Did you know that the first woman to become a state elected official in Michigan was Eva McCall Hamilton in 1920? During the first election in which women were allowed to vote, Hamilton was elected as Michigan state senator for the 16th District — by a two-to-one margin.
This month marks the 96th anniversary of the 19th Amendment — which guarantees American women the right to vote.
The amendment was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on May 21, 1919 and by the Senate two weeks later — sending it to the states to be ratified. Less than a week later, on June 10, Michigan was one of the first states to ratify the amendment. However, it would take more than a year for three-fourths of the states to approve the measure. That historic moment came when Tennessee passed it by a single vote on Aug. 18, 1920. Having met the final hurdle, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 26.
Sen. Eva McCall Hamilton was born on Dec. 13, 1871 in Memphis, Michigan and would become a teacher.
Throughout her life, Hamilton also served on local, state and national committees focused on encouraging women to partake in civic affairs. However, it would not be until 1910, when she held the reins of a large horse-drawn “Float for Suffragists” followed by 75 local suffragists in decorated cars in the Grand Rapids Annual Homecoming Parade, that she would become widely known throughout the state.
By 1912, Hamilton would earn the recognition of being just one of three Grand Rapids women who had mailed out an astonishing six tons of “votes for women” literature. Exemplary achievements such as these would eventually help Hamilton become the leader of the Grand Rapid’s women’s suffrage movement.
As a Republican senator in 1921-22, Hamilton successfully proposed and passed bills to fund pay raises for teachers and worked to reform the Michigan Mother’s Pension Act.
As a result of Sen. Hamilton’s dedication to the betterment of both the state and women’s rights, she was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2012. A portrait of Hamilton is on display in the Senate Chamber.