An Illinois Constitutional Convention

Women’s suffrage demonstration on June 14, 1916, during the Democratic National Convention in St. Louis. The site is the Wayman Crow Museum of Fine Arts at Nineteenth and Locust Streets in St. Louis. A banner hanging on the museum building reads “Headquarters National State and City Woman’s Suffrage Ass’n. Welcome!” Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society.

Anna Wilkinson was elected president of the Alton Branch of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association in 1915. In the June 14, 1916, suffrage parade in St. Louis, she carried the banner for North Carolina in the absence of North Carolinian attendees. She began speaking locally on the status of the suffrage movement and presenting on the topic to legislative committees in Springfield.

The movement for full suffrage in Illinois was gaining momentum. The Illinois constitution prevented women from voting for governor, state legislators, and members of Congress, despite passage of the Magill bill in 1913 granting women other voting rights. Suffragists considered two approaches to their goal: a constitutional convention or a constitutional amendment.

Most suffragists in Alton favored the constitutional convention method. Although creating a new state constitution would take longer than introducing an amendment, they felt an amendment that could only be voted on by men would likely fail. At a gathering of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1917, Anna Wilkinson took the constitutional convention side in a debate with Gratia Erickson of Chicago.

The Illinois constitutional convention was called in early 1918. The convention sought a rewrite of the constitution in order to address women’s suffrage, property tax assessment, and other issues. The proposal passed, and the rewriting began. But the new constitution wasn’t submitted to the electorate until 1922, when it failed dramatically. By that time women had gained full and universal suffrage nationwide.

For more about Anna Wilkinson, see exhibit page Postscripts.