First Woman to Vote under the 19th Amendment

Which Woman Cast the First Ballot?

Miss Margaret Newburgh of South St. Paul, the first woman to vote
Miss Margaret Newburgh of South St. Paul, reputed to be the first woman to vote under the 19th amendment. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

An often-asked question: who was the first woman in the United States to vote -- the first woman to cast a ballot -- the first female voter?

Because women in New Jersey had the right to vote from 1776-1807, and there were no records kept of what time each voted in the first election there, the name of the first woman in the United States to vote after its founding is lost in the mists of history.

Later, other jurisdictions granted women the vote, sometimes for a limited purpose (such as Kentucky allowing women to vote in school board elections beginning in 1838).

 Some territories and states in the western United States gave women the vote: Wyoming Territory, for instance, in 1870.

First Woman to Vote under the 19th Amendment

We have several claimants to being the first woman to vote under the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As with many forgotten firsts of women's history, it's possible that documentation will later be found about others who voted early.

South St. Paul, August 27

One claim to "first woman to vote under the 19th Amendment" comes from South St. Paul, Minnesota. Women had been able to cast votes in a 1905 special election in the city of South St. Paul; their votes were not counted, but they were recorded. In that election, 46 women and 758 men voted. When word came on August 26, 1920, that the 19th Amendment had been signed into law, South St. Paul quickly scheduled a special election the next morning on a water bond bill, and at 5:30 a.m., eighty women voted.

(Source::Minnesota Senate S.R. No. 5, June 16, 2006)

Miss Margaret Newburgh of South St. Paul voted at 6 a.m. in her precinct and is sometimes given the title of first woman to vote under the 19th Amendment.

Hannibal, Missouri, August 31

On August 31, 1920, five days after the 19th amendment was signed into law, Hannibal, Missouri held a special election to fill the seat of an alderman who had resigned.

At 7 a.m., despite pouring rain, Mrs. Marie Ruoff Byrum, wife of Morris Byrum and daughter-in-law of Democratic committeeman Lacy Byrum, cast her ballot in the first ward. She thus became the first woman to vote in the state of Missouri and the first woman to vote in the United States under the 19th, or Suffrage, Amendment.

At 7:01 a.m. in the second ward of Hannibal, Mrs. Walker Harrison cast the second known vote by a woman under the 19th amendment. (Source: Ron Brown, WGEM News, based on a news story in the Hannibal Courier-Post, 8/31/20, and a reference in the Missouri Historical Review Volume 29, 1934-35, page 299.)

Celebrating the Right to Vote

American women had organized, marched, and gone to prison to gain the vote for women.  They celebrated winning the vote in August 1920, most notably with Alice Paul unfurling a banner showing another star on a banner signifying ratification by Tennessee.

Women also celebrated by beginning to organize for women to use their vote widely and wisely. Crystal Eastman wrote an essay, "Now We Can Begin," pointing out that "woman's battle" was not over but had just begun.  The argument of most of the woman suffrage movement had been that women needed the vote to participate fully as citizens, and many argued for the vote as a way to contribute as women to reforming society.

So they organized, including transforming the wing of the suffrage movement led by Carrie Chapman Catt into the League of Women Voters, which Catt helped create.