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Out of the Morgue
First woman to serve in House pre-suffrage elected in 1916
otm vlc jeanette Rankin
Representative Jeanette Rankin - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

If you think there is drama involved in this year’s presidential election, take a moment to consider what the election of 1916 was like. Europe was embroiled in World War I, and so far, President Woodrow Wilson had managed to keep the United States out of the fray. In fact, his most famous election slogan was, “He kept us out of War.” He was also considered somewhat sympathetic to the Women’s Suffrage movement, though had not done anything substantial to promote it. But Republicans, who backed candidate John Hughes, weren’t in agreement with his stance, and Progressives were itching to have more say in the way the nation moved forward.

It was also the first presidential election many women of Kansas had a vote, a little known fact 96 years after Amendment 19 was passed, providing women the vote nationwide. Prior to 1920, there were states, referred to as suffrage states, that had provided women the vote through state law. Montana was one of those states. With the vote also came the opportunity to run for office, and so this week in 1916, the nation had its first female member of the House of Representatives when Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana, was elected.
In the Nov. 11, 1916 edition of the Great Bend Daily Tribune, a headline reading, “Congratulated; First Woman Elected to Congress Commended,” it was reported from Missoula, Mont.

“Messages of congratulations from suffrage leaders in many parts of the country poured into Missoula today for Miss Jeannette Rankin, Republican, the first woman to be elected to congress. Miss Rankin’s campaign managers contend that she has won by at least 2,000 majority.
“I felt that the women would stand by me,” Miss Rankin said today. “It is wonderful to me to think of having the opportunity of being the first woman to sit in congress, with 434 men.
“Miss Rankin is small and slight. She is a graduate of the University of Montana and the School of Philosophy of New York City.”

According to reports in the Tribune, the race between Hughes and Wilson was a tight one. From one day to the next it was uncertain who would win, and several election related stories carried odds on the race. In the end, Wilson won, but it took three or four days to confirm the vote it was so close. In fact, it was reported in one story that those who had bet on Wilson to win would have to wait to collect until Hughes had conceded, as bookies were not willing to take the chance. After all, at 11 p.m. election night, it as reported in the eastern half of the United States that Hughes had won. Late votes coming in from the western states, however, turned the tide in Wilson’s favor.

The Tribune endorsed Hughes, as did most newspapers in the state. This was very evident in an informational story that ran prior to the vote, instructing voters on changes to the ballot, and urging caution in the method used to vote, lest their votes not be counted.

“The safe way to vote is to look for the word “Republican” and mark the square after each Republican candidate. But the voters should be careful not to mark the ballot anywhere excepting in a square.”

Apparently, the advice was not heeded by many of the state’s newest inexperienced voters, the women. And this prompted some in leadership to consider fighting the vote on the grounds that it was unconstitutional for women to vote.

From the Nov. 11, 1916 story out of Pittsburg, Kans., “Women chose Wilson; Kansas Republican Elector says”
“We gave them the ballot and must take our medicine.”“We Republicans gave the women of Kansas the ballot. They used it against us Tuesday. We have no kick coming and should shut up and take the medicine. Let’s stand by the women.”Such is the attitude of W.J. True of Pittsburgh, who was one of the Republican candidates for presidential elector Tuesday. He is opposed to any action to sent the constitutionality of the new election law. The law provides that the voters mark their ballots for the candidate for president instead of for the party electors. “I think the law is not constitutional,” Mr. True said, “but the voters expressed their desires plainly.”

Rankin was one of the representatives that advanced the 19th Amendment, and was the “only woman who voted to give women the right to vote.” Ranking was also a pacifist, and voted along with many men against entering World War I. In her second term, years later, she was also the only member of Congress to vote against the U.S. entering World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Wilson, months after the election, went before Congress April 2, 1917, and requested a declaration of war against Germany. Both the House and the Senate concurred by April 6, 1917. When the Democratic party was fully in support of the 19th Amendment, Wilson made several appeals to Congress, which finally passed it, and then states in turn began to ratify the amendment. The minimum 36 states finally ratified it prior to the 1920 general election, so all women in the nation could vote in 1920.

Elderly women cast ballots
Two stories following the election highlighted and celebrated votes cast by elderly women.
“Aged 93 Her First Ballot to Hughes,” spotlighted Grandma Aber, who lived in Great Bend years earlier and lived with her daughter in Topeka at the time of the election. She wrote home to her son, L.P. Aber of Great Bend, “that she cast her first vote for president last Tuesday and that she voted for Hughes and Capper....She reports that she is well and enjoys her duty of suffrage to the fullest extent.”
In another story, “Woman aged 90 casts first vote,” it was reported out of Winfield, “The distinction of having the ordeal voter in the state to vote for the first time at the age of 90 years probably belongs to Winfield. This was Mrs. Elisa Davis, of Millington Street, who celebrated her 90th birthday yesterday. Mrs. Davis is one of the earliest settlers of Winfield.”
In 2012, Kansas began requiring voters to show photographic identification when casting a vote in person, and signatures had to be verified and a copy of an acceptable photo i.d. provided, or a full Kansas driver’s license nondriver i.d. Number provided when voting by mail. Several elderly voters have spoken out against this law, and it has kept some who no longer drive or who have changed their names through marriage, among other reasons, from being able to vote.

Election day in Great Bend
Election day was treated nearly as a holiday in Great Bend. One Tribune story offered the following advice to ensure the wait at the polls, in anticipation of a significant increase in voters.

“Election officers are asking that everybody who can possibly reach the pools before noon to cast their ballot shall do so. It is hard for the women to arrange their household affairs to go to the polls early in the morning and this necessitates that they shall vote in most instance in the afternoon. The men on the other hand will probably have more time away from their business in the morning and can vote better at this time of day.

“Those who are familiar with voting in Great Bend say that it often happens that in the morning there are few voters at the polls and in the afternoon they are so numerous that they must line up and await their turns. This will be a tiresome task this year if too big a crowd reaches the polls at the same time, as it will take longer to mark the ballots this year than it has in the past. One mark will not vote a straight ticket this year. Each candidate’s name must be marked if the voter wishes his elected.”

In fact, three of Great Bend’s wards had double election boards in order to begin compiling votes sooner in order to get results turned in sooner.

Election results at the Tribune office
The Great Bend Daily Tribune had an Associated Press wire with an expert operator from Kansas City installed in their offices prior to the election. “Everybody in Barton county is invited to come to the Tribune office tonight and see the election returns hot off the Associated Press special leased wire under the supervision of a special Associated Press operator. The bulletins are free for everybody and will be flashed across the street to a screen where everybody may read them. Come on down and join the fun.”

(Today’s reporters at the Tribune weren’t sure exactly what this meant. According to an article found at the blog “Early Radio History,” it was done using a combination of telephony, radio waves, and projection technology. It takes too long to summarize any better here, so, those steampunkers out there who want the full story can find it at )
Today, we simply get our results online.

Rally at the courthouse
The Republicans of Barton County planned to hold a rally Monday night prior to the election in Great Bend. A big parade would get things started at 8 p.m., followed by a meeting at the courthouse.

“The committee has arranged to have 500 seats at the courthouse, half of which will be reserved for the ladies. Judge Eric C. cole will address the meeting. Before the courthouse meeting the band will play a concert on parade and before the courthouse steps. The committee promises to give the voters of Barton county a rally equal to any that was ever held in this part of the state.”

Women were to be welcomed and special preparations were to be made for their comfort, it was stated. “Regardless of politics everybody is invited to attend and take part in the fun, after which the issues will be thoroughly discussed by the speaker and others who care to talk.”