The Election of 1920: Locals and Major Changes 

On November 2, 1920 United States citizens went to the polls to elect a president, senators, congressmen, and scores of local officials.

Despite Virginia’s tendency at the time to support conservative Democrats, county residents voted overwhelmingly for the Republican ticket. The election of Warren Harding and the GOP’s sweep of the Senate and House races across the nation were celebrated by the Shenandoah Herald, one of the county’s prominent newspapers. Coverage also included a report on the local congressional race which had been one by a Democrat who the paper accused of buying votes.

  Warren G. Harding, http://www.old-picture.com/american-legacy/003/President-Harding-Warren.htm

This election was notable for two reasons. First, it coincided with the first commercial radio broadcast in the United States. Station KDKA in Pittsburg went on air to broadcast the election returns. It was the beginning of mass voice media and live reporting.

 KDKA broadcasting microphone, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KDKA_microphone_on_display.JPG

Second, the election was also the first where women in every state had the right to vote. The 19th amendment to the United States constitution, which prohibited US citizens from being denied the right to vote, had been ratified on August 18th 1920. Virginia, one of only seven states that had not granted women any voting rights, refused to ratify this amendment until 1952.

 Cartoon promoting suffrage, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_SuffrageSteamrollerCartoon.png

 

The Shenandoah Herald made no mention of either one of these events during its post-election coverage. Politics would have limited the coverage of female votes. Since the paper had no supported women’s suffrage, and filled its pages with opposition articles as the debate over the amendment raged, the editors would probably not have been willing to promote an event they still felt was a terrible idea.

 

Shenandoah Herald masthead, ca. 1920. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Barnett_M_Clinedinst_(1837-1900)_obituary_in_the_Shenandoah_Herald_on_December_28,_1900.jpg

 

Geography was responsible for the paper’s failure to report on the radio broadcast. Shenandoah County’s distance from Pittsburg meant the signals would not have reached the area. In addition, our rural nature isolated the area from the growing radio trend. Few people would have understood what a radio was. So while radios would be all the rage here within a few years, in 1920 it was certainly not something worth reporting on.

 

Today’s election has many similarities. For the first time a woman has been nominated by a major party. Another form of mass communication, the internet, is having a tremendous impact on the race. How do you think future generations will view this election cycle?