Suffrage activism in Nebraska

Although the 1881-1882 campaign was an important point in the history of woman suffrage in Nebraska, suffrage agitation began early in the state’s history: on January 8, 1856, Amelia Bloomer, at the invitation of the Nebraska Territorial Legislature in Omaha, delivered a lecture on the subject of woman suffrage to an audience of legislators and interested women.

In her speech, Bloomer asserted that suffrage is a human right that cannot be limited to men or women: “Each has the same claim to life and the pursuit of happiness, and any attempt of one to rob the other of this claim is a violation of the first law of nature. It has been by disregarding this principle of equality in rights between the two sexes that so great a disparity is suffered to exist between the positions they respectively occupy in modern society.”

Bloomer addressed many of the inequities that existed between men and women, as well as the stigma attached to unmarried women and married women's lack of legal status and property rights. Bloomer urged men to support women's innate equality, but also pushed women to recognize the possibilities of their own activism:

Let woman then arise and demand the restoration of her heaven-born right of self-government. Let it no longer be said of her, as it was said of the women of Massachusetts, that they do not desire to be free, but let her voice go up to our legislators -- let it be heard among the people everywhere claiming the recognition of this inalienable right, of such inestimable value to her, and formidable to tyrants only. The enfranchisement of woman will be attended with the happiest results, not for her only, but for the whole race. It will place society upon a higher moral and social elevation than it has ever yet attained.

Bloomer’s speech was well received and credited with spurring passage of a suffrage bill through the first house of the legislature. While wider political machinations ensured the bill never left the second house, interest in suffrage endured, and Bloomer delivered several more lectures in the state over the course of the next two years.

Read Nebraskian (Omaha) coverage of Bloomer's speech

Omaha Nebraskian, January 9, 1856

Last evening, Mrs. Amelia Bloomer delivered a lecture at the State house in this city, on the question of Woman's right of franchise.

The Hall of Representatives in which she spoke, was crowded to overflowing. The lady was listened to with marked interests and attention. We think all persons of candor, whatever their opinions may be in relation to the views of Mrs. Bloomer will at least acknowledge that she is certainly a most pleasing and logical speaker, and that she handled the subject with great ability.

We have space for only a very brief sketch of the lecture.

Mrs. Bloomer commenced by asserting that it is a principle of all free governments, that the people rule; and as all the people must be subject to the laws, all should have a voice in their formation - that is, "all who are of sufficient age and discretion, to express an intelligent opinion on the subject." It was presumed that none would doubt the correctness of this, when applied to man, but these rights belong not to man alone, but to the race - and to each individual member of it without regard to sex. Woman is not only entitled to the enjoyment of all these rights, which God and nature have bestowed upon the race, but likewise to enjoy the same means of enforcing them as man - and therefore she has a right to be heard in the formation of constitutions, in the making of the laws, and in the selection of those by whom the laws are administered. This may be thought strong ground to assume, but it is nevertheless, no more than the full recognition of those principles of civil liberty, which lie at the base of all our institution, and which make us the freest people in all the world. It is but to carry out in practice what all admit, or must admit if they will deal honestly with the subject - to be true in theory. It is but to enforce the great doctrine of innate sovereignty of the people. It is but to vindicate the capacity and right of the people - the whole people- to govern themselves.

In this country there is one great tribunal by which all theories must be tried - all principles tested - all measures settled - that tribunal is the Ballot Box.

This is the medium through which public opinion finally makes itself felt. Deny to public opinion this instrumentality of making itself heard and it will be impotent indeed. Deny to any class in community the right to be heard at the ballot box, and that class sinks at once into a state of dependence, of civil insignificance, which nothing can save from subjugation, oppression and wrong. Woman is denied the right of suffrage, and therefore, her condition is one of civil inferiority to man and civil inferiority too surely begets mental inferiority, because it shuts out form her study and contemplation the very subjects and questions, which above all others, tend to elevate and dignify man. - Woman has the same right to go to the ballot box and vote as man; it is her duty to do so, and we can never expect to have a perfectly just and upright government until this right is both accorded to, and exercised by her.

Although woman is excluded from the ballot box, she is compelled to obey the laws as implicitly as man. Notwithstanding the sentiment contained in the Declaration of Independence, that "all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed: woman is governed without her consent being given or asked to such powers, and she is punished for the violation of laws as severely as though she had a voice in their formation. This is unjust. Women are in all respects as capable of exercising the elective franchise, of discharging the duties of citizenship, of participating in the affairs of government, as men.

Woman is taxed her property must bear an equal proportion of the expenses of government. It is a well understood principle of republicanism, that taxation and representation go together, or in other words, that all who pay taxes should have a voice in their imposition. Yet, woman is taxed, although not represented. Her money is taken away from her year after year without even the pretence of asking her consent for so doing.

Women should enjoy the right of self government in its fullest extent, because she has interests and rights which are not in force, and never will be sufficiently guarded din governments in which she is not allowed any political influence.

These and many other points, to which we have neither time nor space to advert, were presented in a very plausible and interesting manner. In conclusion said the speaker, "the enfranchisement of woman will be attended with the happiest results - not for her only, but for the whole race. It will place society upon a higher moral and social elevation than it has ever yet attained."

Above we have endeavored as briefly as possible, to give our readers an impartial sketch of the lecture. We will only add, in respect to Mrs. Bloomer, that we think she is very much of a gentleman.


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Extract from Nebraska chapter, written by Clara Bewick Colby, in History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 3, edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage.