History of the Presidential Suffrage Bill in Missouri
by Miss Marie B. Ames

Missouri Historical Review, volume XIV, nos. 3-4, pp. 338-343


It is a most significant event in the history of Missouri that the Presidential Suffrage Bill passed by the 50th General Assembly should be the first bill introduced in the new State Capitol.  In keeping with the motto over the main entrance to this magnificent building, "Salus populi suprema lex esto," the representatives of the people, both in the House and Senate, felt it most appropriate to introduce as Bill Number Once a bill giving the women of Missouri a supreme voice in the making of the laws.

The history of the Presidential Suffrage Bill is a most interesting one.  The success of the bill is due to the untiring efforts of four women who spent a large part of their time at the State Capitol:  Mrs. Walter McNab Miller, president of the Missouri Woman Suffrage Association, who saw the work of past years culminate in the passage of this bill; Mrs. David O'Neil, vice-president of the State Association, whose efforts, especially among Democratic legislators was most successful; Mrs. Wm. R. Haight, corresponding secretary, whose unfailing tact with the Republican members weathered many a critical situation; and Miss Marie B. Ames, field director of the National American Woman Association and of the Missouri Suffrage Association, who was in charge of the legislative work.

Immediately after the 50th General Assembly convened January 8th in Jefferson City, and after Governor Gardner in his message had recommended the passage of such suffrage legislation as the women might desire, our Presidential Suffrage bill was introduced in both the House and Senate.  Thru the courtesy of Hon. Wallace Crossley, President of the Senate, and Hon. S. F. O'Fallon, Speaker of the House, our bill was made bill Number One.  This bill was introduced in the House by Representative Walter E. Bailey, Republican, of Jasper county, and in the Senate by Senator James McKnight, Democrat, of Gentry county, two men of the highest standing in their respective parties.

The first great victory was scored on February sixth in the Senate when our bill was put on the calendar over the adverse report of the Elections Committee.  Immediately following the report of this committee it was moved by Senator McKnight, author of the Senate Bill, that Bill Number One be put on the calendar over the adverse report of the committee.  To place a bill on the calendar over the adverse report of the committee is almost without precedent in the Missouri Legislature.  The fate of presidential suffrage for the women of Missouri rested upon the result of this motion.

For three hours was waged a bitter war of words.  Fearing an attempt might be made to persuade several of those senators mildly favorable to the bill to leave the senate chamber just previous to the taking of the vote, three suffrage guards (Miss Marie Ames, Mrs. Wm. Haight and Miss Alma Sasse), were stationed at the exits to the Senate chamber to request all senators favorable to the bill to return to their seats.  As there was not one vote to spare a great responsibility rested upon these guards who were on duty from ten o'clock in the morning until one o'clock at noon when the roll call was taken on the motion to place the bill on the calendar.  Finally, the vote was taken eighteen to fifteen in favor of placing the bill on the calendar over the adverse report of the Election Committee. The first fight for presidential suffrage was won.

Our second victory occurred on Tuesday, February eleventh, when the House passed the House bill by a vote of 122 to 8.  For three hours a tribute was paid to the women of Missouri by many members of the House known for their eloquence and oratory.  For the first time in the session of the 50th General Assembly, speaker O'Fallon left his chair and, on the floor of the House, delivered a powerful address in favor of the Presidential Suffrage Bill.  Hon. Frank Farris also made a speech of great brilliancy.  the final vote, almost unanimous, was a real tribute from the House to the Missouri women.

Two days after, on Thursday, February thirteenth, our bill was passed in the Senate for engrossment.  At this time an attempt was made to "kill" the bill by an amendment to refer the bill to the general election in 1920.  This amendment was defeated.  Two other amendments offered by Senator Howard Gray, a staunch supporter of suffrage, were carried.  These provided for a separate ballot and separate registration for women.

Not having succeeded thus far in defeating the Presidential Suffrage Bill in the Senate a final attempt was made by the opposition.  This time methods of delay were used to prevent the bill being brought before the Senate for the third and final passage.  Several attempts were also made to "persuade" favorable senators to vote against the bill on final passage.

From February thirteenth until the last week of March it was impossible to be sure of eighteen votes-the number necessary for the final passage of the bill.

