Women’s historical convention in Salem changes course of voting rights

Womens History

Today, voting is easy. As a woman, if you want to vote, you walk into your polling location, cast a ballot and your voice is heard. But back in the 1800s, it wasn’t so simple.

Local women in Salem played a big role in securing that right, risking a lot to make it happen.

“It was not an easy task,” said Ginger Grilli, president of the Salem Historical Society.

In 1850, women were not allowed to vote or divorce and they were not recognized at all under the law.

Then in April, women from all over the state went to Salem, Ohio, for the Ohio Women’s Convention.

“It was a very forward-thinking and assertive and risky proposition,” Grilli said.

Grilli says this was huge. It was the first state convention in the United States and the first to try to change a state constitution.

“Women were beaten, shunned by society if they advocated for the right to vote. It was socially unacceptable,” Grilli said.

They put out a call, only expecting 200 people to show up. More than double turned out, making a long and difficult journey to our little Valley town.

“Wagons, walked, horses — that’s how people traveled in those days,” Grilli said.

These women changed the course of history.

“It was to address our role in society and to attempt to change the state constitution,” Grilli said.

By the end of the two-day convention, the group came up with 22 resolutions, 22 things they believed should be considered fundamental rights.

They weren’t adopted yet, but it made progress. After several more conventions just like this one, women were finally allowed to vote in 1920.

“I’m a passionate person about voting but to know particularly in the past women didn’t have that right, so it’s important to me,” Grilli said.

But why Salem? Why our home? Turns out, it was the perfect concoction.

“There was a lot of support here for equality for all people — black, white, men, women, children … Salem was the logical place. There was the support, the space and people willing to undertake the task,” Grilli said.

Another thing that was different about this convention? Men weren’t the leaders or the speakers, the women were.

At other conventions before this one, women attended but they couldn’t speak and they definitely didn’t organize them.

But this convention changed the game.

WKBN is Celebrating Women’s History Month. We are airing a special program throughout this weekend. It will highlight women who had made a difference here at home, and throughout the country. You can watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Youngstown.

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