At the birth of the nation, married women did not possess individual political rights. Their legal status was “under the cover” of their husband, thus while citizens, they did not have the same rights awarded to their male peers. Nearly seventy years passed before women sought an independent political voice at women’s rights conventions in New York and Ohio. For the majority of states, women did not win enfranchisement until the early 20th century. The western states were the first to grant women the right to vote.
The Nevada constitution, accepted in 1864, gave the right to vote only to white men. The passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 opened the vote to black men, but women of all races would wait. In 1869, a representative from Storey County, Curtis J. Hillyer, introduced a bill to allow women the vote. He argued that women possessed at least as much intelligence as men, they followed the same laws, paid the same taxes, and most importantly would introduce a new standard of public morality to the political process. Both houses of the Nevada legislature passed the amendment that year, but it failed to pass two years later during the constitutionally mandated second vote. Forty years passed before suffrage became an issue again in the state.
Several women played instrumental roles in winning the vote for Nevada women. Nevada native Anne Martin played a decisive role in Nevada’s second suffrage campaign. A veteran of the fight for suffrage in Britain, she returned to Reno in 1911 and led the Nevada Equal Franchise Society to a winning, county-by-county strategy to gain the vote.
Bird Wilson, a lawyer practicing in Goldfield, oversaw the suffrage campaign in southern Nevada. She wrote, “Women Under Nevada Law,” a pamphlet that was sent around the state as suffrage material. No suffrage organization existed in Las Vegas until Delphine Squires, active in women’s social organizations and co-publisher of the Las Vegas Age, agreed to serve as the local contact to coordinate suffrage speakers. While Squires agreed that women should vote, she felt it should be achieved diplomatically and not in the more radical ways of Martin and Wilson. Despite her discomfort she played an integral part in bring woman suffrage to Nevada.
On November 3, 1914, the general vote was taken to decide whether Nevada women would be allowed the vote. It took several days for the results to be tallied, but the amendment passed with the margin of victory coming from rural regions of the state. Women in Nevada voted for the first time in local races in 1915 and in statewide races in 1916.
Women gained the right to vote nationally with the 19th Amendment to the constitution ratified in 1920.
For more information on Nevada woman suffrage and Anne Martin see: Anne Howard, The Long Campaign: A Biography of Anne Martin (Nevada: University of Nevada Press, 1985).