Governor A.O. Stanley makes sure the Democrats stop the statewide equal suffrage bill

Randolph Hollingsworth's picture

Kentucky woman suffrage advocates were confident that 1916 was going to be the year that the legislature would put forward a bill calling for a statewide vote to amend the Kentucky constitution for equal access to the franchise. Madeline McDowell Breckinridge chaired the legislative campaign committee for the Kentucky Equal Rights Association (KERA) and persuaded two Lexington congressmen - Senator Thomas A. Combs and Representative W.C.G. Hobbs - to champion statewide woman suffrage in bills that session. Again, as in 1912, KERA sponsored a big event at the Capitol Hotel at the start of the legislative session, and Lieutenant Governor James D. Black introduced Beatrice Forbes-Robertson Hale of New York at her speech before a joint session of the General Assembly at noon on January 18, 1916.

KERA president Elise Bennett Smith led a delegation of speakers before the Senate Committee on Suffrage and Elections in late January. The committee voted the bill out favorably and on March 8th it passed in the Senate by a 26-8 vote.
Meanwhile, as planned by the KERA leaders, Representative W.C.G. Hobbs of Lexington proposed H.B. 130, an act to amend section 145 of the Kentucky Constitution to allow women to vote in all elections. Nevertheless, anti-suffragists gathered together to support House Bill 253 proposed on January 21st by Mr. A.J. Oliver of Scottsville in Allen County to repeal the partial suffrage for Kentucky women allowing them to vote in school elections. That bill never came out of the House Committee on Education.

On February 10th, the woman suffrage bill came out of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments for a first reading - together with a prohibition bill - and was reported out by Rep. J.M. Elliston (a Democrat representing Grant County) unfavorably in a close vote of 5-4. Rep. Hobbs moved that the bill be given its first reading despite the committee's ruling, together with Rep. W.M. Webb (a Republican from Paintsville, representing Johnson and Martin Counties) who called for a vote by the full House, the motion was voted in the affirmative 51-40. It looked like the House was going to follow the Senate's lead in forwarding a referendum to amend the Kentucky Constitution for woman suffrage.

Governor A.O. Stanley, considered by Kentucky historians to be one of the state's most progressive-minded governors, called on U.S. Senator "Big Ollie" Murray James of Crittenden County and U.S. Rep. James Campbell Cantrill of Georgetown to gather the Democratic state representatives and convince them to kill the woman suffrage bill.

On March 2nd, Rep. Webb moved that H.B. 130 be taken off the calendar. His motion won by 50 to 36 votes which effectively killed the bill (Journal, v. 2, 1133). Rep. Hobbs went on to lead a contingent of politicians as part of the Men's League for Women Suffrage participating in the state's largest suffrage parade on Universal Suffrage Day in Lexington that year.

*** Resources ***
Breckinridge, Madeline McDowell. “Kentucky,” The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. VI, ed. Ida Husted Harper (NAWSA, 1922): 210-211.

"H.B. 130, An Act to amend section 145 of the Constitution," Journal of the House of Representatives of the General Assembly of the ... Sess. 124, v. 1 (1916). HathiTrust.

Hay, Melba Porter. Madeline McDowell Breckinridge and the Battle for a New South (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009): 192-196.

Klotter, James C. Kentucky, Portrait in Paradox, 1900-1950. Frankfort: Kentucky Historical Society, 1996.

"Madison County," 18 in Report of the Twenty-Seventh Annual Convention of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association Held at Louisville, Kentucky, November 15 and 16, 1916.

"Mrs. Beatrice Hale," Mountain Advocate [Barbourville, Ky.] (28 Jan. 1916): 8. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

"Suffrage Parade Is Biggest Ever Held in Kentucky," Lexington Herald (May 7, 1916): 1, 3. Transcribed on H-Kentucky,

N.B. This post supports the development of the KWSP's timeline for Kentucky suffrage movement. To see this post within the context of the whole timeline, visit