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We the People    The Women


Women's Suffrage
Nebraska could have been the first state in the Union to allow women the vote.
A suffrage bill passed in the lower house of the territorial legislature in 1856, but failed in the upper house. Wyoming gave women the vote in 1869. Nebraska, with the help of suffrage leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, did become the second state to allow women to vote in school district elections. Yet three times Nebraska voters, led by religious and anti-prohibition groups, voted down proposed women's suffrage: 1882, 1891, and 1914. A limited-suffrage act passed in 1917, but by the time court challenges to it were complete, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution took effect. At last women citizens could vote alongside men.

Suffragist Susan B. Anthony
made several trips to Nebraska.

Suffrage float.
Ca. 1910.

Suffragists Mrs. Howes and Mrs. Haller
and the two Haller boys with their dogs. Date unknown.

National American Women Suffrage Association convention, Omaha, 1890.

Anti-suffragists circulated this card in 1914
. They would leave such cards in envelopes on the porches of prominent suffrage advocates. Whether the text is from an actual speech given in Omaha or it was fabricated by anti-suffragists is unknown.

"Call on God, my dear. She will help you."

Mrs. O.H.P. Belmont, about 1882

Equal Rights Amendment: 1972-1982
In 1972, Nebraska became the second state to ratify the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

Months later, Senator Richard Proud of Omaha announced that Nebraska women had overwhelmed his office with letters requesting Nebraska rescind its support of the amendment. Spurred by national anti-ERA groups such as Happiness of Motherhood Eternal (HOME), Females Opposed to Equality (FOE), anti-ERA leader Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, and the Ku Klux Klan, Proud claimed the ERA would require women to register for the military draft, force women to forfeit any right to their husband's pension money in the event of his death, prevent legal recourse against rape, diminish family values by forcing women to work outside the home, and require unisex bathrooms.

After weeks of heated protest from both sides, Nebraska became the first of five states to rescind its ratification on March, 15, 1973.Though the legality of the rescission was questioned, it reflected the conflicting values and beliefs of Nebraskans.

Picketers supporting and opposing the Equal Rights Amendment packed the State Capitol rotunda during debate on rescinding ratification of the ERA, which had been ratified in 1972 with little comment.

Marital Rape Law
Nebraska became the first state to make marital rape illegal in 1975.
The statute formerly said sexual assault was not criminal if the victim was a legal spouse, unless the couple was living apart or had filed for divorce. Nebraska led the nation; the last state to make marital rape illegal was North Carolina in 1993.

The Unexpected Battle: Kay Orr / Helen Boosalis, 1986
A woman running for governor was a rare enough event in the 1980s
; never had two women faced each other in the general election. In 1986 Nebraska voters chose between Democrat Helen Boosalis and Republican Kay Orr. In a race decided by 24,000 votes, Orr became the first female Republican governor in the country.

"Nebraskans etched their state's name into history books and feminist lore with a 1986 political campaign that reached an audience well beyond the state's borders. Nebraska voters chose two women in the May primary election as nominees for governor, setting the stage for a general election confrontation between them. Republican Kay Orr defeated Democrat Helen Boosalis in the November election 298,325 to 265,156, a 53-to-47 percentage split. Orr was inaugurated Jan. 8, 1987, becoming Nebraska's first female governor and the first Republican woman ever elected to serve anywhere in the nation as a state chief executive officer."

John Barrette, Prairie Politics: Kay Orr vs. Helen Boosalis, The Historic 1986 Gubernatorial Race


Political cartoon
by Paul Fell, 1986



Virtual Exhibits


Nebraska Territory,
Slave or Free?

Citizens of the 37th State

First Nebraskans (1)

First Nebraskans (2)


Separate But Not Equal

Children and Youth

Accused and Convicted

A Matter of Faith


Shadow of Intolerance

    WWI Council of Defense

   1919 Riot

   Ku Klux Klan

   Red Scare

   Farm Belt Führer

   Sexual Orientation




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Last updated 4 January 2013

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