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Seeking The Right To Be A Notary

Seeking The Right To Become A Notary

(Originally published in the January 2009 issue of The National Notary.)

It’s a little known fact, but the histories of the women’s suffrage movement and the Notary
Public office are closely linked. Prior to 1920, most women in the United States didn’t have the right to vote.
Because they couldn’t vote, they couldn’t by law be a Notary Public or hold public office in most states. But that didn’t stop crusading suffragettes, such as Valerie Watts Fox of North Carolina.
Watts Fox and her comrades engaged in a letter-writing campaign to force states to allow women to serve as Notaries. Their initial efforts failed. In a significant 1915 ruling, North Carolina’s Supreme Court upheld the ban on women as Notaries.
Undeterred, Watts Fox continued her mission not just to become a Notary, but to enjoy full-fledged status as an American citizen. She campaigned for passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would expand the right to vote to all women. (At the time of the North Carolina ruling, 12 states had already authorized female suffrage.) Ultimately, these pioneers were successful and, with passage of the 19th Amendment, all American women could vote and at long last qualify for the Notary office.

Today some states continue to impose requirements of Notary applicants that may have made sense in an earlier age but not in the 21st century. For example, New Mexico requires a character endorsement from two state residents.

A century or more ago, when many current Notary statutes were written, it made sense to seek the endorsement of prominent local citizens or elected officials who generally knew prospective Notaries well enough to vouch for their character. 

However, in today’s mobile society, many would-be Notaries don’t have the same kind of personal relationship with their neighbors, much less their elected officials, as they used to.

Today, we live in an anonymous, disconnected world, and a much more meaningful screening requirement for Notary commission applicants would be submission of electronic fingerprints to enable a robust background check. A century ago Watts Fox and her sisters-in-arms fought to change Notary laws by gaining the vote. This was all based on the then-controversial but now indisputable fact that women are as capable as men in carrying out the duties of public office, including the office of Notary Public.
Like the slow adoption of universal suffrage in individual states a century or more ago, the modernization of the appointment process is creeping along. The state of California has led the way. It requires a comprehensive background screening of Notary commission applicants, who must provide a photo and a full set of electronic fingerprints, which are then vetted through the California Department of Justice and the FBI.The struggle to modernize the Notary office did not end with the efforts of the suffragettes. It remains an ongoing quest.

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Shannon Elwell

07 Mar 2016

Would like to know what I would have to do to become a notary again in the state of Georgia. And what would I be using my notary commission for

National Notary Association

08 Mar 2016

Hello. Information on renewing a Georgia Notary commission can be found here:, or you can contact the NNA's Customer Care team at 1-800-876-6827 for assistance renewing your commission.

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