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Women's Suffrage in Virginia, Early Efforts.

The first founding meeting of the Equal Suffrage League (ESL) convened November 20, 1909, and likely met in the front parlor room, containing the beautiful fireplace and mantel pictured here. The meeting minutes, kept by Mrs. A.M. Tyler, record “a representative and enthusiastic meeting of women interested in the formation of the Virginia Suffrage League.” Founding members included host Anne Clay Crenshaw, reformer Lila Meade Valentine, artists Adèle Goodman Clark and Nora Houston, and writer Ellen Glasgow. A committee was appointed to draft a constitution and by-laws, and the women agreed to meet the following week, again at the Crenshaw house. Houston reported in her history of the league that the women left in groups of two and three to avoid suspicion.
   Prior to this meeting, Virginia’s earliest attempts to win the vote for women occurred in the 1870s, no doubt inspired by organizations like the National American Woman Suffrage Association, led in the early 20th century by Carrie Chapman Catt (above). Richmonder Anna Whitehead Bodeker founded and became president of the Virginia State Woman Suffrage Association in the early 1870s. Though the organization was small, Bodeker secured visits from national leaders including Susan B. Anthony. The early Virginia suffrage movement, however, operated under volatile historical circumstances. Many politicians not only cited traditional gender roles in oppostion to suffrage but also associated the issue of a potential federal or state voting amendment with the hated politics of Reconstruction. Early efforts thus failed to gain statewide traction or much influence.