The Library of Virginia

Colonial Virginia | American Revolution | Democratizing the Old Dominion  
Civil War and Reconstruction
Virginia Political Leaders

Twentieth Century

Equal Suffrage League of Virginia Papers During those same decades around the beginning of the twentieth century, large numbers of Virginia women were organizing to obtain the right to vote. The woman suffrage movement, which succeeded in 1920 with the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment, coincided with major national reform movements seeking to improve public education, create public health programs, regulate business and industrial practices, and establish standards and create agencies to ensure pure food and public water supplies. Public debate on these issues and simultaneous demands for better roads and public services transformed politics in Virginia yet again and brought into the political process people who had not been active participants during the nineteenth century.

Equal Suffrage League of Virginia Papers, 
ca. 1909-1935, Acc. 22002

The participation in political activity of increasing numbers of women and, after World War II, of African Americans tied Virginia politics to national politics more closely than ever before. Through such political organizations as the League of Women Voters, which became one of the state's most influential political organizations, many Virginians campaigned for issues of importance to them and their families. Virginians used both the court system and such political organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to press for an end to racial segregation and for the abolition of poll taxes and other restrictions on access to the political process. Votes for Women. Photograph

Votes for Women. Photograph. Courtesy Valentine Museum.

By the final decade of the twentieth century, political life in Virginia scarcely resembled that of colonial Virginia. Following the abolition of the poll tax in the 1960s, the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the lowering of the voting age to 18 in 1970, the number of Virginia voters increased significantly. During the same period, the growth of the suburbs and the rapid development of Northern Virginia as a major population center shifted the center of political gravity in Virginia away from the rural areas and old cities to the suburbs. African Americans and women won election to many more local and state offices, and the Republican Party, which had been weak in Virginia since the 1890s, enjoyed unprecedented success. The outcome of these trends could be seen most clearly in two elections.  In 1989 L. Douglas Wilder became the first African American to be elected governor of a state, and Mary Sue Terry, who was the first woman to win statewide office in Virginia in 1985 when she was elected attorney general, was reelected. Eight years later, members of the Republican Party for the first time won all three statewide offices in Virginia. Those elections reflect the many complicated changes taking place in Virginia's political life.
In 1928 Virginia voted for a Republican presidential candidate for the first time since 1872.
 "The Colonel Takes a Ride!" Fred O. Seibel.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9 November 1928.
Courtesy of Special Collections, 
James Branch Cabell Library, 
Virginia Commonwealth  University.
Twentieth Century Virginia Political Leaders

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