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Historic Preservation

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Dept Head: Karen McWilliams

From Parlors to Polling Places: Women's Suffrage in Fort Collins

“They are not afraid to ask for what they want, and they are going to keep right on asking until they do get what they are sure they ought to have.” Mrs. W.H. Wrigley, Fort Collins Courier, May 18, 1893

From left to right: 100 block of north College Avenue, c.1929, showing the Fort Collins Opera House and Ault's Hall (H01952, Fort Collins Museum of Discovery); Routt Hall/Domestic Arts Building (Fort Collins Historic Preservation Services); Elizabeth Stone Residence on Jefferson Street (H14756, Fort Collins Museum of Discovery). 

Getting the Vote: Women's Suffrage in America

Getting the Vote: Women's Suffrage in America

College Chapel at Old Main at Colorado Agricultural College (now Colorado State University). Several suffrage speeches were given here, including lectures by Dr. Theodosia Ammons. (H00136, Courtesy of the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery).

 

The women's suffrage movement in the United States began in the Revolutionary era as women such as Abigail Adams advocated for women's right to vote in the new republic. In the 1800s, sustained efforts led by prominent activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony brought national attention to the cause. Key events such as the Seneca Falls convention in New York in 1848 galvanized the opinion of many American men and women to support women's suffrage. However, the work of these important activists through the first sixty years of the nineteenth century were still unsuccessful. For most of that century, Victorian-era principles dominated American culture, and dictated that politics and voting were the domains of men.

Want to learn more about the national suffrage movement? Check out the National Park Service website on women's suffrage by clicking below. 

Explore National Suffrage

Gaining Women's Suffrage: Fort Collins 1880-1920

However, as the United States began settling its western territory in the late 1800s, many of those who settled began breaking down Victorian-era gender roles, often out of necessity. Farms, ranches, and small-town businesses required the labor of both men and women to succeed, which made denying women the vote less practical and defensible. As early as the 1860s, women’s suffrage in western states and territories gained significant ground. In 1869, the territory of Wyoming became the first to grant women the vote, followed soon thereafter by Utah territory. In 1893, Colorado became the first state to do so via a state-wide referendum. This expansion of suffrage in Colorado was mainly limited to white and black women, with Chinese immigrants denied citizenship after the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, and voting rights for Native Americans remaining unprotected until 1924. Despite the movements short-comings, these first steps for women’s suffrage paved the way for future advances and opportunities for women in civic life.

Fort Collins played an important role in helping promote women’s suffrage in 1893. Community leaders such as Elizabeth Stone, Sarah Corbin, Eliza Tanner, and Lucy McIntyre formed local organizations, held debates and meetings in their homes, and pressured local and state government for reform. Elizabeth Stone, credited as one of the founders of Fort Collins, Eliza Tanner, and others formed a local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), one of the key organizations that pressured the state for suffrage in 1893, and the nation for the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919. The organization met and held events at several places around the region, including schools, churches, and both Ault’s Hall and the Opera House on College Avenue. Lucy McIntyre formed the Chautauqua Circle, a local organization that discussed important political and social issues, particularly women’s suffrage. Sarah Corbin hosted pro-suffrage meetings at her home at 402 Remington Street as well as a four-week course to educate women about effective voting after the 1893 state-wide suffrage victory. These women worked alongside dozens of Fort Collins women and men who hosted meetings, gave speeches, and put pressure on local and state officials to open the vote to women.

City Hall, c.1882. Alice Edwards was elected as an alderwoman to the Fort Collins Town Council in 1894 and is believed to be the first woman elected to municipal office in Colorado. She served in the upper story of the building where the town's offices were located (H00188, Courtesy of the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery).

 

After women won the vote in Colorado, several stepped into new leadership roles, either in the community, or to advocate for national suffrage in Washington. Alice Edwards, a downtown resident and member of the WCTU, won election as a town alderwoman in 1894 and appears to have been the first woman in Colorado to hold a local elected office. Women like Mrs. Edwards who stepped into leadership roles were instrumental in Fort Collins passing prohibition within town limits in 1896. Theodosia Ammons developed a domestic arts program for women at Colorado Agricultural College (CAC, now Colorado State University) and was a state and national spokeswoman for suffrage until her death in 1907. The movement included men as well, including Harlan Thomas, a local draughtsman, architect, and former student at CAC who gave several speeches throughout the region in favor of suffrage in the months leading up to the 1893 election. Dr. Barton Aylesworth, president of CAC from 1899 to 1909, became a professional speaker for the WCTU and advocated for national suffrage in 1909 and 1910. His work was part of a larger national effort that culminated in the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in August of 1920.

These Fort Collins residents took actions, both large and small, to make women’s suffrage a reality in Colorado in 1893 and across the nation with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. A century later, we look back on their efforts and achievements to celebrate the influence they had on our lives today. Check out the links and information below to learn more.