Photo page header


Fighting Words

Washburn alumna active in national suffrage work prior to 1920 amendment

women's suffrage demonstrators outside the white house - Library of Congress

From The Ichabod - Winter 2020

The words and actions of a Washburn alumna more than 100 years ago helped fuel the national fight for women to vote.

“I am from Kansas, a full-voting citizen of that state,” said Marian (McGaw) Wellhouse, ba 1911, in a Topeka State Journal article in 1916. Earlier that year, she moved to Boston to be part of the national women’s suffrage movement. Kansas allowed women to vote in all elections, but in moving to Massachusetts, she lost that right.

Marian McGaw Wellhouse“I have lost, thru no fault of my own, the first right of a citizen; and I protest against such interstate discrimination,” she said. “I never realized…my political rights would be taken away from me – that they are not safeguarded by the national government.”

Four years later, on Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment was adopted, allowing women to vote in all elections nationwide. Washburn University is commemorating the 100th anniversary of that amendment and the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment allowing black men to vote. The second-annual WUmester will discuss the theme of citizenship and suffrage this spring.

Kansas recognized a woman’s right to vote in municipal elections in 1887. That same year, Argonia, Kansas, elected the nation’s first female to serve as mayor. In 1912, Kansas became the eighth state to allow equal voting rights to women, meaning they could vote for president and Congressional representatives. Washburn faculty encouraged women to register to vote in the upcoming national election that year. Their registration drive had strong results. The Washburn chapter of the College Equal Suffrage Association brought in the national founder to speak in 1912. In 1913, the women’s debate team argued against requiring an educational qualification for voting. They won that debate.

An active student during her time at Washburn, Wellhouse later served as secretary of the Topeka chapter of the Woman’s Party, an organization working toward women’s suffrage. In 1916, she was part of the national efforts of the Woman’s Party and the Congressional Union, two suffrage organizations that later merged. She was one of three Congressional Union members to speak to Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Richard Olney, Jr., in November 1916. After meeting with the women, according to the Boston Post, Olney told the activists he felt “perfectly sure the federal amendment granting the franchise to the women of the country will pass.” It did, but he voted against it.

Wellhouse was at the March 4, 1917, Grand Picket where more than 1,000 women marched around the White House before President Woodrow Wilson’s second inauguration. A Washington Times article states she carried the banner for Kansas during the demonstration.

She married Frederick Wellhouse in 1918, and he was called to military service toward the end of World War I. Records indicate she likely lived with him on a base or was back with family in Topeka when the 19th Amendment was ratified. She and her husband later moved to California where they raised three children. She died in 1955, likely having voted in the nine presidential elections since her voice and actions helped pass the 19th Amendment.

WUmester Spring 2020

WUmester 2020 logo

WUmester is intended to foster a University-wide conversation on a diversity-related topic that will change each spring semester. The goal of the program is to engage the entire Washburn community in a collective learning experience on timely subjects and help students see the connections between the subjects they study in the classroom and real-world debates and problems.

WUmester logo

Full schedule of WUmester events


More of The Ichabod's coverage of WUmester:

Driving Discussions: Anniversaries of voting amendments will draw focus on citizenship, suffrage

Stunning Collection: Mulvane acquires photos from Pulitzer Prize winner’s book

Fighting Words: Washburn alumna active in national suffrage work prior to 1920 amendment

Party Lines: Bi-partisan efforts better equip students for citizenship roles

Celebrating Suffrage: Alumnus brings awareness, access to roles of citizenship


The Ichabod Winter 2021 issue

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2021 winter edition online and look for it in mailboxes in January.

View past editions


Please enter your username and password below. If you do not have a username and password, click "New user registration" to register.

New user registration
Forgotten password

1729 MacVicar Avenue
Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483