1920 Election

Feb 25, 2020  | 2 min 43 sec  | Ep 2020

What happened in the first election that women nationwide were able to vote in? Why didn’t more women turn out to vote?


After a 72-year fight, women won the right to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment on August 26th, 1920.

When the amendment was signed into law, 20 million women across the country automatically became eligible to vote.

Their late summer victory came just in time for the presidential election between Warren Harding and James Cox. Election Day was only 10 weeks away.

In preparation, national suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt created the League of Women Voters with a mission to educate women on how to be good political participants.

Suffrage advocates assumed that lots of women would be eager to use their new political power.

“Suffragists moved into the 1920 election with this sort of great anticipation. And they really expected that women were going to flock to the polls, and that they were going to vote in very large numbers.”

But when the results were tallied on election day, it was estimated that only one-third of the eligible female electorate voted.

Carrie Chapman Catt insisted that the low turnout wasn’t due to a lack of enthusiasm, but rather difficulties with registration.

“In Mississippi, by the time the suffrage amendment was added to the Constitution in August of 1920, the voter registration deadline in the state of Mississippi had already passed. And the head of elections in the state refused to reopen registration. So there were no women who were enfranchised in Mississippi in the 1920 presidential election at all.”

“And then of course the suffrage amendment did not undermine Jim Crow legislation. So it removed sex as a basis for denying the right to vote, but of course it did not get to poll taxes and the grandfather clause and of course, downright illegal intimidation and terrorist tactics that were used to intimidate people and keep them from voting in areas of the deep south.”