Did you know all the men in Washington State got together to vote for women in November 1910?
Washington State women were the first in the country to have the right to vote. Seems odd that it was only 100 years ago doesn’t it?
There’s a KSPS-produced documentary available right here called “Courage in Corsets: Winning the Vote in Washington State.”
Although giving women the vote may seem rather redundant to us in this day and age, both men and women fought long and hard to make women’s suffrage a reality.
In 1848 the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. In 1867, the Washington Territorial Legislature passed a law giving “all white citizens above the age of 21” the right to vote. It was this law, together with the 14thAmendment to the U.S. Constitution, which women rallied around to test their voting rights in 1869 at White River. Their votes were not counted but 15 women successfully voted in Thurston County in 1870!
In 1871 national women’s advocate Susan B. Anthony met in Washington State with California’s Laura Deforce Gordon and Oregon’s Abigail Scott Duniway from Oregon, to lobby for the a “declaratory” suffrage bill iin1871. That quest failed by a slender margin but their visit inspired new suffrage associations here. In a backlash, legislators from Washington Territory enacted a law saying women could not vote until the U.S. Congress made it law.
What followed was nearly 20 years of petitions, lobbying, votes and more votes to limit the role of women whether it was women as jurors or even participating in school meeting elections.
In 1883, both houses of the Washington Territory passed women’s suffrage and in 1886, clarified the wording of voting rights to reflect the verbiage of both “his” and “her.”
Women didn’t wait long to exercise their right to vote. They voted for reforms in local elections and helped elect a Democrat to Congress which, at the time, was a rarity. Another setback … in 1888 the Territory’s Supreme Court decided a suffrage case and ruled that the Federal government had intended to put the word “male” before citizenship when they created voter qualifications. Once again women were disqualified from voting.
In 1906 after Washington had achieved statehood and new organized efforts to win women’s suffrage began anew in the state. In Eastern Washington May Arkwright Hutton led the effort to gain women’s voting rights. By 1909 they had gained enough momentum to pass a law amending the Washington Constitution to give women the vote. In November 1910, the law was voted in and every county voted in favor of the amendment.
It’s clarifying to note that women had taken their lobbying efforts from the public arena into the home and wives, mothers, sisters etc. worked to influence the men who were able to vote.
The first Washington State women legislators were elected in 1912 and served in 1913. On March 22, 1920, the Washington State Legislature ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution enabling national suffrage for women. Washington was the 35th state of the 36 states needed to ratify the national amendment which became effective in August 1920.
Whew! Like I said, it was a long, hard battle that took 70 years and many women and men to bring women’s suffrage to fruition.
This documentary tells the story of that struggle from the perspective of the women who struggled together to improve the quality of life for themselves and their communities, who convinced men of the benefits of women’s suffrage and who injected new life into the national campaign.