Elizabeth D. Katz: Missouri’s unique contributions to women’s rights to vote and hold office | Guest columnists

In 1919, the Missouri Legislature (like many other states in the preceding years) had authorized women to vote for presidential electors only. Missouri’s law uniquely required that women’s votes be cast on colored paper, soon widely understood to mean pink. Yet after the 19th Amendment became the law of the land, Missouri’s attorney general determined that the “Pink Ballot Law” was both unnecessary and unconstitutional.

Women’s equality in other matters of citizenship remained contested. Missouri was one of several states where another law was needed to grant women full officeholding rights. In March 1921, the Legislature and governor approved a bill to place an officeholding amendment before voters. The Post-Dispatch supported the move in an editorial, which remarked that officeholding “is a corollary of equal suffrage and is necessary to [women’s] exercise of full political rights.” In a special election that August, the amendment passed by a narrow margin, although St. Louis voters opposed it.

Jury service was the final frontier in securing women’s equal political rights. It was not until 1979 that the U.S. Supreme Court, in a case originating in Missouri, held that it was unconstitutional to automatically exempt women from jury service.

As Missourians cast ballots Tuesday, we should consider the many generations of struggle that were necessary to secure women’s political rights, as well as ongoing efforts to ensure equal access to the ballot for all.

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