Today marks the 90th anniversary of women's suffrage, a decades-long struggle won by women who peaceably convinced male voters to share their power.
The 19th Amendment, which gives women the right to vote, was signed and ratified Aug. 26, 1920. But Oklahoma women had been voting for more than a year by that time.
Nationwide, the debate was heated and many people were arrested, but the movement was nonviolent, said Molly Murphy MacGregor, executive director and co-founder of the National Women's History Project.
"In order to secure the vote," she said, "women had to convince men it was in their best interest. Women did everything they could, from having parades to lobbying to expressing (their views) husband to wife."
Western states were more open to the idea of women voting, MacGregor said. Rural communities were key because women often worked alongside their husbands, farming and building a homestead.
The same was true in Oklahoma.
A new society was created on the frontier, said Dr. Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Social norms weren't weighted down by aristocracy and wealth. Most people were new, and many were poor.
"It allowed for probably more cracks in the glass ceiling," he said. "Oklahoma has allowed for more creativity at the individual level. ... We're a state that celebrates the individual."
The debate about women's suffrage in Oklahoma came to a head before the 19th Amendment passed, said Cortney Stone, a historical re-enactor from Oklahoma City with a master's degree in women's history.
Two previous bills promising women the vote had failed in the state Legislature, but the issue was eventually OK'd to go before a vote of the people Nov. 5, 1918.
Anti-suffragists listed many reasons women shouldn't vote, Stone said.
If women could vote, they'd divorce their husbands. They'd leave their children and maybe turn criminal. They'd hide ballots up their sleeves and commit voter fraud.
Voter fraud was rampant by
Ratifying the 19th Amendment was difficult as well, though Oklahoma women could already vote, Stone said. Gov. James Robertson refused to call a special session, citing budget problems. Suffragists wrote letters to legislators, asking them to attend a session and pay for their own travel. They gathered, and the amendment was approved on Feb. 28, 1920.
Vote led to slow change
But constitutional change didn't necessarily equal social change, said Richard Johnson, a political science professor and interim dean at Oklahoma City University.
"Women did not vote at the same rate of men until this last generation," she said. "Now women vote at a slightly higher rate than men. Women didn't exactly rush out to take advantage of this new right."
The progress toward full equality is slow, Johnson said, but change is still happening.
"The right to vote is one of those things that opened up choices for women," Johnson said. "If they want to be the more traditional role of the housewife or if they want a career, there's a lot more choice than my grandmother had and my great-grandmother had."
Women must use the voting power they've been given, said Fran Morris, president of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Oklahoma County. The organization registers new voters and conducts voter education programs.
"We just have a very poor record of how many people get out and vote," she said. "People over in the Middle East stand in line for hours to vote. We just have to get a shovel and dig people out to vote."
Women have become more politically savvy, but there is still a ways to go, Morris said. She said women should educate themselves about candidates, issues and legislation. They should contact their lawmakers. Most importantly, she said, they should vote.
gender divide remains
American women's share of high-level political power still lags behind other nations. Women hold 17 percent of the seats in Congress — well below Europe's 22 percent and far behind the Nordic countries' 42 percent — and the major parties have yet to nominate a woman for president.