1. Education

Minor v. Happersett

Voting Rights for Women Tested

By

On October 15, 1872, Virginia Minor applied to register to vote in Missouri. The registrar, Reese Happersett, turned down the application, because the Missouri state constitution read:

Every male citizen of the United States shall be entitled to vote.

Mrs. Minor sued in Missouri state court, claiming her rights were violated on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment.

After Minor lost the suit in that court, she appealed to the state Supreme Court. When the Missouri Supreme Court agreed with the registrar, Minor brought the case to the United States Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court Decides

The US Supreme Court, in an 1874 unanimous opinion written by the chief justice, found:

  • women are citizens of the United States, and were even before the Fourteenth Amendment passed
  • the right of suffrage -- the right to vote -- is not a "necessary privilege and immunity" to which all citizens are entitled
  • the Fourteenth Amendment did not add the right of suffrage to citizenship privileges
  • the Fifteenth Amendment was required to be sure voting rights were not "denied or abridged ... on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude" -- in other words, the amendment was not necessary if citizenship conferred voting rights
  • women's suffrage was explicitly excluded in nearly every state either in the constitution or in its legal code; no state had been excluded from joining the Union for lack of women's voting rights, including states re-entering the Union after the Civil War, with newly written constitutions
  • the US had made no objection when New Jersey explicitly withdrew women's suffrage rights in 1807
  • arguments about the need for women's suffrage were irrelevant to their decisions
Thus, Minor v. Happersett reaffirmed the exclusion of women from voting rights.

Related Reading

Linda K. Kerber. No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies. Women and the Obligations of Citizenship. 1998

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.