Ballots and Ballot Boxes

Even though the Woman Suffrage amendment was not passed until 1920, women in a number of states did have limited access to the polling booth, primarily for municipal elections such as those for local school boards. Kentucky women were allowed to vote in school elections in 1838, Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota women in 1887, along with their sisters in New Jersey.  Women in these selected states were probably given limited voting rights on educational issues in part to diffuse an argument advanced by some suffragists, that women needed the ballot to vote on those issues that related to their traditional roles as wives and mothers.

Ballot Boxes for Women The problem for election officials in those states that had granted women partial voting rights was to separate the process for male and female voters; otherwise women might secretly cast ballots for offices that they were restricted from voting for.  Generally what this involved was the creation of not only separate male and female lines at polling places, but also separate ballot boxes, so that women could not cast “illegal” ballots without having them specifically identified as such.  Pictured here is one such “ballot box,” actually a tin drum. There is a version for men without any gender labeling on the piece.  Many ballot boxes were literally that, “boxes,” as shown below with this item from an unknown state.

When Elizabeth Cady Stanton ran for Congress in the Eighth District of New York in 1866, many people were surprised to learn that while the State Constitution prohibited women from voting, it did not expressly prohibit them from running for office. Accordingly, she had printed up what may have been the first ballot ever issued for a woman candidate, a two inch square piece that was inscribed “For Representative for Congress, ELIZABETH CADY STANTON.”  Stanton received but 24 votes in that election, whereas James Brooks, a Democrat, won the election with 13,816.  At present, there are no known surviving examples of this ballot, but at one time an example was in the possession of Theodore Tilton, whose wife was to engage in a scandalous affair with the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Belva Lockwood for President Ballot  The only known 19th century presidential ballot for a woman is this example here that was issued in New York for the 1884 Equal Rights Party ticket of Belva Lockwood and Marietta L. Stow. When Lockwood ran again in 1888, she chose Alfred Love of the Universal Peace Union to be her running mate.  Love, who was a friend of Lockwood’s, was not consulted in his selection, and declined the role based upon his anarchist beliefs. Charles Stuart Wells was selected as his replacement.  No ballots survive, if any were ever printed, from the 1888 campaign.  There are no known ballots either from Victoria Woodhull’s notorious 1872 run for the presidency or for her two later, less publicized attempts.


Ballot Pasters  In addition to ballots, many candidates relied on “pasters.”  Pasters were used when a voter did not wish to vote for all of the party candidates on the ballot that he was provided with  He could either cross out the name that he did not wish to vote for and write in a substitute or he could stick a paster onto the ballot over that name.  Write-in names were often challenged if there were any deviations from the officially approved version (i.e, misspellings, leaving out a middle initial, etc.), so pasters were a way of ensuring that the vote would be counted.  To the left are a series of pasters for Emma Beckwith, who ran for Mayor of Brooklyn in 1889 under the banner of the “Equal Rights” ticket, Belva Lockwood’s party.

Early Examples of Women Voting Women could vote in several states in Colonial Times before state constitutions were amended to restrict their access to the polls.  Even in the 19th century, some states allowed women to vote in municipal elections, generally for school board. This engraving shows early women voters casting their ballots.

When women were allowed to vote for the first time in municipal election in Boston in 1888,  the occasion drew enough interest that several national publications not only reported on the event but provided illustrations for their readers as seen in the example to the left from Harper’s Weekly.  The City printed up a set of instructions for the “Assessment and Registration of Women Voters.” To be eligible to vote, a woman had to pay a poll tax, be able to read and write, be at least 21 years of age, and have resided in the State for a minimum of 1 year and in the City for at least 6 months. Pictured here also is a “Woman’s Ballot” for a school election held in Boston 11 years later in 1899.









Whenever a referendum on voting rights for women was held, special ballots were printed up, distinct from ballots for candidates for various offices.  Sometimes the issue was combined with other issues on a large ballot, as is the case with the example on the far left below.   At other times, the ballot consisted of a simple piece of paper, distinct from any other matter.  Both pro and anti forces printed up mock ballots before suffrage referenda in an effort to influence voters and instruct them as to what position to take.







Massachusetts State Woman Suffrage Ballot—The Woman Suffrage Ballot pictured on the left came about as the result of an attempt on the part of suffrage activists in Massachusetts to align themselves with the Prohibitory or Temperance Party in 1876.  The OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAagreement reached was that while women could not legally vote in the general election they could participate in Prohibition caucuses and help select candidates for the state ticket.  In return, they would work for the candidates, even to the point of distributing ballots at the polls.  Lucy Stone and Mary Livermore took part in the campaign, and at Temperance headquarters throughout the state transparencies were hung with the names of John I. Baker and Daniel C. Eddy (the candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor) on one side and the phrase “Prohibition and Equal Rights” on the other.  However, many local Prohibitionists repudiated the nominations for local candidates that women supported once the caucuses were over and women no longer had a voice in the process.  In response in Malden in Middlesex County, the suffragists held their own caucus and “re-nominated” the Baker-Eddy team along with other local sympathetic suffrage supporters, printing 1,700 ballots for their candidates under the rubric of “The Woman Suffrage Ticket.”  Even though it was considered unseemly for women to work at the polls on election day, the activists who distributed the ballots were treated with courtesy, and the Suffrage Ticket received 41 votes of the 1,340 cast in the district, a larger proportion than that first cast for the old Liberty Party in Massachusetts, which later evolved into the Free Soil and Republican parties.

For more information about these and other suffrage artifacts, consult my forthcoming book from McFarland Press, Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study.


8 thoughts on “Ballots and Ballot Boxes

  1. This is a wonderful site that is full of information! It really helped me with my NHD project! Thank you for such an amazing site!

    • Thank you very much for your very kind words. One of the reasons why I set up this sight is to draw attention to the educational value of suffrage memorabilia. Glad this could be of help.

  2. I love your site. I am the editor of a quarterly publication (Treasure State Lines) for our local genealogy society and would like to use some of your information and images in my next publication. Can you give me permission to do so, citing your web site for further information. I am doing a feature on women’s early voting rights in Montana. Our web site is: and you can check out the publication I am talking about under “Online Resources”. We mail to 200 members and libraries and publish online.
    Thank you.
    Diane Green

    • Diane,
      Thank you for your kind words. Of course, you can use the images and any information from this site that you need. Thanks for asking and good luck with your article.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your artifacts! You made my project 100000000% easier and this was so interesting to learn! I appreciate so much!

  4. This is such a great piece of history, thank you for your compilation. I would love to use some of the images for printing new postcards to send to representatives in Congress, for some of them who may need a reminder that we women have a voice nowadays, and to thank the ones that are on our side. Can I use the images? I will happily give credit to the site for the images.

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