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The right of suffrage

When, like The Legal Genealogist, you reach Medicare age, the one thing that’s unalterably true is — you’ve seen a lot of elections.

I don’t remember the Eisenhower elections at all — I was just in first grade when he was elected the second time. But I remember all the rest — Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, Obama.1

And, from the day I came of age, I voted in every election, presidential or not.

waco-womenMy mother was born in 1926.2 In her lifetime, we can add more elections: Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman and the Eisenhower elections I don’t remember. From the day she came of age, she voted in every election, worked the polls, served in the League of Women Voters.

My maternal grandmother was born in 1898.3 She turned 21 in 1919. The 1920 election would have been the very first election where she was old enough to vote — and the very first election when women throughout the United States could vote. Add in Harding and Coolidge.

But then, just three generations back, there’s my grandmother’s mother.

Eula (Baird) Robertson, my great grandmother, was born in Alabama in 1869.4 She turned 21 in 1890. She was living then in Texas, where women didn’t gain the right to vote until the 19th amendment took effect.5

• She wasn’t allowed to vote in 1892, when Grover Cleveland defeated Benjamin Harrison.6

• She wasn’t allowed to vote in 1896, when William McKinley defeated William Jennings Bryan.7

• She wasn’t allowed to vote in 1900 when McKinley defeated Bryan in a rematch.8

• She wasn’t allowed to vote in 1904, when Theodore Roosevelt defeated Alton Parker.9

• She wasn’t allowed to vote in 1908, when William Howard Taft handed Bryan his third Presidential defeat.10

• She wasn’t allowed to vote in 1912, when Woodrow Wilson defeated a raft of candidates: Roosevelt, Taft and Eugene V. Debs.11

• She wasn’t allowed to vote in 1916, when Wilson won reelection against Charles Evans Hughes.12

By the time the law allowed my great grandmother to vote, she was 51 years old.

In the half-century of her life before the law allowed her to vote, she had married,13 had a family,14 homesteaded in Oklahoma,15 and been left a widow with four kids — the oldest only 14 and the youngest just seven.16 She managed to handle the estate, raise her kids, pay her taxes, and live a good life.

She lived long enough for her life to intersect, briefly, with mine.

Which means that I have personally known at least one woman who was personally denied the right to vote by the law simply because she was a woman.

And you, dear distaff member of my family… female member of my community… woman I call a friend… you were even momentarily thinking of not voting on Tuesday?


Get out and vote.


Image: Waco History Project, Moments in Time: Suffrage.

  1. See generally “Presidential Elections,” ( : accessed 4 Nov 2016).
  2. Virginia Department of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 99-018720, Hazel Cottrell Geissler (1999); Division of Vital Records, Richmond.
  3. Virginia Department of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 95-011808, Opal Robertson Cottrell (1995); Division of Vital Records, Richmond.
  4. See Virginia Department of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 6367, Eula Robertson (1954); Bureau of Vital Statistics, Richmond.
  5. See “Woman Suffrage,” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association ( : accessed 4 Nov 2016).
  6. Presidential Elections,” ( : accessed 4 Nov 2016).
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Bexar County, Texas, marriage license no. 14298 and return, J C Robertson and Eula Beard, 1896; County Clerk’s Office, San Antonio.
  14. 1910 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, Stephens Twp., population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 256, p. 216(B) (stamped), dwelling 197, family 199, Eula Robertson; digital image, ( : accessed 14 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1275.
  15. Homestead Proof–Testimony of Claimant, 29 August 1908, Jasper C. Robertson (Tillman County, Oklahoma), cash sale entry, certificate no. 246, Lawton, Oklahoma, Land Office; Land Entry Papers, 1800-1908; Records of the Bureau of Land Management; Record Group 49, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  16. Tillman County, Oklahoma, County Court, Estate of Jasper C. Robertson, File No. 134, General Inventory and Appraisement, filed 22 March 1913; digital images, “Oklahoma Probate Records, 1887-2008,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 4 Sep 2014).
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