Today In 1917: Michigan Helps Lead Way Toward Women’s Suffrage

Women's Suffrage

by Ken Coleman, Michigan Advance
May 8, 2020

Women’s Suffrage took a step forward on May 8, 1917, when a ceremony was held when Michigan Gov. Albert E. Sleeper signed the Damon-Flowers bill. 

The measure authorized by the Republicans from Bad Axe placed on the ballot a referendum to allow women to vote in presidential elections. Voters approved a state constitutional amendment the following year, making the historic measure law throughout Michigan. 

It represented the culmination of decades of state leadership in the suffrage movement. During the mid-1800s, suffrage organizations were formed in towns and cities across the state. Then, on March 12, 1874, during a special spring session, the Michigan State Woman Suffrage Association requested the state Legislature strike out the word “male” from the state Constitution. 

“Women are also governed,” the association argued, “while they have no direct voice in the government, and made subject to laws affecting their property, their personal rights, and liberty, in whose enactment they have had no voice.” By righting this wrong, it argued, the Legislature would “elevate the entire people to the highest practicable place of intelligence and true civilization.”

According to the Library of Michigan, by 1855, women were actively signing petitions asking for the right to vote. Detroit was incredibly progressive. In 1871, Nannette B. Gardner became the first woman to vote in a Detroit election. Laura F. Osborn, in 1917 became the first woman elected to public office when city voters placed her on the Detroit Board of Education.

The seminal Sleeper signing came before Congress passed the 19th Amendment in 1919. Michigan became one of the first states to ratify it on June 10, 1919, passing it unanimously. 

By August 1920, the Amendment was ratified by all states, making this year the national centennial. A photograph of women watching the Sleeper bill signing was published in the Michigan Suffragist newsletter.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: [email protected] Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

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