EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The Women’s Suffrage movement led to women’s voting rights in the United States in August 1920, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, with many El Pasoans also participating in the fight.
Janine Young, one of the board directors at the El Paso Historical Society, said that many suffragettes in the Borderland deserve much more exposure than they get.
The El Paso Equal Franchise League, or the El Paso Suffrage League, was founded in 1915 by Ruth Monro Augur, who was an artist and journalist who was 28 years old when she founded the league.
“There were more than 300 women in the Women’s Suffrage League. It was a very big organization,” Young said.
The league consisted of many prominent women from the area, including Alzina DeGroff. She served as the first president of the league, though not for too long as her health started declining at that time.
DeGroff managed the Cortez Building in downtown El Paso that served as a hotel at the time. She owned the hotel and managed it with her son.
“She donated the space here [in the Cortez Building] to the suffrage league,” Young said. She explained that DeGroff’s influence was often underestimated. DeGroff ran the hotel separate from her husband, who had nothing to do with the building, which was solely in her ownership.
Young mentioned other notable women in the suffrage movement, such as Belle Critchett, whose term as a president of the league saw the most success.
Louise Dietrich was also in the league and was a registered nurse, reaching out to that population of women and encouraging them to get registered to vote. Texas allowed women to vote for the first time in 1918 during the Democratic primary elections, two full years before the passing of the 19th Amendment.
“She was told that she wouldn’t be able to get 5,000 women to register for voting,” said Young. “But she did it.”
The El Paso women’s rights movement was unique compared to other parts of the country. Young explained that the El Paso Equal Franchise worked closely with the El Paso Negro Woman’s Civic and Equal Franchise League, its counterpart which organized Black women in El Paso.
“Anglo Suffrage League and the Back Suffrage league, they worked together which was very unusual, not just in Texas, but throughout the United States. You don’t see very often where they worked together and supported each other through suffrage,” explained Young.
Maude Sampson founded the EPNWCEFL, extending her success to later desegregation of Texas Western College, known today as the University of Texas at El Paso.
Young explained that there weren’t many Hispanic women in the movement, which she believes has to do with the lack of outreach and classes, as many women that were a part of the EPEFL and EPNCEFL were a part of the middle and upper class.
Young said that these women should be remembered to save them from falling in the shadows of history and to also shed light on the efforts that brought women voting rights.
“Nobody gave women the vote. They went and fought for it, and they did it year after year after year until they finally got the full suffrage,” Young said.