The Path To Leadership

~ The Next Chapter ~

Montgomery County Women Leading the Way

Welcome to Part Two of our two-part online exhibition on the paths Montgomery County women forged to become influencers and leaders in county politics. Part One explored women’s suffrage in the county and its relationship to the growing network of women’s clubs. Part Two chronicles the immediate post-suffrage years to the present and explores the role of women as civic and political leaders shaping modern-day Montgomery County.

Raising the suffrage banner following ratification of the 19th Amendment, Washington, DC. , ca. 1920. Photograph. Retrieved from Library of Congress (

On August 18, 1920, suffragists around the country celebrated when Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, which had been passed more than a year earlier on June 4, 1919:

"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."

Several days later, on August 26, 1920, U.S. Secretary of State, Bainbridge Colby signed a proclamation, certifying the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A woman's right to vote was officially declared!

Of course, not everyone was happy. In Tennessee, accusations of corruption and bribery surrounding the suffrage ratification vote emerged. In other parts of the country, anti-suffragists (or "Antis," as they were known) vowed to have the Nineteenth Amendment repealed. And, in political circles, many feared that newly empowered women voters would retaliate against all who had not embraced women's suffrage.

Headline of Washington Evening Star,: "Suffrage proclaimed by Bainbridge Colby Sec'y of State...50-year struggle ends in victory for women". , 1920. Photograph. Retrieved from Library of Congress (

While images of the day depicted new rights and opportunities for women, as many historians have pointed out, passage and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment did not have as dramatic an effect on the role of women in politics as we may think. Women were not suddenly catapulted into the halls of Congress or even accepted as rightful voters. Another battle was just beginning.

Bushnell, Elmer Andrews, Artist. The sky is now her limit / Bushnell 20. , 1920. [Aug] Photograph. Retrieved from Library of Congress (
The Evening Herald. [volume] (Albuquerque, N.M.), August 18, 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.

“After the promulgation of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 26, 1920, American women could no longer be denied the right to vote on account of sex. But they could still be denied the right to vote on other grounds, and they could still be denied other rights based on sex.”

~ Rebecca Boggs Roberts, Suffragists in Washington, D.C. [1]
Evening Star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.), September 15, 1923. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.

With the Nineteenth Amendment now law of the land, not all states welcomed or supported women voters. To discourage women from voting, some states implemented (or continued) discriminatory practices such as poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and intimidationthe same tactics used to prevent Black men from voting following passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. Black women in the South were especially hard hit by these restrictions until at least the 1960s with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. [2]

Moreover, the Nineteenth Amendment only addressed one narrow aspect of women's rights; it did not address access to occupations, pay equality, or other civil rights. For example, in most states, women could not serve on juries. According to Roberts:

"In 1920, only fourteen states allowed women to serve on juries. By 1942, when women were increasingly filling traditionally males roles, that number had only climbed to twenty-eight. ... Women weren't included in jury service nationwide until 1973." [3]

An equal rights amendment (proposed as the 20th Amendment), which declared that "men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States in every place subject to its jurisdiction," was first introduced in Congress in 1923. Alice Paul, who had led the National Woman's Party during suffrage, took on this new fight.

"Suffrage was but a tool, a step ... Today there are literally thousands of discriminations against women on the statutes of the States. We believe that much will be accomplished by this amendment invalidating them."

~ Alice Paul, as quoted in the Evening Star (Washington, DC), August 25, 1930.

By 1925, women had the vote for at least five years, including two presidential elections. Yet support for women voters, even by other women, was not guaranteed. In November 1925, the Washington Evening Star featured interviews of two prominent womenone believed that women had failed as voters, and the other did not.

"I think women have failed in politics. They are not only a failure, but a menace. The pressure that is being exerted on legislators by woman office-seekers of more and more laws, commissions and bureaucratic agencies under the hypocritical guise of humanitarianism and womanly tenderness is bringing about, a centralization in our Government which will destroy it if not checked. I am for repeal of the nineteenth amendment."

~ Mrs. Rufus Gibbs, President of the Maryland Anti-Suffrage Association.

"Women not only have not failed in political life, but they have in a great many instances done better than men. In the short time they have had the ballot they have made distinct contribution to our public affairs ... I think they have made a distinct contribution to politics in the greater emphasis they have placed on that part of community life not so directly connected to business and finance."

~ Mrs. Mabel Willebrandt, Assistant Attorney General of The United States.

Regardless of these views, by 1928, politicians and citizens alike were realizing that women were becoming more influential, but voting was just a small part of that. In fact, the realization that there was no such thing as the "women vote" was also dawning.

"There is no 'woman vote,' as such in America today. There may be cases where local issues break party lines, where the women of opposing political factions find themselves allied on one side. But the same thing is true of the men. No national issue has arisen, and none is expected to arise, which will record a distinct 'woman vote' regardless of party. Women are as distinctly partisan as men. There was nothing ever to indicate that they would not be.”

~ Ben McKelway, Sunday Star (Washington, DC), April 28, 1928.

After the vote was gained, Montgomery County women continued to exercise their influence through volunteer organizations, such as women's clubs, parent-teacher associations, political groups, the League of Women Voters, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Over the next several decades, the important contributions of women through these organizations, combined with their right to vote, would leave an indelible mark on Montgomery County.


[1] Roberts, R.B., p. 139.[2] Ibid. pps. 139-140.[3] Ibid. pps. 140-141.