NewsWomen's History Month


How Colorado women won the right to vote and led the way for all Americans

From Ellis Meredith to Elizabeth Ensley, Coloradan suffragists continue to inspire.
Shaun Boyd
Posted at 4:41 PM, Mar 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-12 13:30:20-04

DENVER — As Americans head to the polls to vote this year, Denver7 is looking back at Colorado’s part in securing women the right to vote.

Not only was Colorado the first state to grant women voting rights through a popular vote, but its leading ladies also made it possible for the rest of the country.

“The western United States was leading the way,” said Shaun Boyd, a curator for the History Colorado archives, where photographs, newspaper clippings, pamphlets and flyers paint a picture of what happened.

Shaun Boyd History Colorado
Shaun Boyd helps curate the collection in the History Colorado archives, including these artifacts from the 1800s movement to extend voting rights to women in Colorado.

“The women in the West had proven that they were equal as far as, like, doing the work and homesteading,” she said. Giving women the right to vote could expand the political power of the West, increasing its voter base and giving those places a bigger stake in the U.S. Congress.

Women’s enfranchisement started with the territory of Wyoming in 1869. Then after several failed attempts, Colorado’s men voted to extend that right to women in 1893.

"There were women in every county pushing for this,” Boyd said, and “the Colorado folks became part of the national movement.”

Women like Ellis Meredith, known as the “Susan B. Anthony of Colorado," were part of that movement.

Meredith was a reporter with the Rocky Mountain News and wrote letters back and forth with all of the United States’ top women’s suffrage leaders. She rode around on her bicycle, knocking on doors and spreading the word about suffrage.

Ellis Meredith on bike.png
Ellis Meredith helped lead women to a win in 1893.

After getting Coloradan women the right to vote, Meredith worked for the National American Women's Suffrage Association in Washington, D.C., which pushed for what became the 19th Amendment passed in 1920.

Denver was also home to the Queen Bee newspaper, a pro-women's suffrage publication printed in Colorado and shared across the country.

While white women are most prominently recognized in the U.S. women’s suffrage movement, Black women played a major part in Colorado, such as Ida Clark DePriest and Elizabeth Piper Ensley.

Elizabeth Ensley
Elizabeth Piper Ensley was one of few African American women who campaigned alongside white women for the right to vote in Colorado.

Ensley was “the treasurer of the [Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association]. So she's definitely in the thick of it,” Boyd said. She was involved with the meetings and campaigning that led to the successful 1893 vote. But 10 years later, at a 1903 banquet celebrating the anniversary of that win, Ensley wasn’t invited.

Boyd said with the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado, Black women like Ensley and DePriest had to “go their own way” and create separate political organizing groups for Black women.

But today, their contributions aren’t forgotten.

Melody Epperson
Melody Epperson paints portraits of women's suffrage leaders, including the tenacious women of Colorado.

"If the African American people had not come alongside this, it probably wouldn't have passed in Colorado,” said Melody Epperson, an Arvada artist who has painted portraits of women’s suffrage leaders, including Ensley.

Epperson uses encaustic wax, an ancient form of painting where you heat up wax paint and then apply it with special tools.

When she lights up her blowtorch, she said the melting wax has a deeper meaning: the vulnerability of democracy and the strength of the women who fought for the right to vote.

"The movement was a powerful grassroots effort, and really inspiring,” Epperson said.

Women's Suffrage portraits Melody Epperson
Melody Epperson has painted women like Ida B. Wells, Lucy Burns and many others who helped win women the right to vote in the United States.

As she researched the leaders she painted — from Lucy Burns to Alice Paul and Ida B. Wells — she realized how close to home the movement truly was.

“It came up that my great-grandmother was actually a part of that movement when she was a young woman and went door to door,” Epperson said.

She hopes her portrayals of women who paved the way can remind us of how important and fragile the right to vote is. Her takeaway: don’t be afraid of standing up for something that's really important.

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