New Hampshire women take for granted that they can vote. Many believe that with the passage of the federal suffrage amendment in 1919 New Hampshire women were automatically given complete voting rights. It is not so. Constitutionally women did not have full rights in New Hampshire until Carmita Murphy proposed they should in 1956, and it was placed on a state ballot and approved (by vote) in 1958.
I came across an interesting story published in several newspapers on the same date of 19 March 1958. “Mrs. Carmita A. Murphy of Dover ran a one-woman suffrage campaign as a delegate to a 1956 constitutional convention to have the word ‘male’ deleted from those sections of the constitution. She won. A proposed constitutional change will appear on the state ballots in November. When New Hampshire ratified the 19th Amendment in 1919, the Legislature ordered the word “male” deleted from the state voting restriction laws. The change was never made in the state constitution.”
It may seem like a moot point to some, but not to me. Certainly New Hampshire women had been voting in elections starting in 1919, but constitutionally the wording stated they could not vote for senators. There were attempts to change or remove the word “male” several times–in 1889 (when it was tabled at the convention) and in 1903 when the proposal made it to the voters, but failed. The Women’s Almanac states that “in 1915 NH women sent 400 valentines to the state’s uncommonly larger legislature, along with tickets to a feminist movie. They filed bills for various forms of suffrage in each biannual session between 1905 and 1917.”
Finally the 1956 Constitutional Convention proposed to remove the “male” in what by then had become Article 28 (formerly Article 27). Mrs. Carmita A. Murphy of Dover from Ward 4 in Strafford County, New Hampshire sponsored the resolution, the delegates approved it without argument on a voice vote, and ordered it to referendum action in the 1958 November election. The voters were asked: Are you in favor of removing the obsolete provision in Article 28 of Part I I of our Constitution disqualifying eligible women from voting for state office? The answer FINALLY was a hearty “yes,” by 89,933 to 27,345.
To provide a bit of background: the suffrage amendment, sometimes called the Susan B. Anthony amendment, was a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress passed on 4 June 1919. It needed to be ratified by 36 states (3/4 of the total of then 48) to be added to the U.S. Constitution.
According to an article by Aurora Eaton in The Union Leader, in New Hampshire Gov. John H. Bartlett was a supporter of the women’s right to vote, and he called for a special session of the legislature. which was scheduled for 9 September 1919. On that date after lively debate and one representative calling one of his female constituents ‘insane,’ the vote was 211 in favor, and 143 against this amendment.
The next day the Senators listened, spoke and voted, 41 to 10 in favor. On the same day, 10 September 1919, governor Bartlett signed the bill making New Hampshire the 16th state to ratify the federal suffrage amendment. It was not until 8 days later that the state of Tennessee ratified the amendment, making the 19th Amendment part of our national constitutional law. Finally women had the right to vote.
But who was Mrs. Carmita A. Murphy who worked to correct the constitutional oversight in New Hampshire? Until I read the news article, I had never heard of her. Carmita A. Cameron was born 2 Jan 1924 in Montrose PA, and died 9 Aug 2003 at Daytona FL, daughter of Paul W. & Lillian Arlene (Reynolds) Cameron. In 1930 she was living with her family in Montrose, Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, United States.
She married Arthur C. Murphy who was from the Dover NH area, and a graduate of Dover High School and UNH. Lt. Comdr. Arthur C. Murphy was commanding officer of the Submarine Division 1-34 at the Portsmouth Naval shipyard. He served as engineering officer on LCI 640 in the Pacific in WWII and also in the Korean conflict. He was promoted from Lt. to Lieut. Commander in the Naval reserve in 1955. In 1967 he was supervisory industrial engineer at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. He retired in 1976 as head of the Planning Department’s Value Engineering Branch.
In the 1950s Lieut. Commander and Mrs. Murphy lived in the Dover, New Hampshire area. Carmita graduated from the University in New Hampshire in 1957, earning a bachelor’s degree in government, and then a master’s degree in political science. Her 1957 yearbook (The Granite) shows: “Major: Government: Deans List 2,3,4: Jeremiah Mason Law Club 3,4.” According to her obituary, she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Pi Gamma Mu, and Pi Sigma Alpha. Her master’s thesis in 1965 at UNH was “The role of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in extending political rights to women.”
For several years Carmita both raised a family and worked as a teacher in the Dover (NH) public school system for ten years. She had three sons and a daughter, Arthur, Douglas, Kent and Karen. In August of 1967 the Nashua Telegraph newspaper announced: “Mrs. Carmita Murphy of Dover has been named assistant director of the University of New Hampshire’s Extension Service.” The newspaper article went on to say that she had registered in a Doctoral program in education administration at Boston University. In her new position she was responsible “for short-term and certificate courses and institutes, such as middle management and management supervisory courses, real estate and small business administration courses.” She worked in this position as late as 1974.
At her death in 2003 Carmita A. Murphy was living in Daytona Beach, having moved there in 1980. Her obituary states that she was active in local clubs, and “enjoyed traveling and watching the U.N.H. sports teams, bridge, tennis and golf.” Her work on behalf of New Hampshire’s women has gone mostly unnoticed, until now. Her story deserves our attention.
My thanks to to Amanda Palkovic and Liz Fowler at the UNH Library for their assistance in locating the photograph of Mrs. Carmita A. Murphy for this story.