1916 Presidential Election: As Kansas Votes, So Goes the Election
Written by Donna Casement, State Library of Kansas
KGI Online Library Blog-October 29, 2020
(All copies of newspaper articles cited here can be viewed at KGI ONLINE LIBRARY)
In 1916, Kansas women, for the first time, voted in substantial numbers in a presidential election. The female vote pushed President Wilson over the goalpost and he received the 10 electoral college votes for the state of Kansas. President Wilson went on to serve his second term as the 28th president, from 1913 to 1921.
From 1900 to 1932, Kansans have voted for the presidential winner. “Instead of the expression, ‘As Maine goes so goes America,’ it might well be said, ‘As Kansas votes, so goes the election,’ said Charles H. Titus in his detailed election analysis of 44 key voting counties in Kansas who voted for the presidential winner from President McKinley in 1900 to President Roosevelt’s election in 1932. (“Voting in Kansas, 1900-1932” by Charles H. Titus, Kansas Historical Quarterly, August 1935, v. 4, no. 3, pages 291-316)
The majority of Kansas voted for President Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 presidential election. The Republican Party was deeply divided between the 27th president, William Howard Taft and the 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt who ran under the banner of the Bull Moose Party. As a result, President Wilson won 41.8% of the popular vote and 435 electoral college votes due to the crowded field.
In 1916, President Wilson would be nominated as the Democratic candidate and he chose the popular former governor of Indiana, Thomas Marshall as his vice president. The Democratic campaign had a number of slogans including, “He Has Kept Us Out of War”, “Our Country, Our Flag, Our President” and “America First” a slogan emphasizing the need for America’s neutrality and isolationism during the early years of World War I.
In 1916, the Republican Party nominated Charles Evans Hughes and Charles W. Fairbanks as his vice president. Hughes was governor of New York from 1907-1910, then served as a supreme court associate justice until being chosen to run as vice president for Hughes. He would later be chosen by President Herbert Hoover as the 11th Chief Justice of the United States in 1930.
The entire nation was interested in the results of the 1916 presidential campaign. Women in Kansas were especially engaged and anxious to exercise their recently won right to vote in a presidential election. Kansas women were not new to the act of voting. In 1861, they could vote in school district elections and in1887 women could vote in municipal elections. On November 5, 1912, Kansas became the eighth state to extend equal voting rights to women, eight years before the ratification of the 19th amendment that granted suffrage rights to all women in the nation.
Voting in 1916 was sometimes challenging. In the Twentieth Biennial Report, Secretary of State J. R. Botkin, stated, “I believe our present election laws are too much complicated and that they should be simplified. Our form of ballot and the manner of voting should be so clear and so concise, so plain and so simple, as to be easily understood by all our citizens. Our present ballot tends to confuse rather than to aid the voter in casting his ballot intelligently.” (1915-16, Twentieth Biennial Report of the Secretary of State of the State of Kansas)
A law passed in 1915 required nearly one-fourth of voting precincts in Kansas to hire workers and find space for double election boards. “The law passed by the 1915 legislature provided that in all precincts which had polled a total of 250 votes for secretary of state in the previous election, should be entitled to a double election board, one to count and one to receive the ballots. There are approximately 2,600 precincts in the state, including all of the cities. Of these 621 will be entitled to double election boards.” (#1-Kansas City Sun, October 27, 1916)
“In Topeka alone, 305 persons must be named as judges and clerks. In the thirty-two precincts there will be sixty-one boards or twenty-nine extra boards of five persons each. In the county there will be thirty-five boards for twenty-one precincts. This will total 480 members of election boards in Shawnee county.” (#2-The Topeka Daily Capital, October 15, 1916)
Numerous changes in voting locations throughout Kansas would be the result of the new double board system. “Seven changes in precinct voting places have been forced by the entrance of the double board system into the machinery of elections November 7. Twice as much room is required at each place and double offices have been sought. In several precincts the Election Commissioner shop has had difficulty in finding room enough.” (#3-The Wichita Beacon, October 21, 1916)
Voting machines for the city of Topeka were considered throughout the summer and fall of 1916. A figure of $37,000 was quoted for the purchase of voting machines, but the mayor and commissioners were skeptical of the practicality of using voting machines and determined not to purchase the equipment. (#4-The Topeka Daily Capital, September 1, 1916)
Kansas women rallied around President Wilson’s campaign slogan, “He Has Kept Us Out of War” and Wilson supporters were called Wilson Women or Wilsonettes. Republican women who supported Hughes were part of the Hughes Alliance. Both groups were active throughout the state supporting their candidates.
