West Virginia Fails To Pass 1916 Women's Suffrage Referendum


One hundred years ago, women won the right to vote.

As early as 1867, Samuel Young, a minister and state senator from Pocahontas county, introduced a resolution to give West Virginia Women the vote. It failed. In the early 1900s, West Virginia women organized suffrage clubs and, in 1916, tried to pass a state-wide referendum on the vote. When it failed miserably by a three to one margin, Julia Ruhl, president of the state suffrage association, acknowledged, “Our organization is in a demoralized condition.”

In 1917, West Virginians shifted their attention to support the US effort in World War I. After the war, the National American Women’s Suffrage Association proposed an amendment to the US Constitution giving women the right to vote. On June 3, 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment stating that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”

By August 1920, thirty-six states had ratified it, including West Virginia. In November of that year, women were finally able to vote for the first time in a national election.

This message is produced­­­­ by the Kanawha Valley chapter of the National Organization for Women with support from the West Virginia Humanities Council.