Michigan Led the Way to Women’s Suffrage — Thanks to This Grand Rapids Activist

By Katelyn Kivel

February 28, 2023

GRAND RAPIDS—When Michigan tied for the title of being the first state to ratify women’s right to vote, it was because of a suffrage activist from Grand Rapids. The very next year, that suffragist became a state Senator.

Michigan Takes the Lead

On 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, along with neighboring states Wisconsin and Illinois. 

A screen capture from the House Joint Resolution regarding the 19th Amendment.

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Michigan’s state capitol building is recognized as a national historic landmark for its role in the women’s suffrage movement, but by the time the amendment was ratified, suffrage 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 in ratifying the 19th.

Meet Michigan’s Key Suffrage Activist 

Eva McCall Hamilton’s political career began in 1912, while working on a suffrage referendum. She also campaigned to make farmers markets legal in Grand Rapids, with a bill to allow farmers to sell directly to customers in the city. And in 1919, Hamilton helped establish Michigan’s League of Women Voters—which has gone on to be one of the most respected and successful voters’ rights organizations in the state.

In 1920, during the first election in which women were able to vote, she became the first woman elected to Michigan’s legislature. Senator Hamilton’s inaugural 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 remained involved in politics after leaving the state Senate, advocating for womens’ civic engagement programs like her League of Women Voters.

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