The newly married couple moved to Kansas where Laura met a woman from the suffrage movement that was circulating a petition trying to secure the right for women to vote in municipal elections. Laura not only signed the petition, but soon joined her in her efforts. Their persistence paid off and a bill was passed allowing women to vote in their municipalities’ elections! Kansas was the first state in the union to allow this right to women.
Next, Laura took her battle to paper. Her articles, pleading the cause for equality for women, soon began showing up in print. Not only in Kansas, but across the nation. Her writing style was described as tactful, yet forceful.
I feel the need to pause here to explain that being a suffragist was not easy. These brave women were often perceived as being emotional, impressionable, controlling, and downright unladylike. They were taunted, maligned and some were even beaten, tortured, and thrown into jail. They were true pioneers navigating unchartered waters. May we remember their sacrifices and not squander our opportunities to vote.
Laura’s contributions were quickly noticed by those around her. She became a very important voice in the fight for equality for women in Kansas, becoming one of its key leaders. She eventually established a woman’s suffrage organization and spent many years doing legislative work as well as traveling to numerous states to raise awareness for their cause. Her plan of action was to take things slowly, by stages, with her ultimate goal being full citizenship for all women.
Some of the men who opposed giving women the right to vote presented the argument that women knew nothing of politics, commerce, or industry. Laura refuted that by stating that these women invested time studying the workings of their local government. She was quoted as saying, “I wager that the constitution of Kansas has been better read more this year by these women than in all the previous history of the state.”
She was very fortunate to have her husband James supporting her all the way. I have often heard the phrase, “Behind every good man there is a great woman.” In this case, I guess it was the other way around.
I believe Laura’s story perfectly aligns with this year’s Women in History’s theme of “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories. She is a quintessential example of someone who used her storytelling skills to effectively improve the lives of all women, paving the way for generations to follow. In one account, this amazing women from Lewistown, was even awarded the title, “The Woman of the Century.”
Before you begin thinking, good for her, she did incredible things, but I am not that special. I am not doing anything extraordinary. Remember this. We all have stories to tell. We all have a history. We all have traditions to pass down to the next generation. We can all speak empowering words to our daughters, our granddaughters, and those within our sphere of influence because empowered women, empower women!
Rhonda S. Kelley, Executive Director, Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce