Ninety-nine years ago today, a stalemate between two states nearly derailed the women’s suffrage movement. With just one state shy of the required 36 to ratify the 19th amendment, North Carolina and Tennessee were battling not to be the one to allow women the right to vote.
North Carolina lawmakers sat on their hands. But on Aug. 18, 1920, Tennessee voted “yes,” giving 10 million women in the U.S. the historic right to vote. The 19th amendment also emboldened women to run for office, although those elected posts were largely the domain of white women. Not until the 1960s and 1970s did women of color begin to make forays into elected life — and they are still underrepresented in all forms of government.
In collaboration with the Pauli Murray Project and the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites, Policy Watch is chronicling the courage and tenacity of women who fought for equal rights, including the right to vote. In an occasional series leading up to the centennial anniversary of the 19th amendment, we’ll feature women’s stories, landmark and information about both this historic event and its reverberations 100 years later.
We’re launching the series with a map of significant places associated with women who were pioneers in the suffrage and democracy movement in North Carolina. Click on a marker on the map to bring up more information about that site. If you have locations that should be added to the map, send the address, name of the notable woman and any biographical information to firstname.lastname@example.org. — Lisa Sorg
This story was researched by Sophia Hutchens, an intern with the Pauli Murray Project, and Rakhia Bass, an NC Policy Watch intern. Citations are embedded as links and listed below each entry.
- Minna Curtis “Barbara” Bynum Henderson, 1880-1955
Calvary Episcopal Church, Fletcher
This is the burial site of Minna Curtis “Barbara” Bynum Henderson, a leader of the women’s suffrage movement in North Carolina. She coordinated the Equal Suffrage League of North Carolina and was elected as president in 1913 and 1915. Her poems about suffrage helped motivate the women of North Carolina to participate in the women’s movement, particularly her poem “The March of Women” in 1915. She spoke before the General Assembly in February 1915 during their special session in which they considered women’s suffrage. She argued that suffrage is necessary so women may “protect” themselves through the ballot.
Citation: Sex, Gender, and the Politics of ERA: A State and the Nation, Donald G. Mathews and Jane Sherron De Hart
- Dr. Anna Julia Haywood Cooper, 1858-1964
City Cemetery, Raleigh
This is the gravesite of Dr. Anna Julia Cooper Haywood. Dr. Cooper Haywood was born a slave in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1858. After the Civil War, she eventually earned a doctoral degree and became an advocate in Washington DC for gender equality, civil rights, desegregation, and education access. Her book, A Voice from the South (1892), describes the oppression of African American women and lays the foundations for Black feminism. Dr. Cooper Haywood advocated for women’s suffrage and said that their representation in government would establish, “…the supremacy of moral forces of reason and justice and love in the government of the nation.” She was an educator, activist, and public speaker at a time when the women’s movement largely excluded people of color and the civil rights movement excluded women.
Documenting the American South, NCpedia, State Government & Heritage Library
- N.C. Federation of Women’s Clubs, Main and Cemetery streets, Winston-Salem
“Volunteer service group promoted suffrage, education, and other social, cultural causes. Founded 1902 one-half mi. SE.” The North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs met for the first time on May 26, 1902, at the campus of Salem Academy. The members originally prioritized education, library extension, state charities, library development, and they later brought their attention to suffrage, public health, conservation, and the workplace. The N.C. Federation of Women’s Clubs is one of the largest non-denominational and nonpartisan women’s organizations in the state and it promotes social welfare and the advancement of the area.
Anastasia Sims, “Sallie Southall Cotten and the North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs” (M.A. thesis, UNC-CH, 1976)
- Battery Park Hotel, 1 Battle Square, at the corner of O Henry St., Asheville
The Battery Park Hotel held the Second Annual Convention of the Equal Suffrage Association of North Carolina on October, 29th, 1915 in the lobby. At the meeting, President Barbara Bynum Henderson and the other members discussed the rising interest in women’s suffrage throughout the state. President Henderson described the citizens of North Carolina as “friendly” and “sympathetic to the Suffrage movement but cautious about committing themselves too hurriedly.” The members discussed political strategies and their plans for garnering public interest.
- Aquohee District Courthouse, Murphy
The Aquohee District Courthouse was the main location for judicial decisions made by the Cherokee communities in southwestern NC. Representatives from the Aquohee District attended a meeting in New Echota, Georgia with other Cherokee Nation districts in July, 1827 and wrote a new Constitution. This constitution excluded women from holding office within the Cherokee Nation, despite their history of relative gender equality. It stated, ““No person shall be eligible to a seat in the General Council, but a free Cherokee male citizen…” This constitutional change demonstrates influence from the U.S. government and its attitude on women’s suffrage.
