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H.L. Standley, Alice Paul, leader of the feminist movement in America and vice president of the Woman’s Party with Mildred Bryan, youngest Colorado feminist in the Garden of the Gods at Colorado Springs where the Party will present its Equal Rights Pageant on September 23rd, launching its western campaign, September 1923. Photo courtesy of the Records of the National Woman’s Party, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Inside Colorado Women’s Tactics

Centennial State suffragists devised a broad and brilliant strategy to earn their spots at the ballot box.

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“We often talk about women being ‘granted’ the right to vote—but they demanded it,” says Leah Davis Witherow, curator of history at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. “The campaign in Colorado shows a coordinated, grassroots effort that placed tremendous priority on strategy.” In addition to their gumption, Centennial State women had a few things going for them. They’d been successfully voting in school district elections since 1876, which nullified the sentiment that women would cause chaos at the polls. Thanks to the boom-and-bust nature of mining town life, women’s economic work—washing clothes, taking in boarders, serving as midwives—also had political value. “The brilliance of the 1893 campaign was that they employed a strategy they knew would work in our state,” Davis Witherow says. She breaks down their primary tactics into the following four P’s.

Pulpit & Press

Across the state, Colorado women proactively asked newspaper publishers and religious leaders to back women’s suffrage (or, at least, to not come out against it), an aggressive effort that led them to gain support from both, including 75 percent of Colorado’s newspapers. And they wrote: Women, including the Rocky Mountain News’ Minnie J. Reynolds and Ellis Meredith, secured gigs in mostly male newsrooms.

Prohibition

Leveraging their status as heads of the home sphere, in charge of caring for children, local suffragists made allies of prohibitionists who hoped female voters would help them take the state dry (which they did, in 1916).

Populism

In the 1890s, the country was experiencing what was then the most widespread economic recession in its history, and with that came a wave of populism. “Women appealed to this momentum,” Davis Witherow says, “that sought to remove power from the elite and place it back in the hands of average citizens.”

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