Meredith Machen, past president of the League of Women Voters of New Mexico spoke during the virtual Aug. 25 meeting of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos. Courtesy photo
BY LINDA HULL
Rotary Club of Los Alamos
On August 25, Meredith Machen, past president of the League of Women Voters of New Mexico, spoke to the Rotary Club of Los Alamos about the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the amendment giving women the right to vote.
From her home in Santa Fe, Machen described efforts that began as early as 1848 when a women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. Convention organizer Elizabeth Cady Stanton presented to the 300 men and women in attendance the Declaration of Sentiments, which she had modeled on the Declaration of Independence.
Anti-slavery activist Frederick Douglass, who attended the convention, described Sentiments as the “grand movement for attaining the civil, social, political and religious rights of women.” Thirty years later, California Senator Aaron Sargent introduced the Susan B. Anthony Amendment” to Congress, which later became the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
As support for women’s right to vote gained popularity, Wyoming became the first state to offer women full suffrage, meaning women would be allowed to vote in all elections, including those held for President of the United States. Colorado followed suit in 1893, and by the time New Mexico’s state constitution was being written in 1910 for its entrance into statehood in 1912, all western states had given women full suffrage rights except New Mexico, allowing women to vote in school-related elections only.
In 1915, suffrage leaders rallied in Santa Fe to persuade the U.S. Senator from New Mexico, Thomas Catron, who also served as head of the Senate Chair on the Woman Suffrage Committee, to support the movement. He objected, despite the persuasive arguments made by Santa Fean Nina Otero-Warren. The right for women to vote was not supported until Catron was replaced on the committee by Andrieus Jones.
In the years before the Amendment’s ratification by Congress in 1920, rallies of support were held in Albuquerque, Roswell, Las Cruces, Las Vegas, and other sizeable New Mexico communities. Notably across the country, suffragists marched in support. Many were jailed for months and force-fed when staging hunger strikes. In September of 1919, President Woodrow Wilson acknowledged women’s contributions to the Great War, granting the support for the 19th Amendment he had once withheld.
The 19th Amendment, which states, “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,” was passed by Congress in June 1919. In February 1920, New Mexico was the 32nd state, of the 36 required, to ratify the 19th Amendment. It was not until August 1920, 100 years ago, that women’s right to vote was recognized, allowing, at the time more than 27 million women to vote.
Dr. Meredith Machen is the current chair of the committees on Education, Immigration, and History for the League of Women Voters of New Mexico. Her career as an educator has spanned 38 years. Machen served as assistant vice president at Santa Fe Community College and founded Literacy Volunteers of Santa Fe in 1984.