Colorado is the first state to grant women the right to vote…..on a technicality. The territories of Wyoming and Utah both granted women the right to vote in 1869 and 1870 respectively. Women’s suffrage was repealed in Utah territory in 1887 and not returned until statehood in 1896. Wyoming on the other hand was admitted as a state in 1890 with women’s suffrage intact. That means while Wyoming was the first state to have women’s suffrage, Colorado was the first state to vote for women’s suffrage while already a state in 1893. Regardless of the ranking, it’s exciting to know Colorado was one of the earliest to grant women’s suffrage, 124 years ago.
On November 7, 1893 the results arrived from male voters voting on women’s suffrage. The election returns were 35,698 votes for and 29,461 against. And while this was an exciting moment for Colorado women, it would be another 27 years before women would have the right to vote nationwide. Just to get the right to vote in one state had been a long battle. As soon as Colorado became a state, women were campaigning for the vote. It was even put before voters in 1877 but failed to pass. A disappointment to be sure but it was still an important step in the process.
Beginning in 1876, a Territorial Women’s Suffrage Society was organized. They met for the first time in Unity Church in Denver on January 10th. One of the vice presidents was a Cañon City resident, Rev. William Shepard. Another vice president was Maria M. Sheetz, an avid proponent of women’s suffrage here in Cañon City. Maria Sheetz moved to Cañon City with her two daughters after the death of her husband. She ran the McClure House, a boarding house, until she was bought out in 1876. She then moved to the house she built on Greenwood Avenue which still stands today. Maria was also on good terms with Susan B. Anthony and even received a letter from her in 1877 telling her to keep pushing for women’s suffrage. This letter is in our collection here in the museum!
The 1876 Colorado constitution laid the groundwork for women to gain suffrage. The vote for women could become state law through a simple majority vote on the part of legislators and the electorate rather than through a constitutional amendment of which a two-thirds vote is needed. For a constitutional amendment women would have needed 66% of the vote rather than the 55% majority they received in 1893. But the goal was achieved and women in Colorado joined the men at the polls in 1894, ready to cast their vote for the very first time.
Interested in learning even more history? Stop by Wednesday-Saturday between 10 am-4 pm to conduct research or tour the museum!