Less than two weeks before Election Day, the Wilson Women strategically placed themselves within a large Hughes Alliance rally parade. “It wasn’t in a wooden horse-but it was in a fleet of big motor cars-this delegation of Lady Bourbons of Kansas who slipped into the Hughes parade in the Troy of Kansas this morning. The parade of the women of the Hughes Alliance, as a reception to the visiting eastern women Hughes campaigners on Kansas avenue at 11 o’clock this morning, was well patronized. Th first cars were decorated in the stars and stripes and in small Hughes pennants designating the support of the women in these cars for the Republican candidate for president.
Then came the surprise of the day. Automobile after automobile, crowded with women, many of them cheering, all bearing big posters in support of Woodrow Wilson, jammed the streets. When the Wilsonettes appeared near the Rock Island station in formation, a switch engine with crew was in operation behind the Chesterfield Hotel. The engineer, apparently an admirer of the Adamson law, applied the brakes, turned off the steam and with his engine and switching crew collected on top of a box car, and waved their caps in cheers for president Wilson. In the parade there were 100 automobiles. Probably 450 women occupied seats in these cars. Of this number, the Democrats operated thirty motor cars and demonstrated with 150 women.” (#5-The Topeka State Journal, October 27, 1916)
Arkansas City saw a voter registration of 4,517, one thousand over any previous figures. The railroad vote was a big factor in this increase in registration. “Arkansas City is a division point for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad company, the railway vote of this city will be of particular interest. It is believed that apparently the majority of the enginemen and trainmen will vote for Wilson because of the passing of the Adamson eight-hour law, while on the other hand, it is believed that most of the employees of the offices and shops will vote for Hughes as these employees figure that the Adamson law will not be of any benefit to them.” (#6-Arkansas City Daily Traveler, October 28, 1916)
One of the early indications of public sentiment concerning the election was a straw poll, conducted at the University of Kansas and sponsored by the University Daily Kansan. “The total vote showed that 1,621 ballots had been cast by both men and women, of which Wilson got 921, Hughes 683, Benson 7, Hanley 6, Bryan 1, Roosevelt 1, and Adrian Lindsey, Captain of the football team 2-both women. Both men and women gave Wilson a majority of their votes, but the suffragette vote showed a much larger majority for the Democratic candidate. The men’s vote stood 541 for Wilson and 467 for Hughes, while the women’s votes counted 380 for Wilson and 216 for Hughes.” (#7-University Daily Kansan, November 3, 1916)
The week of the 1916 presidential elections would begin with Hughes favored and both candidates confident of a win. “President Woodrow Wilson and Charles E. Hughes, candidates of the democrat and republican parties for election and re-election remained at their homes today recuperating from their long campaign. The last word sent by them to the people was an expression that each felt confident of victory.“ (#8-Arkansas City Daily Traveler, November 6, 1916)
“On the morning of the presidential election general confidence in the result of the balloting was expressed in the camps of the rival Republican and Democratic forces. Political workers had completed their tasks, their leaders had issued the usual final forecasts and nothing remained but the work to bring out the vote and then to get news of the result that will bring joy or gloom to one side or the other. Woman’s part in the presidential election is one of the outstanding features. In one-quarter of the forty-eight states women have the vote this election. The twelve states are: Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington, California, Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, Nevada, Montana and Illinois. The women in the last named six states have the vote for president this year for the first time.“ (#9-The Wellington Journal, November 7, 1916)
In the afternoon of election day, with an incomplete count of 95 of the 2,474 precincts of Kansas, Wilson had 6,056 and Hughes 6,673. “Partial returns from twenty-seven precincts in the city of Topeka gave the following results at 2:30 o’clock: Hughes 3,055; Wilson 1,943. Wilson's strong in Wichita. Partial returns from sixteen out of twenty-six precincts in this city give Hughes 412 and Wilson 880. Hughes in lead now. Hutchinson-incomplete return from thirteen out of fourteen city precincts give Hughes 747 and Wilson 536.” (#10-Arkansas City Traveler, November 7, 1916)
There was heavy voting across the state and election returns were announced throughout the day. “Reports received here from various parts of the state early today showed a decided activity in voting at all the precincts, especially among women, who vote for president for the first time at this election. The double election boards has made it possible for the returns to be given out early. An unprecedented condition in gathering election returns was the result here today which followed Brewater’s ruling that the election law did not prevent the returns from being made public before the close of the polls. The counting boards in the various city precincts gave the returns to reporters for the local newspapers as fast as they could be counted.” (#11-The Emporia Gazette, November 7, 1916)
It became obvious throughout election day that Governor Capper would be re-elected by a huge majority. Democrats insisted that President Wilson would still carry the state even though Kansas had always chosen the governor and president of the same party. In an article “State Has Never Divided Its Vote”, The Topeka Daily Capital presented information on the Kansas voting trend of supporting the governor and presidential nominee of the same party, back to 1888, when Benjamin Harris and Lyman U. Humphrey, both Republicans, were elected. “A study of the foregoing figures gives some idea of how the Democrats practically will have to turn the state upside down to give Wilson any chance at all of carrying the state.” (#12-The Topeka Daily Capital, November 7, 1916)
Election results in Kansas were beginning to surprise politically minded individuals. Governor Alf Landon and President Woodrow Wilson, belonging to different political parties, were leading in the electoral votes. This was contrary to the historic precedent of Kansas electing the governor and president of the same party.
