By Henry M. Holden
qualified to vote in elections. In the early years of our nation, states typically limited the
right to vote to “freeholders” which were defined as persons who owned land (men)
worth a certain amount of money. It was thought that people who did not own property
would have no permanent stake in the community.
The campaign for woman suffrage was long, difficult, dramatic, and at times
heart breaking. Decades of effort to include African American and other minority
women in the promise of voting rights remained the challenge.
Voting rights for women and racial minorities were unheard of. But the devil is in
the details. Most African Americans were slaves, owned by their white masters, and
could not vote. Several states, however, allowed free blacks to vote. Most women could
not vote, but in a number of venues, qualified women voted in local elections.
In 1776, the New Jersey Constitution provided that “all inhabitants” of legal age
who made the property and residency requirements were entitled to vote. It is unclear if
it was intended to include women. By 1790, state election law used the phrase he or she,
to clarify the issue.
By 1807, with allegations that men were dressing as women, and voting twice, the
right of women to vote in New Jersey was revoked.
For the next 30 years women’s suffrage was not taken seriously by lawmakers.
Women organized, petitioned, and picketed to win the right to vote, but their
struggle took decades to accomplish their purpose. Few early supporters lived to see