How Did the Women’s Right to Vote Impact Your Family?

Family History
13 March 2020
by Juliana Szucs

Who were the first women in your family who could vote? Who just missed out?

With the upcoming centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting suffrage to women, I wondered about the impact of this important milestone in the lives of women in my family tree.

My Great-Aunt Madelon

All of my grandmothers were too young to vote in 1920. But my maternal grandmother’s sister Madelon—who raised my mother—would have been 23.

Woman holding flowers in front of window.
My great-aunt Madelon was eligible to vote in 1920

I asked my mom about whether Madelon had ever talked to her about that first election. Mom doesn’t remember a conversation specifically about that.

But she does remember that Madelon was very patriotic, that she and her husband voted regularly.

My Hungarian Great-Grandmother

Only one of my great-grandmothers was around to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment and the changes it brought about—my paternal great-grandmother, Teresia Szkokan.

She was born in Hungary in 1882 and made her way to the U.S. in 1903.

Woman holding flowers in front of window.
My great-grandmother Teresia Szkokan holding my grandfather.

Teresia later married my great-grandfather Janos Szucs, who was from the same area of Hungary.

Janos naturalized in 1914, making Teresia a U.S. citizen, since women and minor children at that time derived their citizenship status from their husbands.

I wonder what she thought of this newly acquired right. Had she remained in Hungary, she would have won limited suffrage in 1918, but would have had to wait until 1922 to vote. Full suffrage wasn’t granted to women in Hungary until 1945.

Tips for Finding the Women Voters in Your Family Tree

So how do you determine which women in your tree would have had the right to vote in that historic 1920 election? And who missed out?

A look at your tree, and at the 1920 census can help you answer those questions. Here are some factors to consider.

1 Age in 1920

She would have had to have been 21 in 1920.

2 Citizenship status in 1920

She would have had to have been a citizen, either native-born or by her husband’s or her own naturalization.

3 Indian Citizenship Act

Native American women did not get the right to vote until the Indian Citizenship Act was passed in 1924, but even then some states disenfranchised them.

4 Chinese Exclusion Act

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 began excluding Chinese immigrants and excluded those already here from U.S. citizenship, and it was soon expanded to include other Asian groups. Until its repeal in 1943 by the Magnuson Act, Asian women would also have to wait for their right to suffrage.

5 Voting Rights Act

African American women (and men) were met with challenges at the polls. Intimidation tactics were used when black men first got the vote in 1870 and continued through the Jim Crow era. With the end of Reconstruction, Southern states began using comprehension and literacy tests, as well as poll taxes to, in effect, disenfranchise black voters (and some poor and uneducated white voters) until the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

6 State of Residence

Some western states began granting suffrage to women prior to 1920, sometimes granting full suffrage and other times partial suffrage (e.g., in 1913, Illinois allowed women to vote for president).

For a timeline of state suffrage, click here.