To the editor: On 100th anniversary, remember Vermont was slow to accept women’s suffrage

Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, marks the 100th anniversary of Vermont’s ratification of the 19thAmendment granting women the right to vote, coming almost six months following its adoption and after women had voted in November 1920.

Contrary to its history of progressive change, Vermont lagged behind the nation on women’s suffrage. Legislators resisted the reform for decades before 1920, when a groundswell of women faced off against Gov. Percival Clement, a perennial opponent of suffrage and prohibition.

After Congress and 35 states approved the amendment, Vermont suffragists organized a massive campaign urging Clement to call a special session of the legislature to make Vermont the “Perfect 36,” the last state required for ratification. Upon Clement’s refusal, Lillian Olzendam and Ann Batchelder of Woodstock, orchestrated an historic non-violent protest on April 21, 1920, when 400 women paraded silently through Montpelier and converged on the State House to demand equal justice.

Clement’s stance notwithstanding, women’s suffrage became a reality on Aug. 26, 1920, after Tennessee became the “Perfect 36.” By November, more than 28,000 Vermont women had registered to vote, helping elect a pro-suffrage governor and Vermont’s first woman legislator, Edna Louise Beard of Orange. She helped approve both the amendment and an adjustment to the Vermont Constitution that replaced “man” with “person” in the requirement for the Freeman’s Oath.

Since then, women’s legislative representation has grown steadily over the last 100 years, outpacing national trends. Today it is approximately 42.2 percent, but Vermont is the only state that has not sent a woman to Congress.

Marilyn Blackwell, Ph.D.
East Montpelier
League of Women Voters of Vermont
Vermont Suffrage Centennial Alliance

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