“I think no one has done better work for the cause than you,” Michigan’s then-Governor said of suffrage advocate Eva Hamilton in 1912.
GRAND RAPIDS, MI — It was a suffrage activist from Grand Rapids who was instrumental in making Michigan tie for the title of the first state to ratify the right of women to vote. Her career took her to the state Senate the year America ratified the 19th Amendment.
But Eva McCall Hamilton’s story often goes untold.
The Story We Know
June 10, 1919, Michigan ratified the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. It was one of three states to share the distinction of being the first to ratify the amendment, the other two being neighboring states Wisconsin and Illinois.
Michigan affirmed, on that day, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
Michigan’s state capitol building is recognized as a national historic landmark for its role in the women’s suffrage movement, but from Flint to Battle Creek suffragette organizations had been working on the cause across the state for decades.
It would take more than a year for 33 more states to join Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois and make the 19th Amendment, sometimes called the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, law. And while August 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the national ratification of the 19th amendment, Michigan celebrates the 100th anniversary of the promise it made in 1919 being delivered.
Meet Michigan’s Key Suffrage Activist
In 1920, suffrage activist Eva McCall Hamilton became the first woman to serve in Michigan’s
legislature after being elected to the state Senate. Hamilton’s first speech was on the serious dangers posed to women by sexually transmitted diseases, and her early accomplishments included successfully helping raise teachers’ wages and reforming the Michigan Mothers’ Pensions Act. Her work in the legislature was revolutionary, allowing underprivileged children to be cared for in the home rather than in state-controlled institutions.
Hamilton’s political career started in 1912, with work on a suffrage referendum. She also engaged in a campaign in Grand Rapids to allow farmers to directly sell to customers in the city, making farmers’ markets possible in Grand Rapids for the first time. And in 1919, as Michigan ratified suffrage, Hamilton helped establish Michigan’s League of Women Voters which has gone on to be one of the most respected and successful voters’ rights advocates and voter information resources in the state.
Hamilton remained involved in politics after leaving the state Senate, advocating for womens’ civic engagement programs like her League of Women Voters. Even when she lost her seat, Hamilton won the respect of her colleagues.
In 1912, then-Gov. Chase Osborn wrote a letter commending Hamilton for her contributions to the cause of women’s suffrage.
“I think no one has done better work for the cause than you,” he wrote.