On November 20, 1909, the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia voted itself into existence. It was the first women’s voting rights organization in Richmond and it had just eighteen members, including Adele Clark, Nora Houston, the novelist Ellen Glasgow, and the formidable Lila Meade Valentine as president. This sisterhood had their work cut out for them, convincing both the conservative government and the populace to support women’s rights.
Not many Richmonders of the day would hear them out, so the group employed sly tactics to spread their important message. The women appealed to pedestrians from moving vehicles, spoke at public parks, and rented booths at the state fair.
Clark and Houston, both artists, set up easels on Broad Street. After unsuspecting passersby gathered to watch the women paint, they would abandon their canvases and canvass for their real cause: women’s suffrage. Their persistence and inventiveness paid off. By 1914, just five years after its founding, the organization had established 115 chapters in Virginia and was 20,000 members strong.
The government, however, was not so easily swayed. The House of Delegates struck down voting rights resolutions in 1912 (12 to 84) and again in 1914 (13 to 74). In 1915, the delegates defeated the resolution a third time, but only by a margin of 40 to 51. The movement for women’s voting rights had become hard to ignore, and the women no longer needed to bait audiences on street corners. That year, the suffragists drew large crowds at prominent venues like the Virginia State Capital, pictured here.