During the last week of March the National American Woman Suffrage Association held its 50th annual convention in St. Louis.  It was felt at this time that, with the delegates from all over the United States to lend their moral support, an attempt should be made to secure the final passage of our bill thru the Senate.  It was finally decided that the bill must be brought up for final passage on Friday, March twenty-eighth.  During this week two senators favoring the bill were absent, Senator Stark was at his home in West Line and Senator Gray had been called to Caruthersville.

On Thursday afternoon, March twenty-seventh, Mrs. Walter McNab Miller, Mrs. David O'Neil, Mrs. Wm. Haight, and Miss Marie B. Ames met for a final consultation.  Senator Stark responded to a long-distance telephone call and promised to be in his seat the next morning ready to vote "aye."  After consulting time-tables it was found impossible for Senator Gray to arrive in time for the final vote.  At this stage when the four members of the suffrage lobby were in despair, Hon. Edward F. Goltra, committeeman from Missouri on the Democratic National Committee, asked to be permitted to contribute a special train from St. Louis to Jefferson City in order to enable Senator Gray, a Republican to arrive in time.  This offer was gladly accepted and Senator Gray left Caruthersville that night.

Early on the morning of the twenty-eighth the women hastened to the capitol to see that everything was in readiness for the final passage of the Senate bill.  Telegrams began to arrive reporting the progress of the "Suffrage Special" on its way to Jefferson City.  Exactly at 10:10 A. M., Hon. Wallace Crossley, President of the Senate, called that body together.  Altho only a few senators knew that the bill was to be called up that morning, an air of expectation pervaded the Senate chamber.  Senator Stark arrived during the night and was present at the opening of the session.  After prayer by the Chaplain and the reading of the minutes of the preceeding day, Senator McKnight presented a telegram from the National American Woman Suffrage Association asking for the immediate passage of the Presidential Suffrage Bill.  As this was being read, Senator Gray, supposed by the opposition to be safely in Caruthersville, walked into the Senate chamber.  A dead silence fell upon the room.  Gloom was upon the countenance of those who had hoped to send the bill to it defeat.  In the battle of wits the side of right and justice triumphed.  Without one further word of opposition the Senate bill granting presidential suffrage to the women of Missouri was passed by a vote of twenty-one to twelve.

The pen used by President Crossley of the Senate in signing the Senate Bill was presented to Miss Marie B. Ames.

Under ordinary circumstances, at the final passage of the bill in the Senate, the House bill would have been substituted for the Senate bill, thereby saving the necessity of further action by the House.  Because this would have necessitated several extra roll calls, which the suffragists did not care to risk, the Senate bill was sent over to the House.  the following week the House, in a great spirit of magnanimity passed the Senate bill.  The pen used by Speaker O'Fallon on this occasion was presented to Mrs. Wm. R. Haight.

On Saturday afternoon, April fifth, in the presence of members of the State board of Missouri Woman Suffrage Association Governor Frederick D. Gardner in his private office at the capitol signed this bill, and presidential suffrage for women became the law of the state.  The pen used by Governor Gardner in signing the bill was later presented by Mrs. George Gellhorn to the Missouri Historical Society.

Thus the members of the 50th General Assembly proved faithful to the voice of the people and the new state capitol witnessed, in the signing of the Presidential Suffrage Bill, once of the greatest events that has ever taken place in the history of Missouri.

Missouri women may now vote in November, 1920, for the next President of the United States.

Salus populi suprema lex esto!


insert photo

Signing of the woman suffrage bill.

Office of the Governor, 1:40 o'clock, Saturday April 5, 1919.
Seated at table, reading from left to right: Senator J. W. McKnight, Lieutenant-Governor Wallace Crossley, Governor Frederick D. Gardner, Speaker S. F. O'Fallon, Hon. Walter E. Bailey.
Standing, from left to right: Mr. A. L. Kirby, Mrs. J. W. McKnight, Miss Marie B. Ames, Mrs. David O'Neil, Mrs. Frederick D. Gardner, Mrs. Walter McNab Miller, Mrs. W. R. Haight, Mrs. Walter E. Bailey, Mrs. S. F. O'Fallon
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First electronic edition: 1995
Modified 28 January 2003
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