Nearly 100 years ago, on November 8, 1910, the male voters of Washington State voted for a state constitutional amendment to extend the vote to women. The men voted 52,299 Yes to 29,676 No, almost two to one. But it was a 56-year-long struggle filled with starts and stops.
Washington wasn’t the first state to grant suffrage to women. The state of New Jersey allowed women to vote in the early 1800s, but they later changed their mind. The Wyoming Territory (which eventually became a state) allowed women to vote in 1869, followed 24 years later by Colorado in 1893. Utah and Idaho gave women the vote in 1896. Fourteen years later, in 1910, Washington became the fifth state of the union where women could vote. All five states were west of the Mississippi.
I’d argue that Washington started an avalanche that resulted in the 19th Amendment.
I’ll give you more details under the fold.
The Territorial Years
Here’s a quick history of the Northwestern Territories and States: What is now Washington State was originally part of the Oregon Territory, formed in 1848. Five years later, in 1853, The Washington Territory was separated from Oregon. Oregon received statehood in 1859 (just in time to vote for Abraham Lincoln). In 1863, the eastern part of Washington Territory split off to become The Idaho Territory. Finally, Washington got its statehood in 1889.
In the U.S.A., the preferred phrase was "woman suffrage," which is what I’ll call it. In England, it was called "women’s suffrage." Also, in England, the violent troublemakers were called by the insulting term "suffragettes," whereas the more peaceful women who worked within the system preferred the term "suffragists," which is what I’ll call them. I prefer the non-insulting word (suffragist instead of suffragette, Trotskyist instead of Trotskyite, Trekker instead of Trekkie (for Star Trek fans), etc.).
1854: Woman Suffrage Loses By One Vote
In 1853, Washington became a Territory. At the first meeting of the Territorial Legislature, Arthur Denny proposed that white women should be able to vote. Indian women couldn’t vote, nor could half-breeds.
In 1854, Arthur Denny (1822-1899), one of the founders of Seattle, proposes an amendment at the first session of the territorial legislature "to allow all white females over the age of 18 years to vote." It is defeated by a single vote. Lawmakers make a small concession, granting every taxpaying inhabitant over 21 years of age the right to vote in school elections.
Historian Edmund Meany speculated that the bill might have passed if Indian wives of white men had been included. At least one of the naysayers was married to a Native American woman.
Here’s Arthur Denny, who thought women should vote:
1867: The Law Allowing Citizens To Vote
In 1867 the Washington Territorial Legislature passed a law giving the right to vote "to all white citizens above the age of 21." This law became the rallying point for early women's suffrage advocates who cited the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in conjunction with the law which defined "citizen" as being "all persons born or naturalized in the United States."
In White River, women tried to vote but were turned away from the polls. Apparently, fifteen women were allowed to vote in Thurston County. Some women were allowed to vote and some weren’t.
1871: Susan B. Anthony Comes To Washington
Here’s a picture of Susan B. Anthony:
Here’s the link.
In October 1871, Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), national women's rights leader and vice president of the National Woman Suffrage Association, becomes the first woman to address the Washington Territorial Legislature. She and Oregon suffragist Abigail Scott Duniway (1834-1915) tour Washington Territory to promote the cause of woman suffrage (the right of women to vote). They help organize the Washington Equal Suffrage Association.
Representative Daniel Bigelow of Olympia had introduced a suffrage bill to the legislature a week before Anthony's speech. She received high marks from several regional newspapers, but the bill failed. The opposition countered by enacting the following law at the next session:
"Hereafter no female shall have the right of ballot at any poll or election precinct in this Territory until the Congress of the United States of America shall, by direct legislation, declare the same to be the supreme law of the land."
1875: Women Lose Again 15-11
The issue comes up again. The Territorial Legislature votes against woman suffrage 15-11.
1877: Women Can Vote For School Boards
How about a compromise? Women aren’t allowed to vote. But they can cast a vote for school boards. They’re women. They give birth to children and their kids go to school. Maybe this will make them happy. Let’s allow them to vote, but only for school boards.
