In 1893, the Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association of Colorado led a campaign for women’s suffrage that mobilized women across the state. The suffragettes worked with multiple organizations and political parties to pass a popular referendum granting women the right to vote over two decades before the Nineteenth Amendment.
As in many states and territories, women in Colorado worked for years to achieve women’s suffrage. Attempts to secure the right to vote for women in Colorado began in the 1870s, soon after Wyoming and Utah enfranchised women. Although several bills on women’s suffrage came before the legislature, none passed until 1877, but the men of Colorado voted against it in a popular referendum. In 1893, the issue of women’s suffrage came before the state legislature once again. With support from the Populist party, a bill was passed in April through both Houses and the legislature authorized another popular referendum. By this time, Colorado activists and suffragettes had organized again and formed the Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association of Colorado.
The Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association of Colorado had only a few months to organize and conduct their campaign to convince the male voters of the state to vote in favor of women’s suffrage in November of 1893. Prominent leaders of the Association included journalists Ellis Meredith and Minnie Reynolds, teacher Martha Pease, physician Mary B. Bates, African American club leader Elizabeth P. Ensley, and American Woman Suffrage Association organizer Louise Tyler. With few funds, the Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association of Colorado met at first in the houses of members, but relocated its headquarters to rooms in Denver’s Tabor Grand Opera House after Elizabeth B. “Baby Doe” Tabor, wife of mining millionaire Horace Tabor, donated the use of the rooms. The Association also appealed to national suffrage leaders for assistance, sending Vice President Ellis Meredith to the annual National American Woman Suffrage Association convention in Chicago in June. She convinced NAWSA’s best organizer, Carrie Chapman Catt, to come assist in the Colorado campaign by arguing, “If Colorado goes for woman suffrage, you may count on a landslide in that direction throughout the West.”
In the campaign for women’s suffrage, the Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association of Colorado utilized a number of tactics. The Association worked together with multiple organizations, such as the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the Young Women’s League, the City League of Denver, and several women’s clubs, and also auxiliary suffrage organizations throughout the state to manage the campaign on a local level. The Association sent speakers to raise support, particularly Carrie Chapman Catt, who toured the state speaking at small meetings and large public rallies. Colorado suffragettes also utilized the press: Minnie Reynolds, as Chairwoman of Presswork, convinced the majority of Colorado’s newspapers to commit to the cause and reserve space in their papers for articles about the women’s suffrage campaign, which she and her fellow suffragette journalists like Ellis Meredith and Caroline Churchill wrote. The Association also worked across political and economic lines to appeal to the greatest number of male voters. The suffrage referendum was widely supported by the Populist party--but the Republican and Prohibitionist parties also endorsed the campaign for women’s suffrage. In addition, the Association appealed to men and women of all classes by working with trade unions and labor organizations, tying women’s suffrage to the cause of “free silver” as a way to enact economic reform, and presenting suffrage as social welfare measure that would help the working-class. Indeed, while middle and upper-class women made up the majority of the Association’s top leadership, working-class women did the work of canvassing home to home, distributing suffrage literature, and participating in local suffrage organizations.
By the time the popular referendum came in November 1893, the women of Colorado had worked to raise support for female enfranchisement by speaking across the state, organizing rallies, distributing suffrage literature, creating local suffrage organizations, getting political endorsements from various political parties, partnering with trade unions and women’s clubs, and writing newspaper articles. The Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association of Colorado acted as a central organization and headquarters for the movement throughout the state. On the day of the vote, the Association’s headquarters at the Grand Tabor Opera House in Denver remained open all day and organized groups of women to go to the polls, where they handed out suffrage literature and personally appealed to male voters. Early results were published the next morning, showing that the referendum for woman suffrage had passed by a margin of 35,798 to 29,451. Women across the state rejoiced, and the Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association of Colorado held an informal reception at their headquarters in the Grand Opera House, celebrating a success over twenty years in the making that resulted in Colorado becoming the first state to pass woman suffrage by popular referendum.