Today in Feminist History: Why Not in California? (October 5, 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 5, 1911: Five days to go until the woman suffrage referendum, and from one end of California to the other, the campaign juggernaut rolls on.

Tonight it was San Francisco’s turn to set the record for the largest suffrage rally our State has ever seen, with its 7,000 easily topping the 5,000 who rallied in Los Angeles on September 30th.

The meeting was hosted by George Knight, a member of the Republican National Committee, and included a number of well-known speakers. Helen Todd told of the abuses of child labor and how winning the vote could help end them, with Gail Laughlin and Catherine Waugh McCullough doing their usual outstanding job on the podium as well. The San Francisco campaign has been especially intense during the past 10 days with an uncountable number of street meetings by day and night, and for those who can’t come to meetings, “house calls” by suffrage workers. 

While that rally was going on in Northern California, Nanno Woods was speaking at the Universalist Church in Pasadena, near Los Angeles. She said:

“Home work does not interfere with brain work. Let me tell you a motto I have evolved for myself: ‘Sweep and ponder, scrub and think.’ I sweep, I scrub, but I ponder, I think. And my thinking results in opinions. Has a citizen in this glorious land of liberty a right to voice his opinion? Surely – if he happens to have been born a man. Is a woman a citizen? In the eyes of the law she is. Yes, a citizen, but a cipher, too. She may have opinions but she may not effectively voice them. An unthinking mother said to me the other day, ‘We do not want the burden of the ballot; we women can get all we want from the men if we only work hard enough.’ Which is the greater burden, that of recording one’s own vote, or that of working hard to influence the vote of others? 

And if I were a widow, is it just or right that my children and myself should be unrepresented? Must my fate and the fate of my little ones depend upon strangers, the Toms, Dicks and Harrys of the country? May the saloonkeeper vote, and I remain helpless? May the dollar-making merchant vote, and the unprotected children remain voiceless? There are seven millions of working women in the United States who ought to be able to say under what conditions they will live their lives, but I am not talking of them now. I am talking of the women like myself, of the home-makers, the home-keepers, the wives, the mothers, the womanly women, whose place is at home, and who, according to the anti-suffragists should not vote.

In the name of wives whose husbands are unworthy; in the name of wives whose husbands, thank God, are most worthy; in the name of mothers of little children, I demand the right of giving effective and legal utterance to our personal, political opinions, and of saying under what conditions we and our children shall live.”

Other major rallies in the Los Angeles area today included one at 53rd and San Pedro Streets, another one at the Ice and Cold Storage Yards, and two meetings over in Whittier, the main one at the corner of Philadelphia and Greenleaf.

The Central Campaign Committee, organized in the Northern half of the State this summer, coordinates activities of the California Equal Suffrage Association, the Woman Suffrage Party, the Wage Earner’s League, the Clubwomen’s Franchise League and the College Equal Suffrage League. In Southern California, the Political Equality League of Los Angeles, founded by John Hyde Braly, and the Votes for Women Club, organized by Clara Shortridge Foltz, drum up support in this half of the State. 

The battle rages on in the newspapers. Today the Los Angeles Tribune gave its third pro-suffrage editorial in three days, and attacked a favorite anti-suffrage argument:

“Opponents of equal suffrage rights for men and women fail to consider where their favorite argument of expediency would lead them, were it applied to all the relations of life. The logical pursuit of their line of reasoning would inevitably place them in the unpleasant predicament of a tree-trimmer who seated himself on a high limb and sawed it in two between himself and the trunk.

If the demand for equal rights for women is to be decided upon the ground of expediency, without regard to justice and right, the simplest form of logical reasoning would suggest the immediate curtailment of numerous rights and privileges now enjoyed by men. One illustration will suffice to open up a view of a most interesting situation, which is susceptible to unlimited expansion.

A brief reference to news dispatches will establish the fact that men are responsible for practically all the frightful number of deaths and mutilations resulting from motor car accidents. Women drivers, although very numerous, are so much more careful that cases of injury to pedestrians from cars controlled by them are extremely rare – much rarer, in fact than are instances of men who misuse their voting privileges in support of vicious political measures.

Following the line of reasoning taken by the opponents of equal rights for men and women it therefore would be expedient and essential to the public welfare that the right to drive motor cars be accorded to women exclusively. 

No sane person will contend that such an exclusive right should be accorded to women, but if the doctrine of expediency is to govern in all instances as it is sought to have it control in one, there would be no logical escape from the contention.”

Today’s Los Angeles Express added one more good reason to favor suffrage to those it gave three days ago:

“The fact that every influence in the State which is seeking an unfair advantage, every saloon, every political corruptionist, and every representative of the old machine that has been torn from power and would seek to reinstate itself, is opposed to giving the ballot to women, is the very highest evidence that woman is qualified to make good use of it.”

But opponents are still quite active as well. As speakers from the Southern California Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage were giving rousing, patriotic speeches at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers today (where the home’s governor bans suffragists), the Los Angeles Daily Times continued its own diatribe against “Votes for Women,” and today made this observation:

“Politics is always strenuous and always selfish. Unlike divinity, or medicine or law, there is no kindly or humane element in it. More than any commercial business or mechanical trade does it discard altruism from its make-up. Its lacteal glands contain no globule of the milk of human kindness. Its arteries throb with no warm and generous blood. The lawyer may espouse the case of the unfortunate with no hope of a fee. The banker may make a small loan on inadequate security. The merchant may extend credit for food to a hungry man. The mechanic may share his job with a brother who is out of work. But the politician will give nothing that he is not obliged to yield. He is as noisy, as merciless and as persistent as a blood sucking mosquito.

Inconsiderate men, and equally inconsiderate women, are trying to coax and drive the mothers and wives and daughters of California into the mud bath of politics. If they succeed in placing woman suffrage in the Constitution they will ‘raise no mortal to the skies,’ although they may ‘drag some angels down …’

Voting is more of a privilege than a right, and more of a duty than either. It is not an easy duty. Why should it be imposed upon women who do not need it for their protection? Is there any law for the protection of property, and personal rights of women, which the suffragettes can suggest, that is not now to be found among the California statutes?

It is claimed that the objections to woman suffrage are sentimental objections. Even so, sentimentality often ameliorates the acerbities of life and smooths the rough places on the highway.

The blessed part of civilized existence is not in the mart, the workshop, the club or the caucus. It is in the home. So-called social reforms which in any way may unpleasantly affect the home are social mistakes…

Again and yet again The Times repeats the beautiful lines of Longfellow:

‘The world of the affections is her world,
Not that of man’s ambition.

In that stillness that most becomes a woman,

Calm and holy, she sitteth by the fireside of the heart,

Feeding its flame.'”

With all due respect to The Daily Times, poetry in general, and Longfellow in particular, suffragists prefer new, well-crafted statutes expanding women’s opportunities to well-crafted flatteries, praising only a single option in life for all women. Equal suffrage advocates will continue battling on to the very end to make California the sixth suffrage State on Tuesday, and thereby nearly double the number of voting women in the U.S. overnight.


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About

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.