Today in Feminist History: “I’m A Voter” Buttons and Silent Protest (May 8, 1915)

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.

May 8, 1915: Sometimes the simplest ideas work the best.

Jeannette Rankin, who was Field Secretary for the National American Woman Suffrage Association before returning to her home State of Montana last year to work full-time for passage of a suffrage referendum, came up with a novel suggestion recently for promoting the cause at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Reverend Anna Howard Shaw, N.A.W.S.A.’s president, embraced it immediately, and today their enthusiasm proved justified. 

Huge numbers of visitors from the East, where no State has equal suffrage, are here in San Francisco, visiting the Exposition. It opened on February 20th, runs through December 4th, and is being held to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal last August, as well as to showcase the host city’s remarkable recovery from a devastating earthquake nine years ago.

Since women in California (as well as 10 other Western States) can vote on exactly the same basis as men, Rankin wondered if this visit to “suffrage country” by all those Easterners could provide a way to get them comfortable with the idea of women as voters. Having large numbers of women walk around the fairgrounds wearing “I’m A Voter” buttons seemed to Rankin a perfect way to accomplish that goal.

Those buttons were seen everywhere today, and it’s providing an educational experience for Eastern men who may never have seen or talked to a woman voter before. Many are pleasantly surprised to see that voting women—and even active suffragists—are not as anti-suffragists portray them.

Of course, one of the women who can’t wear the button is Reverend Shaw herself. Though Jeannette Rankin is a voter, thanks to having played a major role in winning woman suffrage in Montana on November 3rd, Shaw is from Pennsylvania, which along with New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey, will be voting on woman suffrage this fall.

But Reverend Shaw hopes to be wearing her “I’m A Voter” button six months from now, saying: “I have saved a button in the hope that the men of Pennsylvania will be just as sensible as the Western men who have enfranchised ten million women and seem to be glad of it.”


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.