Today in Feminist History: Suffrage Rallies Raise Spirits (October 6, 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 6, 1911: Will the number of women voters in the U.S. be nearly doubled four days from now?

Suffrage advocates at a recent meeting in San Francisco.

That delightful prospect is looking more likely each day as the October 10 vote on woman suffrage in California approaches, and signs of enthusiasm for our cause become even more apparent. The unprecedented size of the suffrage rallies certainly justifies optimism. The largest of today’s mass meetings was in San Francisco’s Valencia Theater, although it was outside as well, with many speakers giving a second address to those who could not be admitted after every seat was filled.

The rally’s first speaker was Elizabeth Selden Rogers, who came here from New York to help with the campaign. She enthusiastically and convincingly refuted arguments made in an anti-suffrage circular by State Senator John Bunyan Sanford. In a pamphlet entitled “Against Woman Suffrage,” Sanford says:

“Man can attend to all the affairs of a governmental nature. But in order that our country shall endure we must look to the home side of life. The home is the place for woman. God knows she has enough to do there in bringing up the little ones in the way they should go. If she does that duty well and trains up the modest daughter with gentle influences and makes the young boy regardful of the respect that is due his sister and playmates’ sisters all will be well with this republic of ours.”

Sanford then goes on with the usual flatteries about the purity and exalted status of woman and the common argument that they should be “protected” from having to wade into the “dirty pool of politics.”

But Rogers said:

“He tells us that it is the duty of woman to keep the home pure. How can she keep it pure when this dirty pool comes right up to the doorstep? How can she bring up her sons and daughters to be good citizens, when the evil influences which the pool permits to exist are right there and beyond her control? Senator Sanford says that we can trust the men to protect us and our daughters from harm. Do we set wolves to guard our sheep?

“And how can women keep their homes pure when thousands and thousands of them have, under modern industrial conditions, no homes to keep? He speaks of the throne upon which woman has reigned in the past. Thrones are falling all over the world before the onset of real democracy. I’d give up my place on the throne for the right to cast a ballot next Tuesday.

“Senator Sanford tells us that modesty, gentleness and patience are the charms of woman. I say nothing against these great virtues. But there it is—there is where the cloven hoof shows itself in the argument. He thinks that women exist solely for the purpose of charming men, which is very nice and comfortable for men. And yet further on he tells us that woman is woman and cannot unsex herself. Then what is he worrying about?”

Jackson Stitt Wilson, Socialist Mayor of Berkeley, reassured the audience that woman suffrage is inevitable:

“Every conception by which modern democracy wrenched the crowns from the heads of kings and established the rule of the people leads straight to votes for women. The word ‘people’ in all our documents of liberty must sooner or later mean women as well as men. The logic of Americanism, the logic of the Declaration of Independence, the logic of the whole spirit and program of our democratic institutions is equal suffrage. Sex is not a determined factor in human rights. The ballot is the weapon of defense and the avenue of social expression for human personality, not for male personality. Votes for women is the logic of civilization.”

Frances Noel, president of the Wage Earner’s League, returned to Los Angeles from Bakersfield today, and told of great support for suffrage in the San Joaquin Valley, 110 miles north of Los Angeles. She attended a State Federation of Labor meeting, and reports only token opposition. A member of the Sailors’ Union introduced an anti-suffrage resolution, but when Noel pressed him, he admitted that it was his own idea, not something he was proposing on behalf of his union.

His resolution got only three votes. But Noel also noted that the opposition of the liquor industry hasn’t decreased since California’s last suffrage battle in 1896:

“I had a fight with the liquor men, too. They protested against woman suffrage, of course, so I finally said, ‘Very well, you liquor men. We women have nothing to do with liquor or prohibition—we are for suffrage and suffrage only. But if you want to sit in the track, waiting to fight the steam engine, all right. Only we invite you, while there is time, to come inside the train or we will surely run over you.’ “

The Los Angeles Express delivered another of its fine pro-suffrage editorials today, this one simultaneously criticizing anti-suffragists and a rival paper. Entitled “Conscience and the Ballot Box,” the Express said:

“‘Persian men have decided against woman suffrage on the ground that women have no souls and therefore should have no vote. Men of California who oppose woman suffrage do so because women are superior to men in qualities of soul.’

