First Woman to Vote Under the 19th Amendment

Which woman cast the first ballot in US history?

Miss Margaret Newburgh of South St. Paul, the first woman to vote
Margaret Newburgh of South St. Paul, is generally credited as the first woman to vote under the 19th amendment.

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An often-asked question is who was the first female voter in the United States?

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 history.

Later, other jurisdictions granted women the right 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

There are several claimants to being the first woman to vote under the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in 1920. 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, Minnesota

One claim to the 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 Aug. 26, 1920, that the 19th Amendment had been adopted and certified, South St. Paul quickly scheduled a special election for the next morning on a water bond bill. At 5:30 a.m., 87 women voted.

Margaret Newburgh of South St. Paul voted at 6 a.m. in her precinct and is generally credited as the first woman to vote under the 19th Amendment.  Newburgh is also known in historical records as Marguerite Newburgh Cole because she married Lyle William Cole on March 19, 2023—nearly 3.5 years after casting her historic ballot—and took his last name. 

Hannibal, Missouri

On Aug. 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 the pouring rain, Marie Ruoff Byrum, the wife of Morris Byrum and the 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. Though some sources credit her as such, Byrum was not the first woman to vote in the United States under the 19th Amendment, as nearly 90 women had voted in St. Paul by that point. The Missouri State Archives, for example, notes:

"One hundred and forty years after the creation of the United States of America, Marie Ruoff Byrum became the first woman to cast a vote in the state of Missouri. She was 26 years old. The first election held in Missouri after the 19th Amendment allowed women’s suffrage was a special election to fill a vacancy on the Hannibal city council."

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," which pointed out that the "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.

View Article Sources
  1. South St Paul Women Made History As The First Female Voters Under 19th Amendment Voter.” ThemeLower, 20 Sept. 2020.

  2. First in the Nation Suffrage Celebration.” South St. Paul, MN, southstpaul.org.

  3. Marguerite Newburgh Cole.” National Women's History Museum.

  4. Marguerite Ann Newburgh (1897-1987).” FamilySearch, ancestors.familysearch.org.

  5. Where Women Made History: Suffragist Edition: National Trust for Historic Preservation.” National Trust for Historic Preservation, savingplaces.org.

  6. Missouri Secretary of State - IT. “Moments in Missouri Political History Video Segments: Marie Byrum.” sos.mo.gov.