New Jersey was first
It feels appropriate to end the suffrage centennial year with a week in New Jersey. Yeah, yeah, second prize is two weeks in Jersey… but in all seriousness, respect is due. New Jersey was first.
Image: “Women at the polls in New Jersey in the good old times.” Harper's Weekly, Nov 13, 1880
Women could vote in New Jersey from the beginning. After the Revolution, each state made its own choices about who got to vote. Women were excluded everywhere--except New Jersey. There, unmarried women, including women (and men) of color, could vote if they could meet the standard property requirement.
The Museum of the American Revolution @amrevmuseum searched for these voters, found them, and recreated their world in an amazing exhibit that is now fully online. The site explains how women and men of color got the vote in NJ and how they lost it.
The textiles are particularly spectacular: look for 18th-century women’s pockets; a shortgown worn by free woman of color Elizabeth Dorn, with a video explaining its significance; and an 1876 dress that may have been present when suffragists stormed the centennial stage.
Settle in - you can spend as much time at the online exhibit as you would if we could all go to the museum in Phila. Start with the opening video, where a dozen historians make the case that these women voting in the Revolutionary period really mattered.
When @jennyschuessler wrote about the exhibit early this year, she shared the questions historians asked for years: did any NJ women really vote? Only elite women? The exhibit answers clearly: “Ordinary women--Black and white--when they were given the chance to vote, they did it.”
So what went wrong? Well, you’re not gonna believe this but… The state grew, and more women, people of color & immigrants began turning out. Politicians who were threatened by this responded by suppressing the vote: limiting polling places, intimidating voters. Then they outright accused the voters of fraud.
Eventually, the white men in the legislature brokered a deal that preserved their own power and scapegoated women and people of color. In 1807, New Jersey changed its voter laws to exclude them, and to _broaden_ the group of white men who could vote. More tomorrow...