1883: Washington Women Can Vote – 1887: No They Can’t – 1888: Yes They Can (But No Jury Duty) – 1888: No, Really They Can’t
From this story: Washington women win and lose the vote between 1883 and 1888.
In 1883, Washington women win the vote. In the next election they tip the balance for law and order, closing down saloons and brothels in local communities. Legal challenges follow. One emotional argument holds that women who serve on juries are being exposed to "sordid facts of life." In the conventional opinion of the time, women were too delicate and pure to know such facts.
On February 3, 1887, the Washington Territory Supreme Court ruled that women could not serve as jurors, basing its decision on a technicality. It declared the suffrage law unconstitutional. On January 16, 1888, the territorial legislature enacted a new law that restored women's right to vote, but excluded them from juries. On November 14, 1888, the territorial Supreme Court again nullified the women's vote, arguing that Congress had not intended to enfranchise women.
And here is the basic problem of letting women vote: There were business interests who were making money from liquor, prostitution, and gambling. If women got the right to vote, they’d vote for politicians who were against those things. The liquor, prostitution, and gambling interests donated tons of money to any group that opposed woman suffrage.
1889: Statehood! Let’s Vote On A New Constitution!
The Territorial Supreme Court had decided, a year earlier, that women can’t vote. Men voted on the state constitution. There was a separate amendment to give women the right to vote. It failed.
In August 1889, delegates to the Washington State Constitutional Convention tack two amendments onto the ratification ballot, one for woman suffrage and the other for Prohibition.
A powerful businessmen's lobby maintained that female suffrage might prejudice Congress against granting Washington statehood. The majority of the delegates voted "nay," when Representative Edwin Eldridge of Whatcom County proposed striking the word "male" before "citizens."
At the general election in November, the territory's male citizens ratified the proposed constitution by a margin of four to one. They defeated both the Prohibition and suffrage amendments, the latter by a vote of 35,527 to 16,613.
1890: School voting AGAIN
Maybe women will be happy if they can vote for school district elections.
On March 27, 1890, Governor Elisha P. Ferry signs the School Suffrage Act into law. The act enfranchises women to vote in local school district elections, but not for state or county superintendents.
1897 Another Constitutional Amendment Fails
In 1897, the voters vote and women don’t get the right to vote. Again.
1900: Carrie Chapman Catt Is Elected President Of NAWSA
Here’s a picture of Carrie Chapman Catt:
In 1900, Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) selects Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947) to succeed her as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Catt had previously lived in Seattle, where in 1891 she was founding president of the Women's Century Club.
If you’ve ever been to Seattle, the Women’s Century Club is the building just off Broadway on Roy (behind the Deluxe Bar and Grill). It’s now a movie theater called The Harvard Exit.
After successfully getting the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, Carrie Chapman Catt converted NAWSA into the League of Women Voters.
The 1909 AYP
In 1909, Seattle held a World’s Fair, called the "Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition." In July, there was Woman Suffrage Day:
During the first week of July 1909, suffrage proponents from across the country gathered in Seattle to participate in the 41st Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and to celebrate Woman Suffrage Day at Washington's first world's fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (A-Y-P) Exposition, currently underway on the University of Washington campus. The Washington Equal Suffrage Association convention, held the day before the National convention, drew suffragists from around the state. The suffragists, their conventions, and their appearances in area clubs and churches received copious coverage in local newspapers and captured the attention of thousands of Washingtonians attending the A-Y-P Exposition. Suffragists used the A-Y-P as a massive public relations opportunity and this exposure was an important component in how Washington women achieved the vote on November 8, 1910.
In 1910, Finally, A Constitutional Amendment Passes In WA
56 years after Arthur Denny first proposed the idea, in 1854, that women should vote in Washington (Territory), women finally got the vote.
California Was Next
In 1911, California women got the vote. In 1912, women marched up Fifth Avenue in New York City demanding the right to vote. In 1913 women marched up Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, demanding the right to vote. In 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed (thanks to the mother of a Tennessee legislator) and American women could vote in every city and state.