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A story about a woman who voted in Bluffton in 1915

Even though the 19th amendment wasn't ratified until 1920

The 19th amendment guaranteed all American women the right to vote on Aug. 1920.

Despite that date, a brief notation in my grandmother’s diary reads: “I went to vote and Margaret and Florence went with me. Margaret is one year old, Nov. 2, 1915.”

The note with the 1915 date confused me. I knew that women did not receive their constitutional right to vote until the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

So, how could she vote in 1915?

Thanks to a response from the Ohio State Historical Society, I learned that Ohio was a partial suffrage state, because of the School Suffrage Act passed into law in 1894. The act allowed women to vote in local school board elections.

So, in reference to the 1915 diary note, my Grandmother Hahn voted in a school board election, not a presidential one.

I've shared the 1915 diary reference with my wife, two daughters, sister and nieces. This excited them even more than it did me.

My sister followed up my message with this note:

“One story (our) mother told was that Grandma Hahn went campaigning door to door in Bluffton, soliciting votes for complete women's suffrage.

She had doors slammed in her face. Then, she began to take her young daughter, Margaret (my mother), with her, because Margaret was about 5 years old and not yet in school.

Grandma Hahn found that fewer men slammed doors when Margaret went with her. One evening when my grandfather came home, he asked Bertha: "How many doors did you get slammed in your face today?"

She answered: "None, because Margaret was with me."

Concerning the 1915 diary notation. Here’s the scene I envision:

My grandmother dressed up. She also dressed up her two pre-school age daughters. She took them with her to vote. She could have kept the girls at home with her own mother, Barbara Althaus, who lived next door – who I’m certain did not exercise the right to vote in 1915 or ever, for that fact.

I would have loved to watch Grandmother Hahn, probably holding one daughter in one arm and holding the other by her hand as she asked for a ballot.

I’ll bet all the men in the room stopped and stared. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of them were ones who slammed their door in her face in her quest to seek full voting rights.

After she voted, she went home and wrote a note in her diary.

Years later my grandmother became a Bluffton precinct worker. And, years later, my mother followed that tradition.

Grandma Hahn voted ever year until she died in 1968.

Meanwhile, my Grandmother Steiner, a Mennonite, living on a farm four miles west of Bluffton, never voted. Ever. She lived until 1952.

Bertha Althaus Hahn with her daughter, Margaret, in 1915.


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