What did the first female voters do with their new right?

contact: Paula M. Davis
| WMU News

Counting Women's Ballots book cover.KALAMAZOO, Mich.—In a historic year in which America is observing its first female major party presidential nominee, a Western Michigan University researcher's new book delves back into history to offer new details about how U.S. women voted when first enfranchised nearly 100 years ago.

Though the constitutional amendment extending voting rights to women was a titanic and hard-won expansion of the U.S. electorate, little was recorded about how women exercised their new right on a national scale, says Dr. J. Kevin Corder, a WMU professor of political science.

Published by Cambridge University Press, "Counting Women's Ballots: Female Voters from Suffrage through the New Deal," offers answers to questions that have long stymied political scientists and historians.

"We knew that turnout went down overall, and we knew that Republicans won in a landslide. But to what extent women were responsible for both of those things, we just weren’t sure," Corder says.

"I was interested in the challenge of tackling a problem that was out there and open."

To this end, Corder and his co-author, Dr. Christina Wolbrecht of the University of Notre Dame, used a novel statistical method to reveal whether, how and to what result women voted in the elections that followed suffrage. In addition to resulting in a book, the authors' research design won Iowa State University's Carrie Chapman Catt Prize for Research on Women and Politics.

"This is the first effort to say, in more than one place and in more than a handful of elections, here's how women voted in the 1920s. … So, the next time somebody writes an American government textbook, they can say, 'This is what happened when the electorate expanded,'" Corder says.

Photo of WMU suffragists.

A page from the 1912 Brown and Gold yearbook displays members of the Western State Normal Suffrage Association. (Photo courtesy of WMU Archives and Regional History Collections)

J. Kevin Corder

Photo of Dr. J. Kevin Corder.


Corder has served on WMU's political science faculty for 21 years. His research interests include voter behavior, elections and public policy as it relates to banking.


Additional details on Corder's new book are featured in the fall 2016 issue of WMU Magazine. The issue, available for download at wmich.edu/magazine, also features pre-retirement sentiments from President John M. Dunn and articles highlighting WMU research to reduce pediatric drug dosing errors, an alumna's "green" fashion business, healing gardens designed by occupational therapy students and more.

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