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Politics & Government

Delaware women celebrated for their efforts in the women's suffrage movement

womens_suffrage_unveiling.jpg
Roman Battaglia
/
Delaware Public Media

Another monument is unveiled at Legislative Hall in Dover — one recognizing the long and difficult fight for the right to vote by Delaware women.

 

While the fight for a woman’s right to vote in America started in the 1840’s, it would take more than seven decades of fighting until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, and women of color wouldn’t see that right in full until decades later.

 

Delaware is notable for its role in failing to ratify the 19th Amendment, the First State could have been the final state needed, but infighting in the state Republican party gave that honor to Tennessee.

 

Historian Anne Boylan says Delaware women also faced opposition from the state’s uniquely prominent anti-suffragist women.

 

“Other anti-suffragists were socially prominent and very well connected in the state legislature,” Boylan said. “They made a number of arguments against women’s suffrage including things like women don’t want the right to vote, don’t give it to us — which was easily answered by well, you don’t have to vote if you don’t want to but I want the right to vote.”

 

She says state lawmakers were already fighting over then Gov. John Townsend’s effort to modernize public school buildings, including crumbling Black schools.

 

That effort, while narrowly passing the General Assembly, cost Townsend needed political capital to push for ratification of the 19th Amendment.

 

The state finally ratified it quietly in 1923, after it had already become law nationwide.

 

Boylan was joined by female leaders in the First State to unveil a new monument outside Legislative Hall commemorating the women who continued the fight despite adversity.

 

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst says the state has made long strides in women’s rights since those days.

 

“This marker will serve as a great reminder to everyone of who we see and what we’ve endured and what we’ve become,” said Longhust.

 

Joining them was Gov. John Carney, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long and many other state lawmakers.

 

At the event two prominent suffragists in the state were honored with induction into the Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame.

 

Mary Seward Phillips Eskridge and Margaret White Houston were both women’s rights activists living in Sussex county during the period of the women’s suffrage movement.

 

Accepting their awards were their living descendants, who all said they’re happy these women’s efforts have been recognized.

 

Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.