Photograph: Opelousas Town Market in downtown Opelousas where local women first voted in 1920. (Carola Lillie Hartley collection.)
Carola Lillie Hartley
Publisher and Contributing Writer
Did you know women in Louisiana, including Opelousas, had rights that women in other areas of the US did not have? That is correct. Since Louisiana was governed by Civil Law, women had some right that were not afforded to women who lived in other states under the rule of Common Law
Creole women of Louisiana, even those of mixed race, could and did own property, possess assets as single women, or as married women separate from that of their husbands, file lawsuits, and were successful and respected business owners.
Even so, they did not have all the same rights as men – they could not vote, hold office, help to create laws, etc.
That changed in 1919 when the US Congress passed the 19th amendment on June 4, 1919. This amendment granted women the right to vote. It was ratified on August 18, 1920.
Women in Opelousas voted for the first time in 1920. The voting precinct was at the Opelousas Town Market on the corner of Bellevue and Market streets, on the St. Landry Parish Courthouse Square (today that building is called the Old City Hall).
Although women were allowed to vote, that did not include all women. Black women were still not allowed to vote in Opelousas and St. Landry Parish until decades later.
As we continue to celebrate National Women’s History Month, let us remember the women of our town who worked in the pass so that we who live today can have the right to vote in all elections.