Women’s Suffrage Movement in Colorado

Colorado was not easily won over to the cause of woman suffrage. The struggle which began in the first decade of its history was marked by many, and to begin with, almost constant defeats. There was first of all a heterogeneous population the worst element of which, fortunately, soon disappeared, leaving the solid pioneers to carve out the destiny of the country.

In the southern part of the state there was a large Mexican population, which could not understand the problems that agitated the better educated classes of the territory. There was, moreover, a strong opposing saloon element, which finally had to be caught napping.

In the Territorial Legislature, 1868, the first effort was made by former Governor John Evans and D. M. Richards, of Denver, to bring the matter of equal suffrage in Colorado to a test vote. It found few friends at this early stage.

On January 3, 1870, Gen. Edward McCook, then governor of the territory, in his annual message to the Legislature used the following language, recommending the granting of the franchise to women: “Before dismissing the subject of franchise, I desire to call your attention to one question connected with it, which you may deem of sufficient importance to demand some consideration at your hands before the close of the session. Our higher civilization has recognized woman’s equality with man in all other respects save one, suffrage. It has been said that no great reform was ever made without passing through three stages, ridicule, argument and adoption. It rests with you to say whether Colorado will accept this reform in its first stage, as our sister territory of Wyoming has done, or in the last; whether she will be a leader in the movement or a follower; for the logic of a progressive civilization leads to the inevitable result of a universal suffrage.”

When the subject was brought before the House and council it found its champions far more numerous than when the first effort was made, and it became evident immediately that Colorado had jumped from the stage of “ridicule” to that of reasonable argument. Advocates of the measure then introduced but not passed by the Legislature were Judge Amos Steck, Judge M. De France, D. M. Richards and Willard Teller. Both Judges Steck and De France in presenting committee reports to the House and council made elaborate arguments favoring the proposition. Woman suffrage was lost in the council chamber by a majority of one, and in the House by practically a two-thirds vote against it. But it must be remembered that any measure publicly approved by Governor McCook at this time was bound to meet with opposition in the House, which showed its un-friendliness to him in various ways; the anti-McCook faction being always strong enough to defeat any pet measure advocated by the governor.

Nothing further was accomplished for woman suffrage until 1876, statehood year, and on January loth, anticipating admission to statehood, a Territorial Woman’s Suffrage Society was organized and an enthusiastic meeting held in Unity Church, Denver. Its first officers were as follows:

President, Alida C. Avery, M. D., Denver
Vice Presidents
Reverend Mr. Hosford of Denver
J. E. Washburn of Big Thompson
Mrs. H. M. Lee of Longmont
Mrs. M. M. Sheetz of Cañon City
Mrs. L. S. Ruhn of Del Norte
Mrs. N. C. Meeker of Greeley
Willard Teller of Central
D. M. Richards of Denver
J. B. Harrington of Littleton
A. E. Lee of Boulder
Rev. William Shepard of Canon City

Recording secretary, Mrs. Eunice D. Sewall of Denver
Corresponding secretary, Mrs. A. L. Washburn of Big Thompson
Treasurer, Mrs. lone T. Hanna of Denver
Executive committee
Mrs. W. P. Shields of Colorado Springs
A. L. Ellis of Boulder
M. E. Hale of Denver
Mrs. W. A. Wilkes of Colorado Springs
J. K. Hanna of Denver
Mrs. S. C. Wilber of Greeley
Reverend Doctor Crary of Pueblo

History of Colorado

Source: History of Colorado, Wilbur Fisk Stone, Editor, Volume I, Chicago, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1918

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