“The foregoing is quoted from a Los Angeles morning paper opposed to equal suffrage. If it means anything at all, other than insincere drivel, it means that men opponents of woman suffrage are absolutely indifferent to qualities of soul in political life. Webster defines ‘soul’ as ‘the principle of mental and spiritual life … the part of man’s life characterized by reason, conscience and the higher emotions.’

“What kind of male citizenship is it that would rob the political life of a State of the qualities of soul most needed. If reason, conscience and the higher emotions are to be ruled from participation at the ballot box, slowly indeed will reform be carried out. Enemies of good government would, if they could, disenfranchise men also who bring qualities of soul into elections.

“Here is the secret of the opposition to woman suffrage. It is fear of reason and of conscience at the voting booth. We have it from the mouths of its opponents themselves. Let every friend of honest, decent government in city, State and Nation who may see the lines quoted at the beginning of this article read them over once again and give them the thought an honest, conscientious man is willing to accord a vital proposition, and then say whether the vote of a woman is not needed as a matter of expediency as well as indisputable justice.”

Readers of the Express are helping the suffrage effort as well. In a Letter to the Editor, Ira A. Cain says there are many reasons to vote for suffrage:

“Because it is the right thing and the honest thing to do. A square deal demands it. Not to vote for equal suffrage is to wrong the helpless, who are not in a position to defend or help themselves in any way. Woman is asking no concessions when she asks not to longer be debarred from that which is her own. Man is simply lording over that which is not his own. Justice, manhood, dignity, common honesty, unite in demanding for woman that which has been withheld from her. Arguments to the contrary are entirely wanting. To withhold the franchise from American women is to throttle fully one-half of the intelligence of the country. Discrimination against woman by denying her equal political rights is a relic of the Dark Ages. It had its origins in savagery.

“The restricted ballot is in direct violation of the essence of the Constitution of the United States, which declared, ‘all men are born free and equal.’ In violation of this basic principle we have proceeded to fetter one-half of the intelligence and a large per cent of the morality and virtue of this republic. It is conceded on all sides that there should be no taxation without representation. Yet we deny women the franchise and at the same time assess heavy taxes upon their property. We deny women a voice in legislation, yet compel her to obey laws made by men.

“In the common schools of the United States 17,000,000 children are enrolled. As teachers in these public schools we have 400,000 women. Their work in educating the young is faithfully and conscientiously done. There is no lack of efficiency and no trusts are betrayed. They are with the millions of mothers molding the characters of our voters of tomorrow and through them shaping the destiny of the future nation. Yet out of these millions of faithful mothers and teachers not one in our State is allowed to vote. It is time that men should right the wrong men have done in denying women an equal voice in government. It can only be done by voting for the suffrage amendment.”

Today marked the California suffrage campaign’s first “military victory.” By order of its governor, suffrage speakers had not been permitted to address the residents of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and Sailors, in Sawtelle, west of Los Angeles. Yesterday an anti-suffrage speaker gave a speech, and seemed to win over a number of the residents who had previously been reported as quite supportive of suffrage. But today the Home’s governor finally relented—probably due to harsh criticism in the press—and allowed Dr. Robert J. Burdette, one of the best suffrage speakers in the State, to talk to the troops.

There was an overflow audience of 1,500—nearly twice as many as listened to yesterday’s anti-suffrage speaker—when Burdette made his eloquent appeal to the veterans. By the end of the speech they were won back to the cause. His most popular argument was the injustice of the fact that if Betsy Ross were still around, even she who is said to have made the first American flag would not be allowed to vote:

“And now some people say the woman who made it shall not vote under it. And we say, if there is any manhood, if there is any chivalry, if there is any grace of fairness, if there is any love or reverence for woman in the hearts of the men of California, we say—by every star that shines in glory on that azure field—we say she shall!”

Betsy Ross never got to vote, but if the result on Tuesday is favorable, all California women will gain equal voting rights, and will nearly outnumber all the women who have won the vote in the five suffrage States of Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Washington combined. So, this isn’t just about winning a sixth State for suffrage, but gaining a massive boost for the suffrage movement. After a 14-year drought between 1896 and 1910 in which not a single State was won for suffrage, the victory in Washington last year, plus one in California this year, could make our cause seem unstoppable, and nationwide suffrage inevitable, so this needs to be an all-out effort until the last poll closes on Tuesday evening!


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.