Cabarrus Responds to Women’s Suffrage

26 Aug 2014

Students petitioning for women’s suffrage in 1919. University Archives Photograph Collection, University Archives and Manuscripts, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

On August 26, 1920, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits any citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex. By guaranteeing women the right to vote, the face of the American electorate was forever changed. On this anniversary of women’s suffrage, we look back at the response of some Cabarrus County residents.

The 19th Amendment brought dismay to most in the North Carolina General Assembly, but was publicly supported by at least two Cabarrus County men. In an article printed August 19, 1920, Concord Times Publisher/Editor J. B. Sherrill and Associate Editor W. W. Sherrill expressed disappointment only that Tennessee, and not North Carolina, would become the necessary 36th state to ratify the Susan B. Anthony Amendment: “We believed that the women should have the vote, and because we believed that they were going to get their rights, we wanted North Carolina to have her share in the glory…We have never seen why [women] should not be allowed to vote.”

Businesses, such as Concord’s Citizens Band and Trust Company, saw new marketing opportunities in the promotion of women’s independence. The Concord Daily Tribune, August 5, 1914.

Despite the urging of Governor Thomas W. Bickett to “accept the inevitable and ratify the amendment,” the North Carolina House defeated the 19th Amendment 71 to 41 in a special session. Besides challenging conventional moral and social roles of women, many saw it as an issue which interfered with state sovereignty. Personally, Bickett opposed women’s suffrage, saying, “It has never occurred to me that women would hurt politics, but I have been profoundly disturbed about what politics would do to women.”

By publicly stating their opposition to “official” North Carolina opinion, the two Sherrill men and others like them, made a difference in achieving the lengthy and difficult milestone allowing women’s right to vote and what many considered a radical change to the Constitution.