Kane County History: When Suffrage Met Prohibition in Batavia

Kane County History: When Suffrage Met Prohibition in Batavia

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written by Batavia Depot Museum Executive Director Jennifer Putzier.

Batavia bar, pre 1914! (CREDIT: Batavia Depot Museum)

On April 7, 1914, two great national issues, women’s suffrage and prohibition of sale of alcohol, came to a vote in Batavia, much to the local saloon keeper’s concern. On the ballot that day was the question “Shall this town become Anti-Saloon Territory?”

The breakdown:

  • 791 Batavia women voted “Yes”, 270 “No”
  • 749 Batavia men for “No”, 482 “Yes”

The outcome:

Combining the votes, “yes” won out, and legally Batavia saloons and other establishments that sold liquor for non-medicinal purposes had to close by May 7, 1914.

This issue was so hotly contested that Batavia, with a population of roughly 4,400 people in 1914, had 2,292 cast a vote in the issue. That was more than half the city!

History buffs may notice that the date well precedes the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, added Aug. 26, 1920, that states that the right of citizens to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Illinois was quite progressive on that issue, voting in partial suffrage June 26, 1913.

The Illinois Suffrage Act of 1913 granted “women the right to vote for presidential elections and certain other offices, and to participate and vote in certain matters and elections.”

In order to be eligible to vote, women had to be United States citizens, 21 years of age, and had to have resided in Illinois at least one year. Women were expected to register in the same manner as men, but it was designated that they would have separate ballots and ballot boxes as men.

The act outlined that women could vote for president and most local offices and issues. Interestingly, they were not allowed to vote for their state or federal legislators or, specifically, police magistrates.

Even partial suffrage in Illinois changed the political landscape nationwide. With women voting, saloons across the state began closing. Other states took notice, and prohibitionist legislators, realizing the power of the female vote, became suffragists.

State after state began granting women the right to vote, until the issue culminated six years later in the 19th amendment.

Back in Batavia, not everyone was happy with the results of the vote. Because the votes were segregated, it was easy to see that if only the men could have voted, Batavia would still be a “wet” town.

On April 17, 11 men filed a petition in Kane County Court against the city of Batavia and the city clerk, Seymour Carlson, asking that the women’s votes not be counted. They argued that the 1913 Illinois Suffrage Act violated the Illinois Constitution.

If it didn’t violate the Illinois constitution, they also argued that the Anti-Saloon issue wasn’t specifically spelled out as an area in which women had the right to vote for in the Illinois Suffrage Act, therefore the votes were illegal.

The city clerk Seymour Carlson countered their arguments point by point, concluding that the vote was valid and legal. The county court agreed. The prohibitionists had won.

The specimen ballots pictured are from the 1916 election, when the voters could decide if Batavia would remain Anti-Saloon. They did not follow this example ballot, and the citizens voted to continue being dry.

In 1920, nationwide prohibition came into effect, and was enforced until 1933 with the repeal of the 18th Amendment.

About the Batavia Depot Museum

The Batavia Depot Museum opened in 1975 as a partnership between the Batavia Park District and the Batavia Historical Society. The Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad Depot was the first of its kind built in 1854, and is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

Inside, the city’s past comes alive through exhibits detailing the history of rail transportation, manufacture of windmills, agriculture, banking, commerce and a brief stay by Mary Todd Lincoln at Bellevue Place.

Open seasonally, from March to November, the Depot will reopen for the season March 4, 2019. Hours are 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Read The Kane County History Series!