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Fellsmere Rocks the Vote

Somewhat under the radar, a prosperous and progressive rural town took the lead in allowing women into the voting booth

On June 19, 1915, Mrs. Zena Dreier became the first woman to cast a vote in Florida, and possibly in the entire South. Photo credit: IRC Main Library Archives

On June 19, 1915, Mrs. Zena Dreier became the first woman to cast a vote in Florida, and possibly in the entire South. Photo credit: IRC Main Library Archives

Women’s Suffrage triumphed in the United States in 1920 when three-fourths of the 48 states ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

However, most states in the Deep South, including Florida, either voted against ratification or failed to vote on it at all. The Sunshine State hid under its tent in the latter camp. 

Eventually, all remaining states cast a vote for ratification, symbolically granting suffrage to women who had been voting in all elections since they won the battle for the ballot with the 19th Amendment. In Florida’s case, the year its legislature took the figurative stance was 1969. The last state to ratify the 19th amendment was Mississippi in 1984.

Despite Florida’s foot-dragging, though, municipality of Fellsmere saw its female residents standing in line to vote in local elections as early as 1915. Fellsmere was the first city in Florida to allow women to vote, and many local historians believe it holds the additional distinction of being the first city south of the Mason-Dixon line to give its female citizens a vote. 

And, perhaps best of all, this development came about without the civil upheaval and appalling mistreatment of women fighting for the right on picket lines — including imprisonment, solitary confinement and even forced feeding of those protesting with hunger strikes.