100 Years of the Vote: Women’s Suffrage and Election History in Vermont

A painted sign on side of barn reads "A Square Deal - Votes For Vermont Women"
Suffragist Lucy Daniels felt so strongly for the cause of women’s suffrage that she painted this slogan on the side of her home in Grafton, VT. Courtesy of the Grafton Historical Society via the Vermont Historical Society.

In 1919 the Vermont Legislature passed a bill in support of women’s suffrage. However, the bill was ultimately vetoed by Governor Percival Clement. Despite calls for a special election to by-pass the Governor and vote on ratification of the Federal amendment, it was not until the February 1921 regular session that the Vermont General Assembly was able to confirm the right for women to vote.

Within Vermont archival collections, there are both the public and private stories of women’s fight for the vote.  For instance, there are oral history transcripts in the Vermont Historical Society, conducted in 1980s, with two women who were young adults during the women’s suffrage movement in Vermont.  Susan Sleeper and Marjorie Townsend talk in the interviews, not only about their memories of why the women’s vote was important, but also about the 1918 flu epidemic and the end of WWI.  

Clarina Howard Nichols, an important figure in Vermont’s women’s suffrage movement, was born in West Townshend in 1810.  Nichols was an early and strong activist for women’s rights, abolition and temperance.  As editor of the Windham County Democrat, Nichols was one of the first women to hold such a position in the country.

Portrait of Clarina Howard Nichols (1810-1885). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Through her work in women’s rights and other causes, Nichols traveled the country attending conventions, giving speeches and promoting equality. On December 6, 2019, members of the Brattleboro Words Project made a public presentation about Clarina Nichols and related archival resources.

While the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote was ratified on August 18, 1920, it’s important to remember that women of color were, by and large, denied voting rights until 1965.This is an issue with a long and complex history.

A researcher looking for extensive facts and figures about Vermont voting history will find a treasure trove at the Vermont Elections Archive.

This extensive collection documents election results since 1789 for state-wide elections. and 1848 for federal election results.  For instance, when Thomas Chittenden was elected governor in 1789, he won the vote by 50.8% and two challengers, Moses Robinson came in with 30% of the vote and Samuel Safford of Bennington with 19.2% of the vote. There were 2,865 total votes cast.

Portrait of Vermont’s first Governor, Thomas Chittenden (1730-1797). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A mere ten years later, Isaac Tichenor won his gubernatorial election by 63% of the vote against challenger Israel Smith.  The total vote count was 10,163. If you want to do your own Vermont election history research, be sure to check out the data in the Elections Archive.

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