Today in History

Today in History: April 4

Carrie S. Burnham

Have women citizens the right of suffrage under the Constitution of the United States and of this particular State of Pennsylvania?

Carrie S. Burnham, Woman Suffrage: The Argument of Carrie S. Burnham…,
Philadelphia, Citizen's Suffrage Association, 1873.
Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921

Votes for Women postcard
Votes for Women Postcard, Woman Suffrage Headquarters, New York, New York.
Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921

With this simple question, Carrie S. Burnham began her argument, made before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on April 3 and April 4, 1873, for her right to vote. "It is not simply," Burhnam reasoned, "whether I shall be protected in the exercise of my inalienable right and duty of self-government, but whether a government, the mere agent of the people, …can deny to any portion of its intelligent, adult citizens participation therein and still hold them amenable to its laws…"

Carrie Burnham's protest against the exclusion of women from the electorate began, in September 1871, when she took measures to comply with local election laws in the Fourteenth Ward of the City of Philadelphia. She attempted to vote on October 10, 1871.

When polling officials rejected her ballot, Burnham petitioned the Court of Common Pleas for the right to vote on the grounds that she met the legal definition of a "freeman" and a citizen of the United States. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania disagreed. Woman Suffrage: The Argument of Carrie S. Burnham… includes the full text of Burnham's argument as well as a history of the case (beginning on page 88), and the text of the opinion of the Honorable George Sharswood, (beginning on page 94). Sharswood's opinion, delivered on December 30, 1871, was upheld by the Supreme Court on April 5, 1873.

To learn more about the women's suffrage movement: