Final Project Uncategorized

Her Hat Was In The Ring: Final Project

Aimee Ciarimboli, Ashlyn McGrath

AHIS 596 DH Final Project: Her Hat Was In the Ring: US Women Who Ran For Office Before 1920, 

The twentieth century saw major developments in every area of life throughout many different areas of the world. For American women, the early twentieth century provided opportunities for advancement regarding labor, politics, and sexuality. Scholars have long agreed that a combination of “evolving gender roles and ideology,” along with “liberalizing political pressures around the world and the efforts of suffrage activists themselves, helped make women’s suffrage possible” (Wolbrecht, 28). However, it is not to say that it was easy or even fully triumphant, as scholars Pamela Paxton, Sheri Kunovich and Melanie M. Hughes all agree that “suffrage victories were therefore often the result of long and trying national-level struggles” (Paxton, 264). As secondary material would imply, and as the data below depicts, scholars can track an increase in the number of women who chose to campaign for office during the first 20 years of the twentieth century. As seen in the graphs below, there is a general increase in the amount of women running for political offices throughout the beginning of the twentieth century. Many factors contributed to this shift, one being the virolity of Women’s Suffrage and also that of World War I, which in itself challenged the traditional gender order and provided opportunities to women they had not previously held. Women’s suffrage combined with the absence of men enabled women to assert some level of political influence on a wider scale, as seen from the data below. However, this was not the reality, as attitudes towards women in politics generally remained negative. 

This project utilizes a dataset from “Her Hat Was In The Ring: US Women Who Ran For Political Office Before 1920.” Created by Dr. Wendy E. Chmielewski, Dr. Jill Norgren, and Dr. Kristen Gwinn-Becker, the ongoing “Her Hat Was In the Ring” project includes a website and database which focuses on women who campaigned for various offices between 1853-1928. The dataset contains information on roughly 3,300 female candidates across the United States during these years. It includes the following information: record number, name of the woman running, date of birth, date of death, state where they ran for office, marital status, general occupation field, occupation, political parties they were active in, social reform activism they participated in, brief biographical information ,office they ran for, political party they ran for and date by year of their campaign, year they were nominated, or election they ran in. The project used primary and secondary sources such as histories and biographies, biographical dictionaries, county histories, scholarly interpretations, ballots, news articles, governmental reports, and statistical abstracts. It also extensively used digitized primary sources.

However, data does not tell the full story, as many American women were still subjected to preconceived, stereotypical notions of femininity which designated their place to the domestic sphere.

Catherine H. Palczewski, Postcard Archive, University of Northern Iowa.

Therefore, the early twentieth century view of women in politics is one of contradictory complexity. The general conception of voting rights was inherently linked to the rights of citizenship, which in itself led many to ask the question of what defined citizenship. In most regards, citizenship was defined by one’s ability to take up arms and defend the nation by force if needed. The militarized view of citizenship led to an innately masculine view of citizenship and the benefits of such, including the right to vote. From this emerges the notion of “separate spheres,” between the sexes, as well as their application in the world of twentieth century life and politics. Therefore, as Christina Wolbrecht argues, “strong men were strong citizens, and strong citizens were strong men” (Wolbrecht, 30). Consequently, female citizens were encouraged to return to the domestic sphere and tasked with the traditional mother role of running a household and raising strong children. 

Even after the ratification of the nineteenth amendment, women maintained the perception as fragile, weak, and easily influenced. As such, it was often assumed a woman’s vote was a reflection of her husbands, as it was not naturally conceivable that a woman could hold her own political opinion. Therefore, there were “often expectations about how women as voters would cast their ballots,” as politics and gender were inevitably intertwined in twentieth century America (McCammon, 51). However, in the face of modernity and progressivism, both men and women suffered from a moral and practical dilemma as they attempted to balance ideals of both tradition and progression. It is unsurprising then, that even after women were officially granted the right to vote, “many still believed that women should not even vote for those representatives, never mind write laws and lead the government themselves” (Chmielewski). 

