CHARLESTON — On the floor of the House chamber Monday, Belinda Biafore, chairwoman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, and Melody Potter, chairwoman of the West Virginia Republican, sat side by side, talking to each other and smiling.

They were co-chairwomen of an event marking 100 years since West Virginia became the 34th state to ratify, or formally consent, to the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote.

“It was not an easy victory, however,” said Mary Johnson, historian for the WV Division of Culture and History, who spoke at the event. “One thing in looking back that it’s important to understand is that it had only been three and a half years since West Virginians had voted on a state constitutional amendment on women’s suffrage, and overwhelmingly defeated it. There were only two counties in the entire state that approved that amendment and overall more than 70 percent of West Virginia voters, admittedly men, opposed giving women the right to vote.”

Johnson spoke about the legislative maneuvers that some lawmakers tried to keep the resolution from coming to a vote.

Finally, the state Senate ratified the amendment, which had already been ratified by the House, in a close vote on March 10, 1920. Organizers recognized the ratification on Monday instead of holding it in March, so the Legislature would be in session.

“According to one account, pandemonium broke loose,” Johnson said. “Women screamed, threw articles in the air during the excitement, hugged each other and wept in their joy,” she said. “After the Senate adjourned, there was a demonstration in the corridors, blowing of tin horns, cheering and noise that lasted for 15 minutes.”

Lawmakers needed 36 states to approve the amendment for it to become law. Tennessee became that state in August of 1920. Court challenges followed, and finally the United States Supreme Court upheld the amendment in 1922.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican and the first female United States senator in West Virginia history, was the keynote speaker.

“I was looking through WV Culture and History, on their website the other day about this in West Virginia and picked up some of the history that Mary had explained to us, and how close, and I was thinking at the time, and I probably shouldn’t tell this story, but I was thinking at the time that my great-uncle might have actually been in the state Senate and how proud I would have been to think that he had of course voted for the women’s suffrage amendment. But he wasn’t in the state Senate. He was in the House of Delegates and I think there’s a Moore in the no column, so I can’t be responsible for my relatives,” she said, to laughter. “I don’t know if it’s him but I have a feeling it might be. If he was around, he get a piece of my mind.”

Capito noted that the women’s suffrage movement took decades.

Women lobbied, challenged male-only voting laws in court, held demonstrations and marches, and practiced civil disobedience.

Some were heckled, jailed and physically attacked.

Capito quoted Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a leader of the movement who said: “The best protection any woman can have... is courage.”

She noted that some were thrown into jail “for asking for a right that we would all think today to be unconscionable to withhold.”

She added that “the pioneering spirit that we all have as West Virginia women I think carried us forward in those days and carries us forward today.”

Governor Jim Justice sent a representative to the event. A handful of lawmakers were present.

Democratic delegates Danielle Danielle Walker, D- Monongalia; Amanda Estep-Burton, D- Kanawha; Cindy Lavender-Bowe, D- Greenbrier; and Lisa Zukoff, D- Marshall, sat next to each other at the event, each wearing white.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, the West Virginia Legislature, which includes 18 women, has a lower rate of female representation in the Legislature – 13 percent – than any other state.

In an interview following the event, Lavender-Bowe pointed to several bills that disproportionately affect women making their way through the legislative process, including a bill to allow women to receive 12-month prescriptions for birth control, which has passed the House and awaits consideration in the Senate, and a bill related to rape kits, which requires the state Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Commission Establish to, by Dec. 1,2020, develop a plan that includes the order of priority for testing kits; testing all of the previous kits that can be tested; and establishing a tracking system for use of victims for all kits tested after December 1, 2020, that will allow them to know the status of their test kits. That one has almost completed the legislative process.

“We’ve had some good successes this year,” Lavender-Bowe said.

She also pointed to a foster care bill, which gives foster parents and children new rights, and is set for third reading in the House of Delegates tomorrow and still needs to pass the Senate.

“Also anytime you see success in legislation that is supportive of children and families, that’s really important to women because women are the ones who make those household decisions and they’re the ones primarily raising the children,” she said.

Meanwhile, she noted that an equal pay bill, sponsored by Delegate Erikka Storch, R- Ohio, has stalled. Storch said that bill would protect women from repercussions if they spoke about their salaries.

Following the event at the Capitol, Del. Amy Summer, R- Taylor and the House of Delegates’ first female majority leader, briefly spoke at a reception at the Culture Center on Capitol grounds.

“You might not believe this but yesterday on the drive down I spoke for an hour with Del. (Barbara) Fleischauer,” she said, referencing a Democrat representing Monongalia County.

She also thanked Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw, R- Clay, for appointing her to her position.

“You said you were going to take 15 minutes,” Mike Queen, deputy chief of staff and communications director for the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office, said, at the conclusion of her remarks.

“I’m thinking about all the work I’ve got to do,” Summers responded.