Burnham, Carrie S.

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.

Caroline or Carrie Sylvester Burnham (1838–1909), later Kilgore, a taxpayer, schoolteacher, and student of law in Philadelphia, was a member of both the Citizens' Suffrage Association and the International Workingmen's Association, when she registered to vote in September 1871.  After her ballot was refused on election day in October, she turned to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas to petition for a writ of mandamus to require officials to accept her vote.  Rejected there, she appealed the decision.   George Sharswood  (1810–1883), a justice on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, heard the appeal in the case of Carrie S. Burnham v. Louis Luning et al. (1872). He found against the plaintiff in December 1871, ruling that the term "freeman" in the constitution of Pennsylvania was equivalent to the term male and that the federal amendments had no bearing on her case because voting was not among the privileges guaranteed by the Constitution.  Burnham then appealed to the full state supreme court, which heard her argument in April 1873 and affirmed Sharswood's decision.

An additional resource, the pamphlet Carrie S. Burnham, Plaintiff in Error, vs. Louis Luning, George Lewis and Joseph Haughton, Defendants in Error [Pennsylvania, 1872?], has been digitized by the Harvard University Widener Library and is available here.

Created by Katharine Lee .
Last edited by Danielle Bradley .