- Chief Justice Walter Clark, 1846–1924
Clark was a white supremacist and advocate for women’s suffrage. While he said that suffrage would “lift humanity to a higher level and better conditions,” he also believed that suffrage would bolster the oppression of people of color and strengthen inequality. To him and many people in North Carolina, these were not mutually exclusive ideas. Clark is an example of white men in the United States who defended women’s suffrage because they believed, “Equal Suffrage will strengthen and not jeopardize White Supremacy,” instead of having a belief in true equality. While Judge Clark defended the political rights of women, his reasoning was based on the belief that white women would outweigh the political influence of people of color. It is important to know about figures like Judge Clark so we may have a transparent vision of our state and country and their relationship with equality. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh.
Ballots for Both. An Address by Chief Justice Walter Clark at Greenville, N. C., 8 December,1916
- Lillian Exum Clement Stafford, 1894–1925
Historical marker at College and Charlotte streets, Asheville
Stafford was an attorney and the first female legislator of North Carolina. Clement was asked by the Buncombe Democratic Party to run for the House of Representatives in 1920, despite the 19th amendment not having been ratified at that point. During the Democratic primary, Clement had two male opposing candidates. She won the primary and won the general election in a landslide. During her brief time in office, she introduced 17 bills, many of which were successful.
North Carolina History Project, John Locke Foundation, State Government & Heritage Library
- Weil House, 200 W. Chestnut St., Goldsboro
This house, which is included in the the National Register of Historic Places, was the home of Gertrude Weil. Gertrude Weil (1879-1971) was the President of the NC Equal Suffrage League, founder of the NC League of Women Voters, and the founder and president of the Goldsboro Equal Suffrage Association. Weil was integral to the growth of the suffrage movement in North Carolina before the 19th amendment passed. She prioritized the education of women about the US political system and organized countless events to reach out to North Carolinians.
Gertrude Weil Papers (1856-1861, 1873-1970) at the North Carolina State Archives, National American Woman Suffrage Association, N.C. Equal Suffrage Association, Goldsboro Suffrage League, 1 folder, 1488.56
- O. Henry Hotel, southwest corner of Bellemeade and North Elm streets, Greensboro
The original O. Henry Hotel was built in downtown Greensboro in 1919 and demolished in 1979. In 1920, it housed the fifth annual meeting of the North Carolina Equal Suffrage Association in its ballroom. An article in The Woman Citizen refers to the meeting as the “largest suffrage dinner ever given in the state.” During these meetings, Gertrude Weil was reelected president, Mrs. Raymond Brown discussed democracy, and Marjorie Shuler talked about the League of Women Voters. According to The Woman Citizen, nearly $1,700 ($21,420 in current dollars) was pledged to the NC Equal Suffrage Association during this major meeting before the 19th amendment passed.
The Woman Citizen, Volume 4 by Alice Stone Blackwell, Gertrude Weil, Papers (1856-1861, 1873-1970); N.C. Equal Suffrage Association
- Yarborough House, 300 Fayetteville St., Raleigh
The Yarborough Hotel/House hosted prime social and political events in Raleigh during the mid-to-late 19th century and early 20th century. It was close to the courthouse and had a convenient location downtown. On Feb. 2, 1915, all the state’s major suffragist groups and many North Carolinians attended a meeting at the Yarborough House. In the newspaper on Jan. 30, 1915, an announcement for the meeting read “every suffragist in North Carolina is urged to be present if possible.” The purpose of the meeting was to have a special hearing for the Suffrage Bill before the General Assembly decided on it. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw gave the address at the meeting.
Gertrude Weil Papers (1856-1861, 1873-1970); Goldsboro Suffrage League, William Blount Rodman Papers; Equal Suffrage League of NC, January–April 1915, The State, “The Old Yarborough Hotel,” Nov. 5, 1949.
- Pauli Murray Family Home, 906 Carroll St., Durham
This is the family home of Pauli Murray, a civil rights and gender equality activist, lawyer, educator, poet, and the first Black woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest. She co-founded the National Organization for Women and wrote pivotal legal arguments that were used to protect human rights, such as retaining “sex” in Title VII. Pauli Murray wrote an article in 1971 that explained the specific connections Black women have to the Equal Rights Amendment and how it would benefit them in particular.
