Presidential Suffrage


Presidential Suffrage


Ida B. Wells could vote for President years before Alice Paul or Carrie Chapman Catt. How? Read on 

Changing state constitutions is hard. Who votes & who doesn’t is determined by each state; big changes almost always need constitutional amendment. Of course, this is why the state-by-state fight took so damn long. But in 1913, Illinois successfully used a different strategy.

Lucy Stone’s husband Henry Blackwell began pushing for “presidential suffrage” back in the 1880s. It was a clever idea: a way to get states to let women vote for President without the laborious process of amending their constitution. Here's how:

As we know all too well, the President of the United States is chosen by Electors, not voters. Each state makes its own rules about HOW to choose its Electors, and it can usually change those rules with a majority vote of the state legislature.

If a state legislature let women vote for Electors it was a kind of proxy vote for President. Illinois women won “school suffrage”--voting for school board--in 1891. Almost immediately, a Chicago lawyer named Catharine Waugh McCulloch began pushing to add presidential suffrage.

McCulloch was a lawyer and a feminist. She graduated in 1886 from @NorthwesternLaw; when she joined her husband’s law firm they renamed it McCulloch & McCulloch. Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw performed their wedding. ‼️ Catharine was admitted to the Supreme Court Bar in 1898.

Catharine McCulloch wrote state legislation giving women equal guardianship of their children (1901) and raising the age of consent (1905). For two decades as a leader of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Assoc. she lobbied in Springfield for presidential suffrage.

She was a Justice of the Peace in Evanston, the first woman elected to the job. She was also a friend of #IdaBWells. Paula Giddings notes: “both exhibited a bulldog determination and did not suffer fools lightly.”

In 1912, Grace Trout took over from Catharine as head of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Assoc. Trout was more mainstream, less threatening to legislators and potential supporters. She was not a friend of Ida's - she’s the one who tries to eject Ida from the Washington, DC march.

Immediately after the DC march, Trout led a huge mobilization of women to Springfield. They got the presidential suffrage bill passed. Their effort included phone banking that rang the speaker of the House every 15 minutes for 3 days; whipping floor votes and sending taxicabs to fetch absent legislators, and a cohort of Black lobbyists led by Ida. Ida’s group wasn’t there only for suffrage.

Three anti-Black bills were also pending: an anti-miscegenation bill, a streetcar segregation bill, and a bill to help white unions oust Black railroad employees. Ida and several hundred Black women successfully defeated all three bills.

[The Chicago Defender reported that the author of the Jim Crow transportation bill was quite awed - “he declared he had never met so many brilliant persons of color before” and regretted the whole thing.]

We can assume that Ida’s group lobbied for suffrage - some of them were members of the Alpha Suffrage Club that Ida, Belle Squire, and Virginia Brooks had founded at the beginning of that year. I don’t know if Squire & Brooks went to Springfield. @LOsborne615 do you?

I don’t know if they or any other white women lobbied against the racist bills. I know they all celebrated together when they won. The Governor signed the bill in June 1913, and an automobile procession drove Michigan Avenue with more than 100 cars, marching bands, and flags.

A car parade sounds funny today, but cars were still a bit of a novelty then, and all open-air so they felt more like floats wrapped in bunting. Ida was a parade marshal, and five of the cars carried Alpha Suffrage Club members.

Alpha & the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association held celebrations that summer - they both honored Robert L. Jackson, the only Black legislator, who spoke in favor of the suffrage bill on the floor, and Catharine Waugh McCulloch. This is Catharine, after the win.

So within months of the 1913 Washington, DC Inauguration march where Black women were relegated to the back, #IdaBWells and the other women from Illinois had secured their right to vote for President. #BlackSuffragists #Suffrage100 #19thAmendment


Daily Suffragist






Daily Suffragist, “Presidential Suffrage,” Daily Suffragist, accessed July 22, 2024,

Output Formats