A Woman’s Right to Vote

April 4, 1873
Carrie Burnham Argued for the right to Vote

Can you imagine not being allowed to vote once you reach eighteen years of age? Because she was a woman in the 19th century, teacher and physician Carrie S. Burnham (later Kilgore) was denied that right. Burnham took her argument to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on April 4, 1873, asking this simple question: “Have women citizens the right of suffrage (to vote) under the Constitution of the United States and of this particular State of Pennsylvania?” She told the court that she believed a woman should have that right and presented a thoughtful case to support her argument. By this time, Burnham’s protest had been going on for several years.

In October 1871, Carrie Burnham went to the polls in her home city of Philadelphia to vote. When officials rejected her ballot, Burnham took her case to the Court of Common Pleas and petitioned for her right to vote on the grounds that she met the legal definition of a “freeman” and a citizen of the United States. With no success there, she went before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. What was its verdict?

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania disagreed with Carrie Burnham, and she was denied the right to vote. But she was not the only woman fighting for her right. The woman suffrage movement started in the mid-19th century and progressed with leaders such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. The movement continued until 1920, when women of the U.S. finally won the right to vote after World War I. Do you know the names of other women who fought for this cause? As for Carrie Burnham, she died before gaining the right to vote, but not before becoming an attorney and winning admission to the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court.