In this study, I explore how organized cohorts of newly enfranchised women political leaders exerted influence upon, and were influenced by, the existing male-controlled system of party and electoral politics in Colorado, in the immediate aftermath of winning full suffrage by popular referendum in 1893. This is the first study to examine the political strategies and techniques of the state's women activists during their first local, state, and national elections, from 1893 to 1898. My findings emerge from extensive research in the Denver mainstream and women's political press, suffrage movement literature, the papers of key male and female politicians, the records of women's political organizations, and other primary sources.
Colorado was truly the birthplace of voting women's party and electoral activism. Well before much of the rest of the nation's women could vote, the subjects of my study interacted directly with men in local, state, and national political campaigns---in Republican, Populist, and Democratic Party conventions, among voters in the precincts and wards, and at the polling places. They "stumped the state" as party spokeswomen, and ran for and won state and local political offices. In response to male party leaders who resisted their political forays, women activists also pioneered an all-female party-bridging electoral organization, the Civic Federation of Denver, that briefly challenged the local election machine of the mainstream Republican Party in the state's capital city.
"Meet Me at the Ballot Box" expands the findings of previous studies of women's political activism in the Gilded Age and early Progressive Era, in which organized non-voting women in the social reform and club movement worked outside the established centers of political power---the parties and government. In my study, Colorado's Populist, Republican, and Democratic women activists achieved early breakthroughs in partisan and electoral politics through innovation, experimentation, adaptability, and perseverance. They borrowed freely from the ideas and techniques of 19th century women's social movements that emphasized women's domesticity, moral superiority, maternalism, and sisterhood. At the same time, they adopted the proven methods of male partisan political machines by embracing popular politics, forming power blocs, and conducting voter mobilization drives at the ward and precinct level. They interacted with male allies in mixed-gender political parties and reform associations, while maintaining autonomous all-women's party and party-bridging associations. Public visibility enhanced women's political standing---in the press, in public political venues, and as western role models for the suffrage experiment.
"Meet Me at the Ballot Box" reveals the challenges and dilemmas of class-privileged women activists breaking into the entrenched, male-dominated political system of parties and elections, while striving to maintain a common women's political identity. The study offers new evidence that early suffrage facilitated the experimental partisan and electoral systems that defined the political climate of Colorado and the American West during the 1890s and early 1900s.