Organized efforts toward women's suffrage in North Carolina began in Asheville in 1894, almost 50 years after the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY. During the 1890s, Helen Morris Lewis of Charleston, SC, moved to Asheville with her sister Raven, where they taught music and ran a boarding house. On November 15, 1894, Miss Lewis sponsored a public gathering in the Asheville court house to discuss women's suffrage which, as the Asheville Daily Citizen reported, attracted a "surprisingly good" turnout of"ladies, businessmen, and people in every walk of life." The program featured speeches by Miss Lewis and Asheville mayor Thomas W. Patton, and sparked spirited debate in the Daily Citizen. Four days later, the North Carolina Equal Suffrage Association was organized with Miss Lewis as president.
During the next decade, Miss Lewis traveled throughout the Carolinas and Georgia, addressing large audiences and sponsoring nationally prominent lecturers. She represented the state at annual conventions of the National American Women Suffrage Association, and in 1896, spoke at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Woman Suffrage.
In February 1897, the first women's suffrage bill was introduced in North Carolina's General Assembly by J. L. Hyatt, a Republican senator from Yancey County. This bill died after it was referred to the Committee on Insane Asylums, of which Hyatt was the chair.