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Special report: A celebration of women’s suffrage on its 99th anniversary

The North Carolina Equal Suffrage Association was headquartered in Raleigh at 116 Fayetteville St. The building was torn down; the location is now the plaza next to the Wells Fargo tower. (Photo: State Archives of NC)

Ninety-nine years ago today, a stalemate between two states nearly derailed the women’s suffrage movement. With just one state shy of the required 36 to ratify the 19th amendment, North Carolina and Tennessee were battling not to be the one to allow women the right to vote.

North Carolina lawmakers sat on their hands. But on Aug. 18, 1920, Tennessee voted “yes,” giving 10 million women in the U.S. the historic right to vote. The 19th amendment also emboldened women to run for office, although those elected posts were largely the domain of white women. Not until the 1960s and 1970s did women of color begin to make forays into elected life — and they are still underrepresented in all forms of government.

In collaboration with the Pauli Murray Project and the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites, Policy Watch is chronicling the courage and tenacity of women who fought for equal rights, including the right to vote. In an occasional series leading up to the centennial anniversary of the 19th amendment, we’ll feature women’s stories, landmark and information about both this historic event and its reverberations 100 years later.

We’re launching the series with a map of significant places associated with women who were pioneers in the suffrage and democracy movement in North Carolina. Click on a marker on the map to bring up more information about that site. If you have locations that should be added to the map, send the address, name of the notable woman and any biographical information to [email protected] [2]. — Lisa Sorg

This story was researched by Sophia Hutchens, an intern with the Pauli Murray Project, and Rakhia Bass, an NC Policy Watch intern. Citations are embedded as links and listed below each entry.



Citation: Sex, Gender, and the Politics of ERA: A State and the Nation, Donald G. Mathews and Jane Sherron De Hart
           Documenting the American South, NCpedia, State Government & Heritage Library
            Ballots for Both. An Address by Chief Justice Walter Clark at Greenville, N. C., 8 December,1916
             North Carolina History Project, [14] John Locke Foundation, State Government & Heritage Library
           Gertrude Weil Papers (1856-1861, 1873-1970) at the North Carolina State Archives, National American Woman Suffrage Association, N.C.    Equal Suffrage Association, Goldsboro Suffrage League, 1 folder, 1488.56
            Anna Hayes. Without Precedent: The Life of Susie Marshall Sharp. University of North Carolina Press, 2008




Annie Brown Kennedy

Kennedy was only the second [26] African American woman licensed to practice law in the state (1954) and the first ever to serve in the General Assembly. (Alfreda Johnson Webb was appointed but never served.) In 1979, Kennedy was selected by the Executive Committee of the Democratic Party of Forsyth County to fill a vacated term in the House, and subsequently appointed to that position by Gov. Jim Hunt. Kennedy unsuccessfully sought election to the seat in the 1980 General election. In 1982, however, she won the first of six consecutive terms in the House, where her focus was the status and welfare of families, women, and African Americans, among other issues. Kennedy chose not to seek reelection in 1994 and returned to the practice of law in a family-run practice with her husband and two sons. At 93, she still lives in Winston-Salem.

Southern Oral History Program, UNC Center for the Study of the American South
Eva Clayton

Clayton, a civil rights activist and community developer, is from Littleton. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 1992, becoming the first black woman to represent North Carolina in Congress. She was re-elected and served several terms before retiring in 2002. Clayton wrote an article in 2017 [28] to address the unfair redistricting attempts in North Carolina. She states that fair geographic boundaries are critical to elections and demonstrate whether constituents’ votes are valued.

Oral History Interview with Eva Clayton, July 18, 1989. Interview C-0084. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)