Taking the Lead: Idaho celebrates women’s suffrage, other milestones

Idaho Celebrates Women
Photo courtesy Boise City Dept. of Arts & History


Idaho celebrates women, leading the charge in lots of ways over its 130-year history. A woman designed the state seal—the only woman in the nation to do so.

Idaho was a leader in women’s suffrage, an arcane word that means the right to vote. That word, however, is more associated with the lack thereof, until the 19th Amendment to the Constitution passed in June of 1919.

By then, Idaho’s women had been voting—or at minimum were no longer legally prevented from doing so—for more than 20 years.

In fact, when Idaho legislators met in the fall of 1896, they voted, two-to-one, to recognize women as equal to men, even if only regarding the constitutionally protected right to participate in the democratic process.

That’s kind of a big deal.

Ready to Celebrate Women

Across Idaho this past year, people have been ready to celebrate, focusing not on the amendment’s passing in 1919, but on its ratification the following year.

That’s especially true in Boise, where the City Department of Arts & History kicked off 2020 suffrage celebrations with a traveling exhibit, entitled Standing Together: Women’s Ongoing Fight for Equality.

The same day, Lauren McLean, the first elected female mayor of Idaho’s capitol city, decreed January 29, 2020 to be Boise Suffrage Day.

Pandemic Cancellations

“We had a whole year of programming planned, including walking tours, several lectures about the history of suffrage in Boise, and the women who contributed to the movement,” said Brandi Burns, History Programs Manager for the Department of Arts & History.

In March, for example, which is Women’s History Month, Governor Brad Little and First Lady Teresa Soulen Little joined students, Girls Scouts, and state leaders in ringing the Idaho capital Justice Bell.

Later that day, however, Idaho reported its first discovered case of COVID-19, necessitating restructuring of the year’s activities.

Plan B Events

Instead of the exhibit planned for Boise City Hall and a collaborative community quilt, planners held a virtual dedication to artist Stephanie Inman’s Suffrage Quilt and joined others nationwide in lighting up City Hall to honor suffragettes.

Burns published a series of short articles about the suffrage movement online, yet the documentary film project, entitled When I’m Mayor, was delayed.

Throughout Boise and beyond, 2020 events were varied and included numerous partner organizations, including the Idaho State Historical Society, the League of Women Voters, and Idaho Women in Leadership, an initiative to promote women leaders.

Statewide, IHS released a book about the women incarcerated at Boise’s Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Numbered: Inside Idaho’s Prison for Women, 1887-1968.

The Treasury department commemorated women’s veterans with a silver medallion to benefit Idaho veterans’ cemeteries.

Idaho State Archives hosted exhibitions on women leaders and voting, but also Idaho’s writers, poets, and artists.

The Idaho Humanities Council hosted a virtual suffrage-oriented summer teacher institute.

Idaho Public Television created the documentary Ahead of Her Time: Women’s Suffrage in Idaho.

Regional Celebrations

Individual regions celebrated with events, too. The Historical Society in central Idaho’s Latah County hosted a lecture series. North Idaho celebrated artist Terry Lee’s bronze suffragette installation in Coeur d’Alene.

2021 Events Honoring Women

What does 2021 have in store for women throughout Idaho and across the country? If all goes as planned, more recognition and more opportunities to celebrate women.

The Smithsonian recently received the green light from Congress to create a Women’s History Museum (as well as an institution recognizing Latinos) in Washington, DC, some 23 years after grassroots activists began pushing for such a place.

And, of course worth mentioning, the nation has welcomed Kamala Harris, the first-ever female elected to the Executive Branch of the White House. ISI