Woman suffrage and the poll tax

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On July 10, 1902, a second Constitution was adopted by the Commonwealth. A Constitutional Convention had been convened over a year earlier, and taking a year to deliberate, established laws such as a poll tax and woman suffrage. In Chesterfield, 312 votes sent two delegates to the Convention, although a pre-election campaign had promised the result would be brought back to the voters. It was not. The new Virginia Constitution was proclaimed by the delegation and signed by Governor Andrew Jackson Montague.

According to “Encyclopedia Virginia,” our state’s poll tax was a tax levied as a prerequisite for voting. As a result, many African Americans (and other impoverished citizens) who could not afford to pay the poll tax were deprived of their rights as citizens. In 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution stipulated that an individual’s right to vote could not be denied by any state on the basis of race or color. However, Virginia soon looked for other ways to keep the vote from African Americans, which inevitably, and maybe by design, blocked some white Americans as well.

The Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, was passed in Congress in 1919 and ratified by the states a year later. In 1913, Virginia lawyer Conway Whittle Sams, according to the “Virginia Encyclopedia,” dismissed the woman suffrage movement as “a craze.” Despite such opposition, women in the Commonwealth would win the vote seven years later. Virginia, however, delayed its ratification of suffrage until 1952. By then, women had been voting and, slowly, winning elected office in the state for more than 30 years.

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