Waite, Catharine V.

The sources presented as “Women Already Voters” were assembled to reconstruct events mentioned in a volume of the Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—specifically, in the second volume, Against an Aristocracy of Sex, 1865 to 1873.  For their insight into Reconstruction, however, the sources are useful for many more purposes.

“Women Already Voters” was a claim women made after the Civil War while they took direct action to test its truth.  Around them, men in Congress and the press debated how far the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments reached in protecting citizens’ rights and what linked citizenship to voting rights.  At the moment in American history when former slaves became citizens and the men among them became voters, white and black women hoped to walk through the door to political participation.  They embraced the idea that the United States could eliminate from fundamental law all distinctions of sex while eliminating distinctions of race.

In at least twenty-two of the United States, hundreds of women tried to register to vote and tried to cast ballots, assisted by family and friends in their communities. The cases here were the best known of this social movement.  With one exception, the women in this group were stopped by local officials or state courts or federal courts or federal marshals or justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, but they took their cause to the courts.  Through their cases, defense attorneys raised difficult questions about discrimination and constructed expansive definitions of rights, while prosecutors and judges settled the constitutional questions by reasserting male prerogatives and, in the end, extolling a category of citizenship without political rights, suitable to women. For a working list of the hundreds of women who tried to vote between 1868 and 1873 but never contested their exclusion, see http://ecssba.rutgers.edu/resources/wompolls.html

Most credit for the work amassing this collection goes to Susan I. Johns.  Danielle Bradley and Katharine Lee made this presentation of the sources possible.  Ann D. Gordon, editor of the papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, is responsible for omissions and errors.

Charles Burlingame Waite (1824–1909), a lawyer in Chicago, was appointed by President Lincoln associate justice of the supreme court of Utah in 1862, a position that pitted him against the Mormons in disputes over the authority of federal courts in the territory. He returned to Chicago in 1866. Able advocates for woman suffrage, Waite and his wife, Catherine Van Valkenburg Waite, initiated one of the legal cases intended to test whether women could claim their voting rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

John Alexander Jameson (1824–1890), a judge on the Superior Court of Cook County, heard the case of Catharine V. Waite v. Horace R. Stebbins et al. (1872). Waite, an educator and incoming president of the Illinois Woman Suffrage Association, and her daughter Helen M. Waite tried to register to vote in October 1871. She sued for a writ of mandamus to compel her registration. Jameson rejected the argument of Waite's husband and lawyer Charles B. Waite that suffrage was a "natural" right which had been guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments.

Charles Waite's 1887 article, "Suffrage, A Right of Citizenship," was written following Catharine V. Waite's voting rights trial.  However, it is the closest text to the brief he submitted in court that we are able to provide.  Please go to page 240 of this book to read his article: http://www.archive.org/stream/chicagolawtimes00waitgoog#page/n8/mode/2up

Created by Katharine Lee .
Last edited by Danielle Bradley .