Women and the Vote in Atlantic City
Beginning in the late 18th century and culminating in the Progressive Era, New Jersey – in particular, Atlantic City – has had a long history in the struggle of equal voting rights for women. Following the end of the Revolutionary War, New Jersey was one of the first states to adopt legislation that allowed women to vote. The Provincial Congress of New Jersey at Burlington adopted a constitution on July 2, 1776 stating that women could vote, providing that they were in possession cash or property valued at a minimum £50.00 (roughly $7,800 in today’s dollars).
Though the ownership of £50.00 was surely prohibitive, women must have been rather influential in their voting practices in ways their male counterparts did not approve. In 1807, the New Jersey voting laws were revised in such a way that excluded women from the electoral process, and in 1844, a formal constitution explicitly stripping women of their right to vote was enacted by the New Jersey legislature.
Women nationwide began to voice their dissent against discriminating voting laws in the early 19th century; however, the movement really took shape and garnered force in 1890 when two women’s groups the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), formed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), formed by Lucy Stone, merged to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
From September 6 to September 10, 1916, NAWSA held a convention in Atlantic City. At the convention, NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt and President of the United States Woodrow Wilson delivered speeches. President Wilson marked upon the growing strength of the women’s suffrage movement, and assured them that they would one day prevail. Carrie Chapman Catt unveiled her new plan for suffrage victory – requiring coordination between suffrage workers in various positions of power in state and local organizations. She announced a new slogan for movement: “The Woman’s Hour has struck.” She stated, “Awake, arise, my sisters, let your hearts be filled with joy – the time of victory is here. Onward march!”
Pamphlet advertising hotel accomodations for 1916 NAWSA Suffragists Convention. (Local History Subject File - "Women."· H009.Suffragists1916ACConvention. Atlantic City Heritage Collections, Atlantic City Free Public Library.)
In 1919, the House of Congress proposed an Amendment to the Constitution in support of allowing women to vote. On June 4, 1919, the Senate endorsed the Amendment, allowing states to ratify at their will. Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan were the first states to pass the law, but states like Georgia and Alabama rejected it. On August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was officially enacted, awarding women full, federally recognized suffrage.
After winning their federal right to vote in the electoral process and serve their civic duties, women in Atlantic City were quick to participate. On October 19, 1920, seventeen women were called for duty in a district court case. It was the first time in Atlantic City’s history that woman were called to act as jurors in a court of law. Given their stellar performance as jurors, court officials in Atlantic City declared that whenever possible, women would be summoned to act as jurors.
Resources in the Atlantic City Free Public Library Atlantic City Heritage Collections:
Local History Subject File - "Women"
Atlantic City Daily Press, newspaper articles, 6-11 September 1916.