52. Women's Suffrage in School Elections (1891)

Background: The 1818 Illinois Constitution gave voting rights only to "white, male inhabitants above the age of twenty-one." Voting rights for men were expanded in both the 1848 Constitution (where more offices were made elective) and 1870 (where African-American males were granted the right to vote). In the years following the Civil War, Illinois women's suffrage began to gain some movement thanks to activists including Kate Newell Doggett, Mary Livermore, Myra Colby Bradwell and Frances Willard. However, attempts to have the 1870 Illinois Constitution include women's suffrage failed.

The Document: State Senator Thomas MacMillan of Cook County sponsored Senate Bill 160, "An Act to Entitle Women to Vote at any Election Held for the Purpose of Choosing any Officer under the General or Special School Laws of this State." In essence, the bill granted women the right to vote in school elections. Senate Bill 160 passed the Senate by a 29-4 vote. It faced a harder time in the House, passing on the last day of session with an 83-42 vote. Governor Joseph Fifer signed the bill into law on June 19, 1891. This law was the first in Illinois that allowed women to vote in an election. Because this legislation limited which elections women could vote in, it meant that women had to use separate ballots than men when voting. The courts later ruled that the legislation included elections for trustee to the University of Illinois. In 1894, Chicagoan Lucy Flower became the first woman in Illinois to be elected to statewide office when she was elected to the university's board. In 1913, Illinois became the first state east of the Mississippi River to grant women the right to vote in presidential elections. In 1919, Illinois became the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote in all elections.

Note: In 1924, Governor Fifer's daughter, Florence Fifer Bohrer, became the first woman elected to the Illinois Senate. This public act is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of Secretary of State Record Series 103.030, "Enrolled Acts of the General Assembly."