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 9, 1911: California suffragists and anti-suffragists normally sound radically different from each other, but today both sides are making identical and equally confident predictions of victory in tomorrow’s vote on the suffrage referendum.
In North and South, from the smallest towns to the biggest cities, everyone involved in promoting or opposing the suffrage amendment is looking forward to not just the end of this exhausting battle, but celebrating a nationally significant win tomorrow evening.
Helen Todd, a factory inspector in Illinois who has been out here working for suffrage, exemplifies the frantic pace those dedicated to our cause have been setting, and the enthusiasm that’s been encountered. She said in Bakersfield:
“Our meeting was enormous, and we adjourned at 9 o’clock to the auditorium, where Francis J. Heney was speaking. ‘Will you give us a truly representative government?’ he was saying, and I, carried away by the enthusiasm of our meeting, cried out, ‘Votes for women will!’ The audience almost brought down the house and Mr. Heney, then and there, much to our delight made a splendid plea for suffrage. What a wonderful speaker and man!”
In San Francisco, Todd recently met with officers of the College Equal Suffrage League and when they asked how the campaign was going in Southern California, she recalled:
“I gave this section of the State a reputation that must not fade, and every word I said was true. The headquarters of the League fairly hums and rages with life—such loads of pretty, charming, eager women.
“On the evening of my arrival I spoke to 1,200 people in a theater and afterward was rushed off in an automobile to a street meeting. Before I had finished my breakfast in the morning an automobile dashed up and I was rushed off to Berkeley to speak to a meeting of factory people at noon. From there I rushed back and flung a dress into my suitcase and was whisked off to catch a 3 o’clock train for Sacramento, where I arrived at 7 p.m. and was met by an enthusiastic committee and conducted to the Opera House as the principal speaker. I spoke for an hour here to a big audience, which was both responsive and enthusiastic.”
In San Francisco, Todd spoke to two meetings in the same night, the first with an audience of 7,000 and the second 4,000, she said:
“The whole thing was most moving, the spirit, the response, the earnestness.”
Of course, that same confidence is being expressed by our opponents. According to B. N. Coffman, Secretary of the Men’s League Opposed to Suffrage:
“We will carry the South by a majority of more than 10,000 votes, and I am confident that the State as a whole will increase that majority from 30,000 to 40,000.”
Harry E. Deane, field manager for the Men’s Anti-Suffrage League, said:
“We had twenty of our men in the [Los Angeles] business district today to be sure that there has been no sudden reversal of sentiment. They came back certain that we would carry the city. We have the signatures of more than 10,000 voters in Los Angeles County, but even with these pledges we have always been conservative and have estimated that the fight was not far from an even break. Today’s campaign, however, has made us realize that we have been too conservative. We now feel sure that a great many men have made the women promises without any intention of voting for them but simply because it was the line of least resistance. The easiest way out was to promise, and oftentimes they considered it more of a joke than anything else.”
The anti-suffragists have been quite busy distributing their propaganda. In just the past six weeks those in the Southern part of the State have put out more than 500,000 pieces of literature. Every name on the Great Register of Voters for Los Angeles, San Diego, and Ventura Counties has received something in just the past 30 days. In Los Angeles, a number of young women wearing American flag pins are downtown today giving out anti-suffrage literature to every man they meet.
But our side has not let up in the least, and is actively fighting the battle on all fronts. As one example, a double advance took place in the Los Angeles Express today beginning with an advertisement by the Political Equality League to the men of California:
“Tomorrow there will be fought a battle for justice and liberty as significant as any of those great conflicts which have marked the history of human progress. If you love justice and trust women, you will give to them that priceless guarantee of all rights—the ballot.
“If you listen to the enemies of democracy, who seek the control of the many by the privileged few, and to that combination of big business with protected vice which we call the machine, you will vote against suffrage. Through the vote of their organizations 100,000 women of California have said they want it. Thousands more desire it who are silent for lack of opportunity to speak. We appeal to you as fair-minded, generous, honorable gentlemen. Give us justice, and the women of California will repay you by a passionate devotion to the welfare of the child and of the State.”
It was signed by Mrs. Seward A. Simons, Mrs. David C. McCann, Mrs. John R. Haynes, Mrs. Berthold Baruch, Mrs. Shelley Tolhurst, Mrs. Charles Farwell Edson, Miss Annie Bock and Miss Louise B. Carr.
This was accompanied by an editorial in the same paper:
“A minister is quoted in the morning paper opposed to equal suffrage, as having said that ‘American men never have, at the ballot box or in the halls of legislation, ceased to be dominated or controlled by their love of the home.’
“If this be true, then from every pulpit in this broad land wherein there has stood a man with courage enough to face the political, social and industrial evil of the time, there has gone out an enormous amount of baseless complaint. The saloon abuses, the police protected gambling hall, the red light districts of our great cities, the cruel condition under which women, girls and even children under 10 years of age are forced to work in the cities, after the attention of men in high authority has been called to these conditions, contradict this statement flatly, and the real facts are accessible to all. Women’s vote is needed for the reason of the more intimate connection of intelligent women with the needs and living conditions of by far the greater part of our population.”
A long night’s work lies ahead, followed by early morning deployment of suffrage workers to as near the polling places as it is legal to approach to give out one final appeal to the voters. Automobiles must also be tuned to top condition to give rides to the polls to voters who need them, and the last posters, banners and signs must be delivered this evening to those willing to display them so they can be seen by voters on their way to the polls.
It has taken 15 years to give California’s male voters a second chance to enfranchise the women of the State, and because California is a very different place today than it was in 1896, the result should also be different. If suffrage is approved here tomorrow, and the number of women voters in the U.S. nearly doubles overnight, the movement will get a major boost nationwide, other big States should follow suit, and the entire country will be a much more democratic place just a few years from now than it is today. So on to tomorrow, and a sixth star for the suffrage flag!