August 8, 2008
By Jerry Kopel
When Sen. Hillary Clinton addresses the Democratic
National Convention delegates and viewers around the world August 26th,
you can rest assured she will mention the 88th anniversary of suffrage for
female citizens of the United States.
August 26th, 1920 was the date U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby
issued his proclamation of final ratification by 36 states of the 19th
amendment to the U.S. Constitution which provides:
"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or
abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress
shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
Back in 1893, Colorado had already acted to provide suffrage for Colorado
women, who in turn showed the world they were as good (or better) at
voting and at serving in public office.
Three Colorado Republican women became the nation's first women
legislators, each serving only two years in the Colorado House, 1895-96.
Another three, members of the Democratic/Fusion ticket were the first
women to lose elections to the House in the same Nov. 6th, 1894 contests.
The Populists in the 1893 legislature were responsible for the issue of
women's suffrage being on the 1893 ballot where it passed 35,798 to
In 1892, the Populists had swept the executive branch. In the House there
were 27 Populists, five Democrats, and 33 Republicans and in the Senate,
13 Populists, seven Democrats and 15 Republicans. Populist David Nichol
was President of the Senate. Republican Elias Ammons was Speaker of the
Was the Populist/Democratic coalition rewarded in 1894? Nope. The
Republicans swept Populist Gov. David E Waite out of power, kept the House
and took over the Senate.
Five of the six women contestants were from Arapahoe County, which at that
time included Denver. The sixth woman, Republican Carrie Clyde Holly, was
Clara Cressingham and Frances Klock were the other two successful
Republican candidates, and as newcomers, were still awarded power
positions. Klock chaired the Indian and Veterans Affairs Committee,
sponsored successful legislation to create a home for delinquent girls,
and later served as director of the home. Cressingham was elected
secretary of the Republican House Caucus.
Pueblo's Holly often stood up to the Republican leadership and still won
by gaining votes from Democrats and Populists to pass bills.
She was born in 1857 and was an attorney from New York (there goes another
glass ceiling) who came to Colorado in 1889. She married Charles F. Holly
who had been Speaker of the House in the territorial legislature's first
session Sept. 9th, 1861 in Denver. He went on to become a Colorado Supreme
Court Justice. In 1895 she was 38, with two children, and he was 74.
Holly was focused on suffrage, sex discrimination, and crime bills. She
introduced 14 bills. Klock had seven bills, Cressingham had four. Each of
them had two bills become law.
Historian Elizxabeth Cox, author of "The Three Who Came First" wrote
extensively about Rep. Holly. "During her Pueblo campaign" wrote Cox,
"Holly charged Gov. Waite with 'misrule' and 'anarchy' and claimed he was
not a true friend of women because he had only called for municipal
women's suffrage (city council, mayor elections, etc) in his inaugural
address, rather than full rights.
Holly did introduce the first bill by a woman, HB 24, an Equal Rights
Amendment, 19th century version, to the state constitution. It did not
pass. Her "age of consent" bill, HB59 was more successful and drew the
largest applause and criticism.
HB 59 didn't mention prostitution, but that was the real subject. It
defined the age for rape.
"Every person over the age of 14 years who shall have carnal knowledge of
any female under the age of 18, either with or without consent, shall be
adjudged guilty of the crime of rape."
So a male age 30 pays to have sex with a prostitute age 17. He commits
rape. Republicans, according to Cox, spoke against the bill in the House
and attempted to kill it with amendments. There was strong Populist
support for the measure since it had been in the Populist state platform.
As the bill passed the House, the age of the female was "under 21" not
On the session's final day, HB 59 was in a conference committee that
approved a Senate amendment which "struck age 21 and inserted age 18". If
the female is under 18, it's rape.
HB 59 did not interfere with the 1876 statute allowing females under 18
and males under 21 to be married with the consent of their parents or
Holly's bill was scheduled to be the first bill by a woman legislator to
have passed both the House and Senate. It was not to be, according to the
newspaper, Denver Republican.
Instead, because of the conference committee meeting on HB 59, House
leadership called up HB 391 by Rep. Cressingham "Encouraging the Sugar
Beet Industry". The bill set a bounty of $3 per ton on sugar beets raised
by the state and sold to a factory within the state borders.
This may have been the Republican leadership "spanking" Holly for breaking
ranks with Republicans including the other two women legislators on a
Populist "local option" bill which would regulate the sale of liquor at
According to Cox, Holly observed "if the women were going to sacrifice
principle to expediency just as men had always done, their presence in
politics would not elevate it and they might as well stay put."
Cox gave Holly credit for what was actually a Senate bill, SB 89, which
provided "a married woman was the joint guardian of the children with
equal powers, rights, and duties in regard to them, with her husband." All
three women legislators helped to get that bill passed in the House.
While Holly's "age of consent" law was still on the books as late as 1908,
it was listed directly above a much more complex statute dealing with rape
and adopted in 1907.
Legislative staff noticed the conflicts between the statutes and remarked
in print under the Holly law "is this section repealed by the (1907) law?"
The answer was "yes" and SB 59 later disappeared from the statute books.
And 1896? The state constitution provided for the legislature to meet only
in odd numbered years unless otherwise convened by the governor. The
legislature did not meet in 1896.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)