In December 1935 Edith Williams, Anna Vessup, and Eulalie Stevens filed an application against the Town and Country Electoral Boards of St. Thomas, and their members. They filed their application in the St. Thomas District Court. They wanted to be recognized as qualified voters. Qualifications for voting at the time, 1934, included length of residency, age, and income requirements. The women fulfilled all the requirements. They were residents of St. Thomas. They met the age requirement. And they earned the required income through their jobs as teachers. They were however denied by the electoral boards because they were women. The three women won their case, which resulted in the judgement you are studying. The case led the way to qualified women being allowed to register and vote in St. Thomas. Qualified women on St. John and St. Croix would also challenge their electoral boards and gain eligibility to vote.
In this activity, students will use questions to examine the judgment of Judge Albert Levitt in the application of Edith Williams, Anna M. Vessup, and Eulalie Stevens for a Writ of Permanent Mandamus Against the Town and Country Electoral Boards of St. Thomas. Students will consider and discuss three themes: individuals, groups, and institutions; power and authority; and active citizenship.
Primary Sources in this Activity
Suggested Teaching Instructions
This primary source activity includes the topics of women’s right, human rights and voting. Viewed as a sensitive topic for classroom lessons, teachers should consider their students ability to engage with the topics, give background information, create a safe environment for discussion, and be prepared to support their students’ questions and responses to the subject matter.
Before beginning this activity, the teacher can explain terms such as election, electoral board, writ of permanent mandamus, and qualifications for voting as needed.
- Election is the process of voting to choose someone to be their political leader or representative.
- The electoral board is the official organization that manages elections.
- Writ of permanent mandamus directs a government office or a department to take a certain action.
- Qualifications to vote are things that someone who wants to vote are required to be, like a certain age, or a resident of the place they want to vote in.
Load the “Judgment, In the Matter of the Application of Edith Williams, Anna M. Vessup, and Eulalie Stevens” onto an interactive smart board and have students make observations and read it together. If there is not a smart board, students can work in small groups at computers.
Also load the Analyze a Written Document worksheet on the smart board or on computers so that you can lead students through answering the questions on the worksheet.
Analyze the Primary Source
You may load the Analyze a Photograph worksheet on the smart board or on computers so that you can lead students through answering the questions, print the worksheet and distribute to your students, or adapt the questions from the worksheet to create your own. Primary Source Analysis Worksheets
The class should then use the questions in the Analyze a Document worksheet to observe the Judgement related to the Application of Edith Williams, Anna M. Vessup, and Eulalie Stevens for a Writ of Permanent Mandamus Against the Town and Country Electoral Boards of St. Thomas, and its members.
The teacher can share the About section which offers a background of the women who submitted the application, and why they submitted it.
The teacher can also explain to students that the right to vote in the US Virgin Islands, and the United States, cannot be fully understood with one day or one victory. It was a slow process. The following short timeline of some key points related to Women and Blacks voting in the Danish West Indies (Denmark), and US Virgin Islands (United States) can be shared. Danish women gained the right to vote in 1915. In 1920, in the United States, ratification of the 19th amendment, guaranteed all American women the right to vote, however only American White women really benefitted. Many states found ways to circumvent the Constitution and prevent Blacks from voting. In 1927 when citizenship was granted to Virgin Islanders – voting rights were granted to only males and with certain qualifications. In 1935 US Virgin Islands women won their voting rights with proof of qualifications. For many decades Blacks in the United States fought against the variety of attempts to disenfranchise them. In 1965 people of color in the United States, won the fight with the passing of the Voting Rights Act which prohibits racial discrimination in voting. It took many victories before voting would be available to all adults regardless of income, property ownership, gender, and race.
Discussion, Voting Rights: Why do students think women were not allowed to vote in the past? What does, denying women the right to vote, suggest about the powers of government and authority? Do students think being able to vote for their government leaders is important? Explain their answer.
Groups and Institutions: The three women, Edith Williams, Anna Vessup, and Eulalie Stevens, that filed this application were all teachers. How can group membership help an individual get a message out? Is there more strength when there is a group?
Active citizenship: Were Edith Williams, Anna Vessup, and Eulalie Stevens active citizens? Using the Judgement that you are studying, explain your answer. How important is it for people to participate in government and speak out for their rights, like voting? Explain. What might have happened in if these and other women did not speak up and fight for the right to vote?
For St. Thomas students: There is a statue of Edith Williams in St. Thomas, can students say where it is? (Her statue is in Educator’s Park, across from the post office in Charlotte Amalie, at the base of Government Hill.) There is also a school named for her. Do students know where the school is located? (St. Thomas, Tutu, just before Pricemart)