Women’s Suffrage Movement in Madison County

Julia Buckmaster

Julia Buckmaster, Alton postmaster, notary public, journalist, insurance agent, and American Woman’s League (AWL) member. MCHS image 2011-349-0001-FIC. For more information about the AWL, see exhibit page The American Woman’s League.

The fight for women’s suffrage in the United States intensified after African American men gained the vote in 1870. Based on newspaper research, Alton was the center of activism on the issue in Madison County. (The political conversation among women in Edwardsville focused on temperance—but that’s another story.)

The earliest references to women’s suffrage found in the Alton Telegraph appear on May 24, 1867. A long editorial on the subject at first seems to support women’s suffrage:

Considering the matter as an abstract question, the argument . . . preponderates in favor of granting them the rights. They are subject to taxation and to the control of the laws, and hence . . . they should be permitted to vote . . .

But then the article takes a turn:

[I]f . . . the better class of ladies desire this privilege [i.e. of voting], we shall be the very last to raise our voice in opposition. . . . [B]ut on the contrary [we] are well convinced that they do not wish, nor neither would they exercise the right if it was forced upon them.

And rides that train of thought to its conclusion:

[I]t would not be the refined, intelligent, moral and religious portion of [women] who would turn out and press their way to the polls, through crowds of drunken, profane and filthy men; but, on the contrary, it would . . . be the ignorant, debased and immoral . . . [W]e should very much regret to have the right of female suffrage ingrafted into any of our State Constitutions.

However, a brief announcement posted on the same page of the same newspaper issue can be read as a pointed rebuttal:

A Woman’s Suffrage Association has been organized in St. Louis, and an effort is to be made to amend the Constitution of the State so as to give them the right of voting.

And so the battle begins.

This online exhibition explores how the fight for women’s suffrage in Illinois and nationwide played out 100 years ago in Madison County. The exhibition features images and artifacts from the collections of the Madison County Historical Society. It was written and designed by Mary Z. Rose, Assistant Curator at the Madison County Historical Museum and Archival Library. Please send your feedback and/or any questions about this exhibition to madisoncountyhistoryil@gmail.com.