Huntington, Sarah M. T.

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.

Sarah M. Tucker Huntington, of Norwalk, Connecticut, prevailed with the Board of Selectmen in October 1872 to recognize her right to vote under the Fifteenth Amendment, enter her name on the register of voters, and administer the freeman's oath. Local and national newspapers alike assumed that she would be the first woman to vote in a presidential election, and she made no secret of her support for Grant and Wilson. Sarah married Joseph Daniel Huntington, a native of northern New York, in Columbus, Ohio, in 1866. He accompanied her to the selectmen's meetings when she pressed her case. Children born to the Huntingtons in 1867 and 1869 both died within their first year, but a third child arrived in April 1872. Sarah Huntington's political triumph was short-lived. Between October 26, when she registered and took the oath, and November 2, Norwalk's Liberal Republicans, led by the state's United States Senator Orris S. Ferry, prevailed on the registrars to omit her name from the poll lists provided to inspectors of election, thus enabling the inspectors to refuse Huntington's ballot without risking the penalties of the Enforcement Act. Sarah Huntington applied to the Superior Court for a peremptory writ of mandamus to compel the registrars to restore her name to the list. William Minor, former governor and judge of the court, agreed to hear arguments, but on November 4 he refused to issue the writ. Judge Minor accepted Senator Ferry's argument, that the selectmen's authority to determine the eligibility of voters did not empower them to override the qualifications spelled out in the state constitution. According to Sarah Huntington's account, he went on to opine that the state alone "had the right of saying who of her inhabitants should vote." Moreover, "he clearly intimated that the State only permitted negroes to vote and could forbid them if it wished as the term 'white male' qualifying electors, was still in and part of the Constitution." Huntington pronounced the opinion "States Rights doctrine with a vengeance, and of the exact kind, tho' not perhaps as dangerous as the Secession doctrine of Calhoun—" On November 5 election officials refused her ballot. Huntington appealed to the Court of Errors as the next in a series of appeals she intended to carry into the federal courts. The legal trail then fades away, but as late as 1874, the state suffrage association was still discussing new legal strategies to keep the case alive. Sarah died sometime after the birth of a fourth child in 1878.

Click here to link to a record of the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association documents held by the Connect State Library.

Created by Katharine Lee .
Last edited by Danielle Bradley .