampshire.

In 1787, the U.S. Constitutional Convention places voting qualifications in the hands of the states. After that, women lost the right to vote in all states except New Jersey.

New Jersey’s new 1776 state constitution granted the right to vote to "all inhabitants” of legal age (21 years) who had lived in their county for at least one year and owned at least 50 English pounds worth of property. This enfranchisement of women was apparently accidental, although the state’s constitutional convention was held in secret so no one outside the participants knew for sure. New Jersey voters (presumably only men) ratified their constitution.

It is not clear how many, if any, women voted under this constitution, but a state election law passed in 1790 referred to voters in terms of “he or she.” There was little, if any, controversy over ‘woman suffrage’ in New Jersey until 1797. Then a political contest intervened and for the first time in the United States, a large number of women voted in an election.

In a bitter battle over a seat in the state legislature, William Crane from Elizabeth, New Jersey, ran against John Condict from Newark. Condict was a Jeffersonian Republican. Crane was a Federalist. Even though the Federalists turned out a large number of women to vote for Crane, Condict won by a narrow margin.

This ignited a fiery controversy over women’s suffrage and whether or not the New Jersey Constitution really intended for women to vote. One newspaper sarcastically referred to “government in petticoats.” Some contended that slaves, children and foreigners weren’t included, so women shouldn’t be either. Others argued that single women and widows who owned the required amount of property should be enfranchised. Since all property in a marriage was considered to be owned by the husband, married women were automatically excluded.

According to the Constitutional Rights Foundation:
In 1806, Newark and Elizabeth again faced off at the polls, this time over the site of a new county courthouse. During three days of voting, partisans from both towns used every legal and illegal device to gather the most votes. Men and boys, white and black, citizens and aliens, residents and non-residents, voted (often many times). Women and girls, married and single, with and without property, joined the election frenzy. Finally, males dressed up as females and voted one more time.
Newark, with 1,600 qualified voters, counted over 5,000 votes; Elizabeth, with 1,000 legal voters, counted more than 2,200 votes. Although Newark claimed victory, the voting was so blatantly fraudulent that the state legislature canceled the election.

In 1807, women lost the right to vote in New Jersey. At that point in history, women could no longer vote in any of the United States.

This series will be continued in my March blog.

If you missed the first blog of this series, find it here:
Voting in Colonial America:

Ann Markim

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  1. I’m enjoying your eye-opening series of articles on women voting in America. Like your first article in the series, it patently illustrates how we, as women, have been marginalized throughout our history!

    1. Thanks for your comment. The research for this has been eye-opening for me, too.

  2. The say that every bit of progress is part of a swinging pendulum, as some claw back things to the status quo where they can, until others keep pushing it forward. This post is such a good example of the action/reaction/counter-reaction which all leads forward in the end.

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful observation. You remind me to keep pushing and not give up hope.

  4. Thanks, Ann. Your article shows how important it is to use one's vote. I'm saddened by those who can't be bothered to vote.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I agree that it's sad that so many people don't realize the importance of their vote.

  5. I remember talking with a friend about taking our rights for granted, for they can be stripped away. History proves that point in my mind.

    Great post and I love your research and presentation of the information. Look forward to the next installment. Doris

    1. Thanks for your comment. You are so right about the fragile nature of our rights.

  6. Ann, that time period was so crucial for women and I thank our for-sisters for being so courageous and determined to withstand the many obstacles that stood in their way. Living in NYS Finger Lakes, as I've told you before, I live a short distance from Seneca Falls and Rochester where there are museums galore, honoring the very women you mentioned. Their houses remain in the area also. Thanks for reminding us if they could stand strong, so can we in this time.

  7. Thanks for you comment. Traveling to your part of the country is now on my bucket list. There are so many amazing women in history that were never mentioned in history classes.