Historic Amherst

Woman Suffrage in Amherst – 1920

BY KATRINA HOLMAN

 

      This year marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage via the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Congress finally approved the 19th Amendment in June 1919, but at least 36 states had to vote in favor of it for it to become law. New Hampshire voted to ratify the 19th Amendment on 10 Sep. 1919. By August 1920, the requisite 36 states had ratified the amendment and it became part of the Constitution. The Secretary of State of N.H. estimated about 148,000 women in the state who would be eligible to vote that first year.

Amherst Women Vote in 1920

      A significant number of Amherst women immediately took advantage of their new legal right in 1920. “At the primary elections [in Amherst, N.H.] 123 votes were cast, 72 by men and 51 by the women, of whom 80 had registered. Democratic ballots were few.”  (Milford Cabinet, N.H., 9 Sep. 1920, p. 4.)

      Shortly thereafter, as of 16 Oct. 1920, according to the Supervisors of the Checklist, there were 366 registered voters in Amherst, of whom 129 were women; but the Supervisors met again on 30 Oct. to “revise and correct” said list, which may explain why there were more voters when the presidential and state elections rolled around. In Amherst, in Nov. 1920:  “There were 295 votes cast, of which 199 were by women.” (Milford Cabinet, 4 Nov. 1920, p. 4.) (That is what the newspaper printed; due to the present pandemic, I have not attempted to independently verify those figures.)

Amherst_Suffrage2020_scarecrow_IMG2240_K

Among the scarecrows decorating Amherst in October 2020 was this figure celebrating “Votes for Women.”

      In January 1920 (census), the population of Amherst was about 870, of which approximately 270 were female citizens aged 21 and older – but by election time the numbers were a bit higher because it was common for resident elderly widows and spinsters to spend winters out of town with relatives and return in the Spring. Included in the census population were also about 20 adult women residents of Amherst who were “aliens” (non-naturalized immigrants). (Female immigrants who were under 21 automatically became citizens when their fathers did; female immigrants who were married, regardless of their age, became citizens when their husbands did or when they married a male citizen.)

      Once they gained suffrage, women in N.H. had to meet the same requirements and follow the same procedures as men before they could vote. They were required to appear before the Supervisors of the Check List for their town and “declare themselves citizens, [be] 21 year of age or more, and read a section of the Constitution in English” [to prove they were literate]. “The requirements as to residence are that one shall have lived for at least six months preceeding the election in the town.” (Milford Cabinet, 26 Aug. 1920, p. 4.)

Who Were Amherst’s First Women Voters

      Among the 129 Amherst women who had registered to vote by mid-October 1920:  

      There were 41 farmer’s wives, 3 wives of farm workers, and 2 women who managed a farm – for a total of 46, not surprising in an agrarian community. These farm women ranged in age from 22 to 69. Among them was Josephine W. Hare (39), the only “colored” woman in town (in the 1920 census the race of all the family members was called “mulatto,” meaning mixed black and white). The Hares at that time had seven children and lived since 1913 on a farm on Route 101 near the Bedford town line, and from 1921 to about 1925 ran a tea room aka wayside refreshment stand selling drinks and fruits and produce nearby on the highway.      There were 14 career women or women who had occupations outside the home:  Viola Blair (26), stenographer for counter factory; Edna G. Burtt (21), public school teacher at No. 3 Cricket Corner; Helen Converse (33), piano teacher; Helen J. Currier (37), dressmaker; Marion Dodge (27),

NOVEMBER 2020