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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Adele Clark, February 28, 1964. Interview G-0014-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Failure of Virginia State Constitutional Convention to grant women the franchise

Clark discusses the first effort of the Equal Suffrage League's effort to amend the Virginia state constitution to extend suffrage to women. In describing the General Assembly's refusal, Clark talks about how doing so would have given the General Assembly the white electoral majority they wanted. Her comments are revealing of tensions surrounding race and gender in the post-Civil War South.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Adele Clark, February 28, 1964. Interview G-0014-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

It was in the legislature of 1912 that the resolution to amend the Virginia Constitution was proposed. The Virginia Constitution was at that time only ten years old, because we are living under a constitution which had its inception in 1900 and was proclaimed in 1902. If I may run back a moment, because this is a little informal, when the Constitutional Convention of 1900-1902 was meeting, Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt came to Richmond and spoke before the Privileges and Elections Committee of the Constitution, urging that woman's suffrage be put in the Constitution. Mrs. Valentine told me that she had received a letter from Mrs. Kate Gogan Bruns, of a New Orleans family, who was living in Charlottesville at the time, and Mrs. Bruns wrote her and asked her to meet her and Mrs. Catt at the Capitol and to appear before the Privileges and Elections Committee. It was at that time that Mrs. Valentine met Mrs. Catt. I have not been able to find any record of it in the records of the Constitutional Convention, because only floor action was recorded, and the committee action, if it is on record anywhere, has never been discovered. It has always seemed to me such a curious thing that the men of Virginia, as well as of the South, did not realize that they could have preserved what they were so anxious to preserve - the white electorate majority - had they enfranchised the women of the South. Because the Fourteenth Amendment was not at all concerned with Negro women voting. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which enfranchised the Negro, enfranchised only the Negro men, disfranchised all of the white men who had borne arms for the Confederacy. And, as you know, most of the South was under military district rule for anywhere from five to ten years, and therefore, had the southern men, when they began to write new constitutions, enfranchised the women, the federal government could not have touched the fact that they enfranchised white women. Because the Fourteenth Amendment didn't say anything about women, and they could have got a large white majority very easily, but they never seem to have thought about it. Anyway, the Constitutional Convention did nothing about the enfranchisement of women, and the suffrage movement did not begin until 1909.