Jerry Kopel

KOPEL: HOLLY, CRESSINGHAM, KLOCK

Colorado women first to reach statehouse

When Sen. Hillary Clinton addresses the Democratic National Convention delegates and viewers around the world on Aug. 26, you can rest assured she will mention the 88th anniversary of suffrage for female citizens of the United States.

Aug. 26, 1920, was the date U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby issued his proclamation of final ratification by 36 states of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Wyoming was the first state to grant suffrage to women, in 1890, and Colorado was second, granting the right in 1893.

But it’s Colorado that holds the honor of being the first state to elect women to all public office.

Three Colorado Republican women became the nation’s first women legislators, each serving only two years in the Colorado House, 1895-96. Another three, members of the Democratic/Fusion ticket, were the first women to lose elections to the House in the same Nov. 6, 1894, contests.

The Populists in the 1893 Legislature were responsible for putting women’s suffrage on the 1893 ballot — where it passed, 35,798 to 29,451.

In 1892, the Populists had swept Colorado’s executive branch, from governor on down. The Republicans held the House, where there were 27 Populists, five Democrats and 33 Republicans. In the Senate, however, Populists and Democrats were in control, with 13 Populists, seven Democrats and 15 Republicans. Populist David Nichol was president of the Senate. Republican Elias Ammons was speaker of the House.

Was the Populist/Democratic coalition rewarded in 1894? Nope. The Republicans swept Populist Gov. David E. Waite out of power, kept the House and took over the Senate.

Five of the six women contestants were from Arapahoe County, which, at that time, included Denver. The sixth woman, Republican Carrie Clyde Holly, was from Pueblo.

Clara Cressingham and Frances Klock were the other two successful Republican candidates, and, although they were newcomers, they still were awarded power positions. Klock chaired the Indian and Veterans Affairs Committee, sponsored successful legislation to create a home for delinquent girls and later served as director of the home. Cressingham was elected secretary of the Republican House Caucus.

Pueblo’s Holly often stood up to the Republican leadership and still won by gaining votes from Democrats and Populists to pass bills.

She was born in 1857, and was an attorney from New York (there goes another glass ceiling) who came to Colorado in 1889. She married Charles F. Holly who had been speaker of the House in the territorial legislature’s first session, Sept. 9, 1861, in Denver. He went on to become a Colorado Supreme Court Justice. In 1895, she was 38, with two children, and he
was 74.

Holly was focused on suffrage, sex discrimination and crime bills. She introduced 14 bills. Klock had seven bills, Cressingham had four. Each sponsored two bills that became law.

Historian Elizabeth Cox, author of The Three Who Came First, wrote extensively about Holly.

“During her Pueblo campaign” wrote Cox, “Holly charged Gov. Waite with ‘misrule’ and ‘anarchy’ and claimed he was not a true friend of women because he had only called for municipal women’s suffrage (city council, mayor elections, etc.) in his inaugural address, rather than full rights.

Holly introduced the first legislation in the United States ever sponsored by a woman. House Bill 24 was a 19th-century version of the Equal Rights Amendment that would have amended the Colorado Constitution. It did not pass, however.

Holly’s “age of consent” bill, House Bill 59, was more successful and drew the largest applause and criticism.

HB 59 didn’t mention prostitution, but that was its real subject. It defined the age for rape.

“Every person over the age of 14 years who shall have carnal knowledge of any female under the age of 18, either with or without consent, shall be adjudged guilty of the crime of rape,” the bill read, in the version that left the Senate.

So, if a male, age 30, pays to have sex with a female prostitute, age 17, he commits rape. Republicans, according to Cox, spoke against the bill in the House and attempted to kill it with amendments. But there was strong Populist support for the measure, which had been in the Populist state platform.

As the bill passed the House, it read, “any female under the age of 21.” On the session’s final day, HB 59 was in a conference committee that approved a Senate amendment that “struck” age 21 and inserted age 18. If the female was under 18, it was rape.

HB 59 did not interfere with the 1876 statute allowing females under 18 and males under 21 to be married with the consent of their parents or guardians.

Holly’s bill was scheduled to be the first bill by a woman legislator to have passed both the House and Senate. It was not to be, according to the Denver Republican newspaper.

Instead, because of the conference committee meeting, House leadership called up HB 391 by Rep. Cressingham “Encouraging the Sugar Beet Industry.” The bill set a bounty of $3 per ton on sugar beets raised by the state and sold to a factory within the state borders.

This may have been the Republican leadership “spanking” Holly for breaking ranks with Republicans including the other two women legislators on a Populist “local option” bill which would regulate the sale of liquor at club houses.

According to Cox, Holly observed, “if the women were going to sacrifice principle to expediency just as men had always done, their presence in politics would not elevate it and they might as well stay put.”

Cox gave Holly credit for what was actually a Senate bill, SB 89, which provided “a married woman was the joint guardian of the children with equal powers, rights, and duties in regard to them, with her husband.” All three women legislators helped to get that bill passed in the House.

While Holly’s “age of consent” law was still on the books as late as 1908, it was listed directly above a much more complex statute dealing with rape adopted in 1907.

Legislative staff noticed the conflicts between the two statutes and asked in print under the Holly law, “is this section repealed by the (1907) law?”

The answer was “yes,” and the bill later disappeared from the statute books.

And 1896? The state Constitution provided for the Legislature to meet only in odd numbered years unless otherwise convened by the governor. The Legislature did not meet in 1896.

Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.