Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Anna Belle Ayers (Mrs. O.S.) McKinney, 1852-1921
By Suronda Gonzalez, historian, independent researcher, and Morgan McMinn, graduate student, West Virginia University
Keywords: Fairmont, Political Equality Club, NAWSA, Women's Club
Anna Belle Ayers was born in Palatine, Marion County, WV, in 1852. She was the eldest of six children born to Daniel Heron Ayers, a tanner, and Hannah (Bunner) Ayers, a homemaker. In 1872, as part of the first class ever, she graduated from Fairmont Normal School and taught for a few years. On May 25th, 1874, she married Owen Sullivan McKinney, a newspaper editor and publisher, from Fairmont, West Virginia, who was later active in Democratic politics and a member of the WV legislature, and speaker of the House of Delegates. O.S. and Belle had five children, Nola McKinney (1875-1950), Margaret Ellen (1877-1963), who would become active with her mother in supporting suffrage, Odell Payne (1879-1950), Gertrude (1881-1889) and Mary Louise (1890)
Anna Belle McKinney was a charter member of the West Virginia Equal Suffrage Association, founded and was elected to one of two auditor positions when the annual convention was held in Fairmont 1889. During the 1890, support for the woman suffrage movement was inconsistent and disjointed across the State. In 1905, however, the NAWSA helped reinvigorate the movement by lending assistance in setting up new suffrage clubs, in establishing a state-wide suffrage day, organizing publicity campaigns, and in linking calls for suffrage with those for protective legislation. As momentum grew in the state, Belle McKinney served as a WV delegate in 1906 at the 38th Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association held in Baltimore in February.
As the influence of the suffrage movement grew, the McKinneys hosted guest speakers supporting the vote at their home. Further, the Political Equality Club, affiliated with the State Federation of Women's Club in 1909, used their residence to organize a spring 1915 meeting of the West Virginia Equal Suffrage League where organizers and an array of supporters, men and women; businessmen, politicians, and educators would discuss strategies for successfully securing votes to ratify the state referendum that quickly gained support of the legislature in 1915. The League supported a "quiet, dignified, conservative campaign" with "nothing of a sensational nature [creeping] into the campaign methods as outlined by the state executive committee." While both houses had overwhelmingly supported women's suffrage, the State's voters soundly defeated the effort in 1916 with only just over a quarter of voters in support.
In 1917 the state suffrage convention convened in Fairmont, McKinney's hometown, in what the local paper described as a "confident mood." With the federal suffrage amendment looming in 1919, the West Virginia organizers held their convention in Charleston where they dedicated themselves to securing legislative support.
In the summer of 1919, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed the amendment, and now it was time for states to ratify it. In February of the following year, West Virginia's Democratic Governor John J. Cornwell called for a special session where the House voted 47 to 40 in favor, and the Senate was tied 14-14. Senator Jesse A. Bloch was unaware that a special session had been called and telegraphed in from California. While the Senate waited for his arrival the suffrage supporters successfully fought to keep the representatives and senators in their seats. With Boch's vote, and that of another senator who had changed his mind, the suffragists were victorious. Both Anna Belle and her daughter Margaret, a member of the Ratification Committee, were present during all of the sessions and were together on March 10, 1920 to see the amendment ratified in West Virginia.
The local paper interviewed several women leaders who had been active in the long fight for the vote. Acknowledging the importance of support from pro-suffrage men like her husband, Anna Belle commented, "The women have worked and fought, but their efforts would have been useless had it not been for those men who have stood by loyally, and credit should be given them for their cooperation."
A little over one year later, on 30 April 1921, Anna Belle McKinney died. She is interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Fairmont.
Catalogue and Alumni Record of the Fairmont Branch of the West Virginia State Normal School, Fairmont, 1878-9 (accessed 28 December 2020)
Effland, Anne Wallace, "Exciting Battle and Dramatic Finish: The West Virginia Woman Suffrage Movement, Part I: 1867-1915" West Virginia History (Vol. 46, 1985-86) 137-158.
National American Woman Suffrage Association, Susan B. (Susan Brownell) Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Proceedings of the ... Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Washington, D.C.: The Association, 1893-1913.
Ida Husted Harper, et. al., eds. History of Woman Suffrage: 1900-1920, Vol. VI: 687-698. [LINK to WV state report]
29 March 1915, Fairmont West Virginian, "Plans Formed for Suffrage Meeting: Prominent People Will Address Session of Suffrage League," p. 8
8 April 1915, Fairmont West Virginian, "Equal Suffrage League Opens State Convention; Mayor Delivers Address," Votes for Women Campaign Launched," p. 1
20 November 1917, The Fairmont West Virginian, "Open Suffrage Convention in Confident Mood," p. 1
19 August 1920, The Fairmont West Virginian, "Fairmont Women Among the First to Come Out Openly for the Equal Suffrage Cause," p. 1.