Today in Feminist History: Women’s Votes Swing Seattle’s Mayoral Recall Election

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.

February 7, 1911: Both the power and benefit of woman suffrage were clearly demonstrated today.

Three months after women in the State of Washington won the ballot, those who live in Seattle used their first votes to provide what many political experts are saying was the margin of victory needed to recall the Mayor for misconduct and widespread corruption. 

Mayor Hiram C. Gill, elected last March by a margin of 3,299 votes in a male-only election, was removed from office today by what this evening looks like at least a 4,000 vote margin.

CARTOON: From the January 22nd edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, it satirizes the Gill Administration as being openly corrupt. Gill stands on a platform of “Civic Indecency,” “Open Gambling,” “Thuggery,” and “Graft.” “Wappy” refers to Chief of Police Wapperstein, dismissed for misconduct by a previous mayor, but re-hired by Gill. The Seattle Times, a rival paper in support of Gill, is represented as a feather in his hat. As the cartoonist correctly predicted, the Mayor was about to be swept away by an electoral tidal wave

It is being estimated that 87 percent of the city’s 23,000 registered women voters took part in the election. The enthusiasm of the newly-enfranchised women was exemplified by Rebecca Hall, age 80. She was first in line this morning, two hours before the polls opened. 

The campaign to win woman suffrage in Washington was led by Emma Smith DeVoe. Tutored in suffrage work by Susan B. Anthony while living back East, DeVoe worked on the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s Organization Committee. She put the skills she learned there to good use after moving to Washington. In February, 1909, she and the local suffragists she had organized convinced the Washington State Legislature to put a woman suffrage referendum on the ballot for the November 8, 1910 election. 

Her 21-month “Give The Women A Square Deal” campaign kept a low profile, with no marches or street corner rallies as have been done in New York City. As a result, the effort didn’t attract unwanted attention from national anti-suffrage groups. DeVoe and her volunteers talked to people on an individual basis, and to large numbers of very small audiences. They let the women know that there was a suffrage referendum coming up, and gave them information and good arguments to use when lobbying their male family members to vote “yes.” They then lobbied the men directly in union halls and at meetings of farmers’ organizations. The strategy must have worked, because the margin of victory was huge: 52,299 in favor (63.8%) vs. 29,676 against (36.2%), and for the first time in 14 years, a new State was won for equal suffrage. 

Though only five of the forty-six States (Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Idaho and Washington) have thus far enjoyed the benefits of political reform via woman suffrage, it’s clearly the wave of the future, so today’s cleanup of City Hall looks like only a small sample of what’s to come !


David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.