Notes from the City Historian - Part I

Hello Readers! 

This is Brandi, historian for the City of Boise. The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment is upon us and we have a full calendar of related events throughout 2020. To help commemorate the anniversary, I would like to offer some context to the national suffrage movement and the contributions of Boise women to that cause. 

The story of suffrage in Idaho begins in 1870. Representative Joseph William Morgan proposed a bill to ensure voting rights for women. Morgan argued that women “ranked as a person, a citizen, and as such, being affected by the laws of the country, it was in accordance with democratic teachings that she be allowed a voice in the making of those laws. That government derived its validity and just power from the consent of the governed—that is, all who were governed.”

Sadly, Morgan’s bill failed in an 11-11 tie vote. The issue of women’s suffrage surfaced again in 1885 and 1887 in Idaho, but both efforts were defeated. As the capital city, Boise became the center of the suffrage work in the state, and many Boise women actively engaged in the movement at the local and national level. They, like women across the state, initiated community grassroots efforts to gain support for an amendment to the Idaho State Constitution in 1896. 

Our goal this year is to tell these women’s stories. But we also will seek out and share the experiences of women who were marginalized or unable to participate because of racism. As the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) state in their definition of women’s suffrage, this history is “about women’s rights, but it is also equal parts an American story of race, class, citizenship, gender, immigration, political identity, and values, and the intersections where those meet in America’s collective narrative and history.” 

Evidence of this more complex history exist at all levels of the movement and throughout the various decades, from 1851 when Sojourner Truth, a black woman born into slavery, delivered her powerful “Ain’t I A Woman” speech at the Women’s Rights Convention to the iconic 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C., where organizers insisted on a segregated parade. Ida B. Wells refused to march at the back and joined the women representing her state, Illinois. 

It is essential that we explore these experiences to more fully understand our sometimes uncomfortable and difficult history of exclusion and racism that prohibited many women to secure their rights and participate politically in their communities.

We need your help to learn more about women’s suffrage in Boise. Please send me your suggestions for local women to research, keeping in mind that priority will be given to Indigenous women, Latinas, African American and Asian American women and other minority women who have been left out, one way or another, in this history. This is going to be a year of discovery, a year of adding more voices to our local history, and a year to celebrate our collective achievements and to reflect on the work yet to be done. 

Best wishes, 
Brandi Burns
History Programs Manager