Today in Feminist History: Suffrage Campaign Intensifies in California (October 4, 1911)

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.

October 4, 1911: With just six days to go until (male) Californians vote on whether to add a women’s suffrage amendment to the State Constitution, there has been unprecedented activity by both sides, and the campaign is only going to increase in intensity.

The biggest suffrage rally in the State’s history took place here in Los Angeles four days ago, drawing a crowd so large that even Temple Auditorium was too small to admit everyone who wanted to attend, so a second rally was begun at Choral Hall. Even this failed to provide enough room, so though 5,000 got to cheer for “Votes for Women,” 500 more were turned away. An even bigger gathering is planned for tomorrow night in San Francisco.

But the Political Equality League isn’t just preaching to the already converted. Its members are busy all over the State giving speeches in every possible location, regardless of the size or political leanings of the crowd. Of course, there is still one place that our side hasn’t spoken, but it’s through no lack of effort. Clifford Howard was in the League’s office earlier today after giving a speech at the National Theater in Sawtelle, and reported that suffrage speakers are still banned from the Veterans’ Home by its governor, even though the “antis” are free to give out literature and even have speakers there.

The veterans in the audience for Howard’s speech thought their comrades at the Home would love to hear a suffrage speaker. According to Howard:

“The old soldiers are wildly enthusiastic over suffrage; they prophesy that it will carry at the polls 3 to 1.” As evidence of that support, Howard said that one listener told him that he had taken a straw poll of 225 men in his regiment, and only 15 were opposed to women having the vote. The man also related an incident from last Sunday.

The Chaplain was giving an anti-suffrage sermon when one of the veterans jumped up and said:

“There isn’t a word of what he says that is true. Woman suffrage is all right.”

The battle continues in our numerous local newspapers. Day before yesterday the Los Angeles Express said:

“The women of California are as much entitled to the ballot and as well qualified to cast it with intelligence as are the men of California. Influenced, as they are, in a larger degree than men, by considerations of justice and righteousness, the addition of women in the electorate unquestionably will raise the standards of government and work enormously to the advantage of the State.”

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Tribune said:

“In behalf of the amendment The Tribune appeals not only to chivalry, but to the sense of justice of the men of the State. It matters not how many or how few of the women of California evidence their desire for political equality. The issue is not one of numbers, but of right and wrong. The demand for the ballot is addressed to conscience and intelligence. The right to vote on the same terms as men is sought as a matter of equal justice, not as a matter of favor … The Tribune, from a standpoint of public policy, would regard the defeat of the amendment as a misfortune to the State and a gross injustice to its patriotic, capable and highly intelligent women. The women should have an equal voice in making the laws to which they are required to render an equal obedience. They ask equality and to refuse equality is to deny justice.”

Today, the Tribune continued its call for equal suffrage:

“The boy or girl of today studies civics in school. The wife or mother of 1911 knows more of what is going on in the home city and the world at large than did the father or husband in 1811. In that year there were about 100 post offices in the United States, today there are 52,000. In 1811 there were 103 newspapers ‘whose issues were enough to supply one copy a week to one out of every 50 persons, or one copy a day to one out of 350 persons.’ Now there are 23,000 newspapers, whose issues are enough to supply every family with four copies a day. So it is absurd to say the women of 1911 don’t know enough to vote intelligently on public matters that have to do with the development and protection of themselves or their children.”

The “antis” have very few local editors on their side other than the one at the Los Angeles Daily Times, who is as strongly opposed to “Votes for Women” as his counterpart at the New York Times. But though they have fewer opportunities to get their views expressed free of charge editorially, anti-suffragists seem to have plenty of money to buy space for their propaganda in newspapers.

Here’s a sample from today’s edition of the Times:

by the Women of the Anti-Suffrage Association:

“Because man is man, and woman is woman. Nature has made their functions different, and no constitutional amendment can make them the same.

“Because the basis of government is force – its stability rests upon its physical power to enforce the laws; therefore it is inexpedient to give the vote to women. Immunity from service in executing the law would make most women irresponsible voters.

“Because the suffrage is not a question of right and justice, but of policy and expediency; and if there is no question of right or of justice there is no case for woman suffrage.


“Because it means simply doubling the vote, and especially the undesirable and corrupt vote in our large cities.

“Because the great advance of women in the last century – moral, intellectual and economic – has been made without the vote, which goes to prove that it is not needed for their further advancement along the same lines.

“Because women now stand outside of politics, and therefore are free to appeal to any party in matters of education, charity and reform.

“Because the ballot has not proved a cure-all for existing evils with men, and we find no reason to assume that it would be more effectual with women.

“Because the woman suffrage movement is a backward step in the progress of civilization, in that it seeks to efface natural differentiation of function, and to produce identity, instead of division of labor.

“Because in Colorado after a test of seventeen years the results show no gain in public and political morals over male suffrage States, and the necessary increase in the cost of elections which is already a huge burden upon the taxpayer, is unjustified.

“Because our present duties fill up the whole measure of our time and ability, and are such as none but ourselves can perform. Our appreciation of their importance requires us to protest against all efforts to infringe upon our rights by imposing upon us those obligations which cannot be separated from suffrage, but which, as we think, cannot be performed by us without the sacrifice of the highest interests of our families and of society.

“Because it is our fathers, brothers, husbands and sons who represent us at the ballot-box. Our fathers and brothers love us; our husbands are our choice, and one with us; our sons are WHAT WE MAKE THEM. We are content that they represent US in the cornfield, on the battlefield, and at the ballot-box, and we THEM in the school-room, at the fireside, and at the cradle, believing our representation even at the ballot-box to be thus more full and impartial than it would be were the views of the few who wish suffrage adopted, contrary to the judgment of many.

“We do, therefore respectfully protest against the proposed amendment to establish ‘woman suffrage’ in our State. We believe that political equality will deprive us of special privileges hitherto accorded to us by law.”

Though passage by the three-to-one margin predicted by the residents of the Veterans’ Home seems a bit optimistic, California’s women’s suffrage amendment should certainly pass by a comfortable margin if these are the best arguments our opponents can come up with.


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.