 Are Women Represented? Women Are Always Represented… : Vote No on Woman Suffrage Nov. 6 : Man Suffrage Association… JSTOR, 

Two Anti-Suffrage Postcards. Circa 1910 (Courtesy of Her Hat Was In The Ring)

            The emergence of the First World War further blurred the lines between femininity and masculinity in regard to labor, politics and gender roles. The global devastation of the war left American society in need of women’s labor and contribution to the war effort as a new sense of citizenship began to emerge. It is not shocking then that the data from this project shows a spike in the amount of women running for office during the wartime years. This trend is easily explained by the absence of men, who were sent overseas to fight at the front lines, while women were tasked with the maintenance of the “home front.” The continued absence of men amongst the job and labor market experienced during the wartime years provided women with roles that would have normally been exclusive to men. 

 W.B. King, “Hold Up Your End,” 1919, “World War I-Era Posters,” Center for Military History, United States Army, JPEG file,

Special Women’s Ballot, Boston, MA, 1899, with names of candidates for the School Committee. (Courtesy of Wendy Chmielewski and Jill Norgren)

As depicted in the charts below, the majority of offices for which women ran for were educational in nature, such as school boards. This trend can be attributed to the gendering of specific occupations or roles in society. Such as, the occupation of teaching and the title of “teacher” became increasingly feminized, along with nursing, secretary work, and other administrative assistant work. Therefore, it is not surprising that more women campaigned for education-related positions in the years leading up to the twentieth century. These trends in the nature of positions; educational vs. non educational, reveals that although women were working and earning their own wages, they were subjected to positions where they were still inherently subordinate to that of men. However, as seen in the chart below, there is a spike in the number of women campaigning for non-educational offices beginning in 1912 and extending through till full suffrage in 1920. The subsequent trends are the result of the collective effects of year long suffragist efforts, as well as the outbreak of World War I, which left many male-held jobs open for women to explore alternative occupations separate from the domestic sphere.

Overall, the “Her Hat Was In The Ring: US Women Who Ran For Office Before 1920,” project reveals trends in American women’s access to politics throughout the early twentieth century. For many reasons, the political sphere became increasingly obtainable for women, as the notions of women’s suffrage combined with wartime gender roles to create access to opportunities for women which had previously been restricted. However, general attitudes towards women in politics remained innately negative, as provocative propaganda as well as long established gender roles assisted in the prescription of women to the domestic sphere. Therefore, while the data does indicate a general upward trend, it disregards the social implications of such trends, and further context is needed in order to see the full scope of women’s voting accessibility. 

Therefore, the dataset used in this project does have some limitations. In particular, the biographical information attached to each entry remains hard to contextualize as many entries use different types of language to identify various details. In addition, there are a significant number of entries which do not contain any biographical information, which leads to contradictory results. For example, almost 40% of entries do not contain marital status, making it difficult to make connections between the legal and domestic lives of the women running for office. Such examinations could contribute to our overall understanding of twentieth century gender roles, as well as their influence on societal institutions such as politics. Also, the presence of duplicate biographies produces conflicting and inaccurate results in this regard as well. 

However, while this information remains hard to obtain, it is indeed attainable. With more time, as well as more data cleaning skills, this data set could contribute deeper to the relationship between women and politics in the modern world. In particular, this data set has the opportunity to provide valuable information on state level campaigns. The general trends we’ve mentioned are present in most states, but some states have indications of earlier political activity for women, such as in Kansas and Minnesota. These trends were possibly influenced by earlier state suffrage movements as women gained different levels of suffrage in different states at different times. Such information would be useful for historians interested in crafting a microhistory on female suffragist efforts. 


Are Women Represented? Women Are Always Represented… : Vote No on Woman Suffrage Nov. 6: Man Suffrage Association… JSTOR, 

Chmielewski, Wendy E.  Her Hat Was in the Ring: How Thousands of Women Were Elected to Political Office before 1920. 2017,

King,  W.B. “Hold Up Your End,” 1919, “World War I-Era Posters,” Center for Military History, United States Army, JPEG file,

McCammon, Holly J., et al. “How Movements Win: Gendered Opportunity Structures and U.S. Women’s Suffrage Movements, 1866 to 1919.” American Sociological Review, vol. 66, no. 1, 2001, pp. 49–70. JSTOR,  

Palczewski,Catherine H. Postcard Archive, University of Northern Iowa. 

Paxton, Pamela, et al. “Gender in Politics.” Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 33, 2007, pp. 263–284. JSTOR, 

Special Women’s Ballot, Boston, MA, 1899, with names of candidates for the School Committee. (Courtesy of Wendy Chmielewski and Jill Norgren)

Wolbrecht, Christina.  A Century of Votes for Women: American Elections Since Suffrage. Cambridge University Press, 2020.