In the spring of 1914, the village of McHenry held their elections to vote for their public officials and on some key issues of the day, such as if they should abolish the poll tax. Yet, the biggest issue to many was whether or not the village of McHenry should abolish their saloons. However, the vote in the spring caucus was expected to be a big one as the offices of the village clerk, assessor and collector were up for election. What really made race for collector interesting was that one of the candidates was a woman.
On June 28, 1913 Illinois Governor Edward Dunne signed a bill into law that gave women of the state the right to vote in presidential and local elections, as well as run for local office. Illinois was the first state east of the Mississippi that gave women these rights. (The 19th amendment giving women the right to vote on a national level wouldn’t be passed until 1920.) There were many who weren’t so sure that women should vote or hold office, let alone there were still those who flat out opposed women’s suffrage. Needless to say, in 1914 election people were very interested to see how this law would affect McHenry’s elections and politics.
Running in the primary for village collector, Mrs. Mayme Harrison was the first woman to make a run for political office in the township. It was noted that she worked hard to drum up the vote and people thought she could get enough women to back her to get the nomination. Her opponent, incumbent collector, John Neison, was well respected and held the office for many years. It’s hard to say how much of a chance that Mayme Harrison had, facing a tough, experienced opponent and the negative perception many had of women in politics. In the end John Neison held on to his seat with a solid win in the village primary: 447-272.
Before the caucus that was held in March 1914, there were directions for completing the ballot, clarifying how votes were to be made (for the new voters). The box in-front of the candidates name was to have an “X” put through it. If the candidate was a write-in then the name was to be written legibly. If either of these items were ignored, then the vote would be thrown out. This actually was a problem and elections that were close could be affected by invalid ballots.
In the first election women could vote in, the caucus of 1914 had a large turn out of over 700 people voting. Of those, 268 were women and it should be noted that not one ballot needed to be thrown out. Women voters were shown respect with the right to vote, as it was understood that they now had their own form of political power. They were applauded for doing their civic and patriotic duty. In the case of Mayme Harrison, she was able to perform well against an established and well liked politician in the very first election that she could run for office. (She also had 3 write-in votes during April’s general election.)
In the general election held in April 1914, the biggest issue to many was whether or not McHenry would close its saloons and become a “dry” town. It soon became evident with women being able to vote, there would be another demographic of voters to court. In regards to the saloon vote in April, women were seen as the critical group of voters that could swing the election one way or the other. They became the focus of “wet” and “drys” trying to get their vote. Women were given many examples of the evils that drinking caused and were urged to vote the town dry. On April 7, 1914, McHenry voted to keep its saloons by a slim 171 votes and joined only one of five townships that remained wet. Interestingly the vote among the women was very close with a difference of 21 votes. 189 women voted to go dry and 168 voted to remain wet.
“Big Turnout at Caucus.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 26 Mar. 1914: 1.
“Caucus Next Saturday.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 14 Mar. 1914: 1.
“Comparatively Small Vote Cast.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 23 Apr. 1914: 1.
“Dunn Signs Suffrage Bill.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 5 Jul. 1913: 1.
“Poll Tax Must Be Voted On.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 12 Mar. 1914: 1.
“Village Election April 21.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 9 Apr. 1914: 1.
“Vote Yes Next Tuesday.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 2 Apr. 1914: 1.
“Wets Win By 54 Votes.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 9 Apr. 1914: 1.
“Women Do Your Duty!” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 5 Mar. 1914: 1.