Pauli Murray. “The Negro Woman’s Stake in the Equal Rights Amendment,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review vol. 6, no. 2 (March 1971): p. 253-259.
- Judge Susie Marshall Sharp, 1907–1996
In 1949, Susie Sharp was the first woman to be appointed to the North Carolina Superior Court. Years later, Sharp became the first American woman to be elected chief justice of a Supreme Court. Judge Sharp actively pushed against the Equal Rights Amendment and has been credited for the dismissal of the ERA in North Carolina. She argued, similarly to other public figures of the time, that the Fourteenth Amendment was sufficient protection. Sharp believed that the implementation of the ERA would eradicate “special protections” for women. She is buried in Greenview Cemetery in Reidsville.
Anna Hayes. Without Precedent: The Life of Susie Marshall Sharp. University of North Carolina Press, 2008
- HKonJ, Jones Street, Raleigh
On Feb. 13, 2016, tens of thousands of people marched in the annual “Historic Thousands on Jones Street” (HKonJ) People’s Assembly Coalition to protest voter restrictions in North Carolina. The state had eliminated same-day registration and out-of-district voting, while also requiring that voters had official identification in order to vote. These new changes targeted people of color, women, gender non-conforming folks, and other marginalized groups, which incited the direction of the HKonJ’s peaceful march in 2016.
- Alfred Johnson Webb 1923–1992
Although she never had an opportunity to serve, Webb became the first African-American woman in the North Carolina General Assembly in 1972 after her appointment by Gov. Robert W. Scott. She served as Chairman of Minority Affairs for the North Carolina State Democratic Executive Committee, delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1976, and president of Democratic Women of North Carolina. She Spoke at Bennett College in Greensboro at the Black Hall Assembly for a forum on freedom.
Born in Alabama, Webb was the first woman to graduate from the Tuskegee Institute School of Veterinary Medicine. Webb taught biology and mathematics at North Carolina A&T College, and then went on to teach anatomy and coordinate the laboratory animal science program at North Carolina State University.
- Annie Brown Kennedy
Kennedy was only the second African American woman licensed to practice law in the state (1954) and the first ever to serve in the General Assembly. (Alfreda Johnson Webb was appointed but never served.) In 1979, Kennedy was selected by the Executive Committee of the Democratic Party of Forsyth County to fill a vacated term in the House, and subsequently appointed to that position by Gov. Jim Hunt. Kennedy unsuccessfully sought election to the seat in the 1980 General election. In 1982, however, she won the first of six consecutive terms in the House, where her focus was the status and welfare of families, women, and African Americans, among other issues. Kennedy chose not to seek reelection in 1994 and returned to the practice of law in a family-run practice with her husband and two sons. At 93, she still lives in Winston-Salem.
Southern Oral History Program, UNC Center for the Study of the American South
- Former US Rep. Eva M. Clayton
Clayton, a civil rights activist and community developer, is from Littleton. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 1992, becoming the first black woman to represent North Carolina in Congress. She was re-elected and served several terms before retiring in 2002. Clayton wrote an article in 2017 to address the unfair redistricting attempts in North Carolina. She states that fair geographic boundaries are critical to elections and demonstrate whether constituents’ votes are valued.
Oral History Interview with Eva Clayton, July 18, 1989. Interview C-0084. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
- League of Women Voters of Wake County, 3509 Haworth Drive, Raleigh
The League of Women Voters of Wake County was established in 1922. Since the 1960s, the league has partnered with other organizations and advocated for increased voter registration and the protection of voter rights. This has been seen through their consistent opposition to the requirement for official identification in order to vote and their push for early voting expansion.
- Ruth Dial Woods
A Lumbee Indian, Woods was a civil rights activist and a part of the gender equality movement. She fought against Native American discrimination during her appointment on the North Carolina Board of Governors. She worked for years to push an election process for the North Carolina State Commission of Indian Affairs. This process allowed Native American communities to vote for the commission’s members, rather than have them be appointments made by the commission itself.
- North Carolina NAACP, 323 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham
The North Carolina NAACP filed a lawsuit in October 2016 after three counties in the state purged numerous voters on the basis of unreturned mail. This removal of registered voters largely impacted black residents. In 2018, a federal court ruled in favor of the NAACP and found the removal of voters in violation of the National Voter Registration Act.