TOPEKA — An effort to recognize Feb. 15 as Susan B. Anthony Day in Kansas has gained bipartisan momentum in the House.
Rep. Jeff Pittman, a Democrat from Leavenworth, introduced legislation on behalf of the Leavenworth Historical Society to honor the towering figure in women’s suffrage.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution’s 19th Amendment, which guarantees women the right vote.
Anthony, whose brother lived in Leavenworth, successfully campaigned in Kansas to give women to vote in municipal elections. Gov. John Martin signed the legislation on Feb. 15, 1887, which also was Anthony’s birthday, and she celebrated in Lawrence that day.
Bernadette Cahill, an author from Vicksburg, Miss., who has written three books on the fight for women’s suffrage, pointed to a speech made by Anthony in Coffey County in 1865, shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War, as an example of why Kansas should recognize Anthony’s efforts.
In the 1865 speech, Anthony called for recognition of inalienable rights of black men as well as all women.
"One-half of the people will be in subjection to the other half, and the time will surely come when the whole question will have to be reopened and an accounting made with this other subject class," Anthony said.
She envisioned the national moment that would follow, where the right of self protection "for woman as for man is vested in the ballot."
"To my knowledge, this was the first time such a public call was made in the United States during Reconstruction," Cahill said in testimony she submitted to the House panel considering legislation.
"It seems to me, therefore, that Kansas deserves to recognize Anthony, in addition to so many other things, for making the very first votes-for-women call after the Civil War," Cahill added.
On Tuesday, the panel fast-tracked the bill with unanimous support, sending it to the House for consideration.
Kansas voters in 1912, six years after Anthony’s death, passed a women’s suffrage amendment to the state constitution.
The centennial celebration of women’s suffrage nationwide is the topic of an upcoming special exhibit at the Kansas Museum of History. Upward to Equality, which opens March 20 and runs through the end of the year, will feature objects, photographs and records from the generations of women who fought for suffrage in Kansas.
Gov. Laura Kelly said the exhibit "serves as a reminder to us all that Kansans have always been at the forefront of progress."
"The exhibit also allows us to celebrate the women and men who worked tirelessly to ensure women’s voting rights," Kelly said. "When you go to the polls, remember the Kansans who were trailblazers for this momentous cause."