School suffrage in Kentucky begins


School suffrage in Kentucky begins


If you could only vote for school board--not Governor, Senator or President--would you?

Kentucky was the first state to let some women have “school suffrage." Waaay first: 1838. (For comparison, Massachusetts women win school suffrage in 1879.)

Which women? Why? Read on . . .

Kentucky decided it wasn’t fair that widows with children had no say in how the schools were funded and run. Married moms had husbands to ‘represent’ their interests. (Free men got to vote for school board even if they weren’t fathers, but everything was men’s business.)

And of course, the 165,000+ people then enslaved in Kentucky had neither votes nor schools. So fairness was a relative concept…. But in 1838 the men of the Kentucky legislature decided to let “female heads of household” vote in school board & tax elections.

Today “widow” conjures up a senior, but in the 1830s average life expectancy was 39 years old. Many women found themselves single mothers, not by choice, in Kentucky and everywhere.

Keep in mind, 1838 is practically prehistoric in suffrage terms. A few remarkable women were agitating for equal rights in the 1830s, but nowhere else in the US could women vote for any government office. New Jersey had revoked women’s suffrage in 1807; voting in Wyoming & the Utah territory was still 30+ years away.

Kentucky’s school suffrage was only for some women, only in some places, and only in some elections. It acknowledged the fundamental injustice of being unrepresented, while limiting that representation to proximate, domestic issues.

50 years later, Kentucky expanded school suffrage - then revoked it shortly afterward. Why? Tune in tomorrow. Hint: the answer has a lot to do with who turned out to vote.

#suffrage100 #19thAmendment #BreonnaTaylorMatters


Daily Suffragist


Oct 1, 2020




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Daily Suffragist, “School suffrage in Kentucky begins,” Daily Suffragist, accessed December 4, 2022,

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