With only a few weeks left to go before WLAM celebrates its centennial anniversary, we take a moment to celebrate the life of our past president, Phoebe Munnecke, who is pictured in the First Annual Session of the National Association of Women Lawyers on August 28, 1923.
Munnecke was also active in he National Woman’s Party. After the National Woman’s Party made it clear that women would take a stand against the war if they were not given the right to vote, President Wilson (a reluctant convert to the suffrage cause) finally urged Congress to pass a voting rights amendment. However, in 1918, Congress voted against the passage of the amendment in October of 1918.
In protest, the National Woman’s Party gathered on New Year’s night, and set Wilson’s speech on fire. Dozens of women were arrested for protesting Wilson’s policy in promoting democracy abroad, while denying women their right to vote at home. Munnecke was one of those women. After being sentenced to ten days in jail, the women refused to pay bail and went on a hunger strike. As a result, they were released early. The suffragettes went on to travel to at least fifteen cities to pressure the legislators who had voted against the passage of the amendment.
Touring across states on a train they came to call the “Democracy Limited,” the group’s slogan was “from Prison to People.” Nicknamed the “Prison Special,” a New York Times writer applauded the group’s choice to march in New York on the last day of the present Congress, in times when the nation was vulnerable “to flying squadrons of agitators.”
With only days left until the ratification of the prohibition amendment, suffrage was next on the list. On June 4, 1919, Congress passed the 19th amendment.
Notably, Michigan had already passed a state constitutional amendment in 1918 which allowed women the right to vote in our state. As a result, Michigan was the second state to ratify the 19th Amendment in June 10, 1919.
On August 26, 1920, despite 12 states refusing to ratify, the 19th Amendment was finally certified by U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby, and women finally achieved the long-sought right to vote throughout the United States. It took over 60 years for the remaining 12 states to ratify the 19th amendment, with Mississippi being the last to do so in 1984.
On November 2, 1920, more than 8 million women across the U.S. voted in elections for the first time.
Munnecke went on to become president of WLAM in 1938.
The Women Lawyers Association of Michigan is proud to be standing on the shoulders of strong and brave women like Phoebe Munnecke, to whom we owe the undisturbed right to vote that we enjoy today.
Women picketing outside the White House, “Mr. President, how long must women want for liberty?”
Women’s suffrage tent, 1912 Michigan State Fair.