North Carolina’s history with women’s suffrage on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) -The effort in the south was different as women in northern states marched and demanded the right to vote. North Carolina was among the last states to start a women’s suffrage movement.

The approach included more pen and paper than protests.

“It’s a lot more of women who are writing to their legislators. They’re lobbying, they’re writing newspaper articles, they’re sort of getting out in the community and organizing, trying to convince people that this is a good idea,” said RaeLana Poteat. She is the Chief Curator at the North Carolina Museum of History.

North Carolina suffragettes were committed to their cause. However, convincing those who had the power to make it happen failed. When the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution passed the House and Senate, 36 states needed to ratify it in order for it to become law.

“Tennessee does go ahead and ratify it,” Poteat said. “The day after that ratification, once they already know that it’s the law of the land, the House in North Carolina still votes 71-41 not to pass the amendment.”

North Carolina’s General Assembly voted against a woman’s right to vote. Part of the reason was that factory owners worried women would push lawmakers for worker safety with stronger labor laws. Race was another factor.

“White supremacy has a lot to do with it, and in the south especially. They did not want to re-open the idea of discussing who could vote because they were fairly effectively suppressing it and some kind of subtle amendment rights they were scared of,” Poteat said.

Women had been voting 45 years before most African American women in North Carolina could cast a ballot. Never giving up their own effort, it took the 1965 Voting Rights Act to control that era of voter suppression.

“It is a part of that story definitely and it’s very illustrative of the national politics and ideas of the time,” Poteat said.

Many of the women at the time didn’t live to see their efforts come to be, but their work and sacrifice are still appreciated today.

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