Marie Ruoff Byrum of Hannibal, Missouri, made history on Aug. 31, 1920, when she became the first woman in the United States to exercise her right to vote just five days after President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The city of Hannibal, Missouri, had an open seat for alderman and had called a special election. Marie Byrum and Nita Harrison had joked about which one of them would be the first woman to vote in Hannibal.
On that rainy election-day morning, Marie and her husband set out on foot at 5:30 a.m. for the corner of Main and North Streets where they would vote. The first to arrive, Marie signed the poll book at 7 a.m. and cast her ballot. Nita Harrison was right behind her and voted at 7:01 a.m.
Marie Louise Ruoff was born Sept. 30, 1893, the second of four children to Joseph “Matt” Ruoff and Ana “Kate” (Rein) Ruoff. She and her brothers were raised by their uncle and aunt, John and Maria Ruoff, after their mother died of tuberculosis and they lost their father when Marie was 13. On June 14, 1917, Marie was joined in Holy Matrimony to Morris King Byrum. The Byrums were active in politics and, by all appearances, supported women’s suffrage.
Not a lot is known about Marie’s life prior to her marriage nor the Byrums after their marriage. They settled down in Hannibal, raised three children, and retired in Florida where Marie died in January 1967.
While Marie was the first woman to vote in the United States after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, she was not the first woman to legally vote. Wyoming was the first state to grant women suffrage prior to the passage of the Women Suffrage Amendment, and the honor of the first female to vote goes to Louisa Ann Swain of Laramie, Wyoming, on Sept. 6, 1870.
The poll book showing Marie Byrum’s name on the first line is housed in the Missouri State Archives in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News for over ten years. She has covered the War Between the States, U.S. history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s upcoming Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.firstname.lastname@example.org.