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Moneka Woman's Rights Association

Moneka Woman's Rights Association book in Kansas MemoryWomen in the town of Moneka, Kansas Territory, wanted the same rights as men. They wanted to vote in elections, own property, and be guardians of their own children.  These women of Linn County valued these principles so strongly that they formed a women’s rights organization soon after their arrival in Kansas.  Men were also members of the organization.  Many of the women’s rights supporters in Moneka were also part of the antislavery movement.

Named for an American Indian word meaning “morning star,” Moneka was established in 1857 by abolitionists and idealists. Among the founders of the town were the Wattles family, who helped to form the Moneka Woman’s Rights Association.

At the meeting on February 2, 1858, Esther Wattles was elected president and a committee was appointed to draft a constitution. The recording secretary began keeping minutes of the proceedings, providing a glimpse into the past. At the February 13 meeting, members elected a full slate of officers and adopted a preamble and seven articles for their constitution that would advance their goals.  The preamble does an excellent job of listing the rights women did not have.  The Moneka Woman’s Rights Association secretary’s minutes, photographs, illustrations, and census records in our collections help provide an understanding of those who launched the campaign for women’s rights.

From the community of about 200 people, 42 joined the Moneka Woman’s Rights Association; about half of the members were men. The society set monthly programs with “such women lecturers as are accustomed to public speaking,” established dues, and adopted resolutions to convince every woman “to convert to her views at least one legal voter.”

The members of Moneka Woman's Rights Association and other women's rights supporters in territorial Kansas wanted to influence the new Kansas constitution concerning rights for women.

Three previous constitutions had been defeated – one proslavery and two free state. The Moneka organization turned its focus to the fourth constitutional convention in Wyandotte in 1859.  Moneka members enlisted the help of Clarina I. H. Nichols, a newspaper woman and a leader in the women’s rights movement in Wyandotte County. They asked Nichols to present the 250 petitions  the organization had distributed to the constitutional convention on their behalf.

Nichols was one of three women to attend the Wyandotte Convention. Although she could not vote, Nichols spent every opportunity presenting her message to the 52 delegates at the convention. Nichols persuaded the delegates to allow her to present the Moneka petitions at a special evening session. Through her impassioned plea, Nichols convinced delegates to increase the rights of women in Kansas.

Delegates passed the Wyandotte Constitution, which prohibited slavery in the state. Approved by voters and eventually adopted by Congress, the new constitution made Kansas a free state. Although women were not given full rights, they did receive more than in other states: rights for child custody and certain kinds of property and the right to vote in school board elections.

The effort to secure additions rights for women continued beyond the work of the Moneka Woman's Rights Association at the Wyandotte Consitutional Convention.  Supporters succeeded in changing Kansas laws.  In 1887 the Kansas constitution was amended, giving women the right to vote in municipal elections.  That year Susanna Salter of Argonia became the first female in the nation to be elected mayor.  Several Kansas communities elected female city council members in the next few years.  In 1912 the Kansas Legislature gave women full voting rights.

The Moneka Woman's Rights Association minutes are available in Kansas Memory.

Fighting for Equal Rights - The Women of Moneka in Reflections, Autumn 2007

Entry: Moneka Woman's Rights Association

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2010

Date Modified: December 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.