“The result of the election in Arkansas City was considerable of a surprise to nearly everyone. The republicans had calculated on Mr. Wilson’s carrying the town by possibly two hundred and fifty to three hundred votes. The estimate of the democrats was around the three hundred mark. However, Mr. Wilson’s majority in Arkansas City surprised the expectations of the most sanguine. He carried the city by a plurality of five hundred fifty-nine. Mr. Capper came along a little lower down on the ballot and he carried the city for governor by over one thousand votes. This shows a switch of about sixteen hundred votes from president to governor.” (#13-Arkansas City Daily Traveler, November 8, 1916)
Out of Topeka, Nov. 8-“President Wilson has carried Kansas over Chas. E. Hughes by a plurality of 15,000 to 20,000 according to presidential returns from 1,074 precincts of the state. Against returns pointing to a landslide to Wilson, is an indication that Governor Capper has been re-elected by 100,000 or more while the entire Republican state ticket looks safe by 35,000 to 50,000. Women probably cast 35 to 40 per cent of the total vote in the state. In several localities, the woman vote practically equaled the male vote.” (#14-The Manhattan Mercury, November 8, 1916)
In an article titled "How Many of the Four Million Will Vote", the April, 1916 issue of The Ladies' Home Journal wrote, "It will be extremely interesting to see to what extent the votes of women will influence the actual total of votes in each state and how far they will go in influencing the result of the electoral college. Of course much depends on the total number of women who actually vote, for four million women privileged to vote does not mean four million votes." (The Ladies' Home Journal, April 1916, Page 12)
“'We Republicans gave the women of Kansas the ballot. They used it against us Tuesday. We have no kick coming and should shut up and take the medicine. Let’s stand by the women.' Such is the attitude of W. J. True of Pittsburg, who was one of the Republican candidates for presidential elector Tuesday.” (#15-Abilene Weekly Reflector, November 16, 1916)
Two days after Election Day, the official winner for the presidential election had yet to be named. In Kansas, Charles H. Sessions, Republican State Chairman, announced on Thursday that legal counsel had been engaged to investigate the constitutionality of the electoral vote in Kansas. “It was claimed at republican headquarters that the voters cast their ballots for the presidential candidates rather than for electors. The vote for electors this year was made for the group instead of for individual electors as in the past. Republicans say that this manner of voting was unconstitutional.”
In reaction to the claims by Sessions, Berbert Larkner, Democratic State Chairman, made the following statement: “The ticket was prepared by Secretary of State Botkin under an opinion by Attorney General Brewster that by voting in the square opposite each party, the voter would be showing his intention to vote for the ten electors. The ballot is legal. The people voted their intention and the supreme court in Kansas has decided that the voters’ intention must obtain in such cases.” (#16-Arkansas City Traveler, November 9, 1916)
“Woodrow Wilson was elected president of the United States when California swung definitely into the democratic column early today. The only states where the result remained in question today were Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Mexico. The tension of the most dramatic situation in the political history of the United States was broken when the Associate Press flashed the news that Republican State Chairman Rowell of California, had conceded the state to Wilson. (#17-Arkansas City Daily Traveler, November 10, 1916)
Many speculated about turnout and voter intention. Women voted in large numbers for their first presidential election. African American women also turned out to exercise their suffrage rights. The Leavenworth Time addressed the enthusiasm of this voting sector.
“J. R. Ranson, of Kansas City, Kan. who claims to be in better position than any one else to answer the question: Why did Kansas vote for Wilson?, gives as one of the principle reasons that a great many women, ‘especially colored women did not vote because they do not believe in women voting.' This certainly will be news to the country. If there is a colored woman in Kansas who does not believe in women voting, we have yet to find her. The colored women believe most earnestly in the right of women to take part in the government, they are generally prompt to exercise the right and they exercise it with as great intelligence as do the men.” (#18-The Leavenworth Times, November 21, 1916)
The official Kansas vote count for the 1916 presidential election: Democrat-President Woodrow Wilson, Vice President Thomas R. Marshall-314,588; Republican-President Charles E. Hughes, Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks-277,658; Socialist-President, Allan L. Benson, Vice President George R. Kirkpatrick-24,685; Prohibition-President, J. Frank Hanly, Vice President Ira Landrith-12,882; Total votes-629,813. (General Election, November 7, 1916, Official Statement of Vote Cast, 1915-16, Twentieth Biennial Report of the Secretary of State of the State of Kansas)