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Women's Suffrage and the 19th Amendment: Michigan Suffrage

The Michigan Experience

Written by Chris DeFord, Michigan State University Libraries

A mass resettlement was taking place in America. In the 1800s, indigenous peoples were forced onto reservations. New Englanders were urged further west, with the promise of securing more fertile and expansive swathes of farmland. Yankees were migrating to the Michigan Territory in great numbers, establishing industries, filling governmental roles and influencing Michigan pollitics. The Underground Railroad presence was growing, and venues were opening to speakers on the pro-abolitionist/suffrage lecture circuit. 

The Postal Service enabled New England transplants to retain connections and network with those outside the Michigan Territory. After Michigan became a state in 1837, national and international suffrage personalities were occasionally invited to speak before the legislature. One of the first notable speakers was Ernestine Rose in 1846; others included the Rev. Anna Howard Shaw, M.D. (who had grown up near the frontier town of Big Rapids), Susan B. Anthony and Sylvia Pankhurst. Success would evade them for 60 years, during which suffrage supporters continued lobbying the legislature and voters, attempting to redraft the state constitution, petitioning the Michigan legislature, and bringing the suffrage issue to the ballot multiple times.

Just as they had in New England, suffragists worked within their religious institutions to support the sister issues of abolition, prohibition and woman suffrage.  Pro-abolitionist sentiment became strong in Michigan. However, prohibition was not as widely popular. Fears regarding likely passage of prohibition if women were allowed the vote stymied passage of a suffrage bill.

Realizing better outcomes through more organized efforts, early Michigan suffragists established the Michigan State Suffrage Association (MSSA), the Michigan State Woman Suffrage Association (MSWSA) the Michigan Equal Suffrage Association (MESA) and many women's clubs. Black women established their own clubs and associations, and in 1898 the Michigan Association of Colored Women's Clubs was established by Lucy Thurman and Elizabeth McCoy. Women's clubs worked not only in support of the women's vote, but also for improvements in health and education.

Suffrage supporters also learned to work in coalition with groups allied to suffrage, such as the Maccabees, the Detroit Garment Workers and the Michigan State Grange. Prior to 1920 a majority of Michigan’s population resided in rural areas, so it was imperitive that rural men be persuaded in favor of woman suffrage. Suffragists also met with less opposition from the liquor lobby in rural areas. The Michigan State Grange (which welcomed female membership) not only endorsed suffrage, but it wielded the political clout to sway legislators. In 1911, the Governor and the Speaker of the House, as well as twenty house members were Grangers. Throughout the state, Michigan Grangers worked in support of woman suffrage.  

In 1916, Michigan legalized prohibition. In 1917, America entered World War I. Forty Michigan women’s associations and clubs worked diligently toward the success of both American troops and the upcoming vote to legalize suffrage. Action on behalf of American soldiers bolstered public support for the suffrage movement.  After decades of persistence, and with the liquor lobby now debilitated, a constitutional amendment granting Michigan woman suffrage finally passed in 1918. The following year, the State Equal Suffrage Association voted to change its name to the State League of Women Voters. Two years later, in 1920, the U.S. Congress passed the 19th Amendment guaranteeing all American women the right to vote.


Adams, M.J. (1898). History of suffrage in Michigan. Ann Arbor: (n.p.). 

Caruso, V. A. P. (1986). A History of woman suffrage in Michigan (Publication no. 8707109). [Doctoral Dissertation, Michigan State University]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Madden, K. F. (2002). Ready to work: Women in Vermont and Michigan from suffrage to republican party politics. (Publication no. 3053775). [Doctoral Dissertation, Michigan State University]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. 

McConnaughy, C. M. (2013).The Woman suffrage movement in America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Shaw, A. H. (1915). The story of a pioneer. New York: Harper & Brothers. 

Trump, F. (1963). The Grange in Michigan, an agricultural history of Michigan over the past 90 years. Grand Rapids: (n.p.).

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To find books in the MSU Libraries, use the MSU Libraries' online catalog (

You can search by KEYWORD for a topic, such as "women suffrage", or you can use an LC SUBJECT search (Library of Congress terminology) by typing in correct subject headings. The following are sample LC SUBJECT searches:

Women -- Suffrage -- Law and legislation -- Michigan.

Women -- Suffrage -- Michigan.

Women -- Suffrage -- Michigan -- Biography.

Women -- Suffrage -- Michigan -- Detroit.

Women -- Suffrage -- Michigan -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.