Washington women achieved the right to vote 100 years ago today

November 8, 2010 

One hundred years ago today, the women of Washington won the right to vote.

On Nov. 8, 1910, after 56 years of struggle and sacrifice on the part of Washington’s suffragettes, the Washington State Constitution was amended to allow women to vote. In fact, Washington was the first state in the 20th century to pass women’s suffrage.

Suffrage advocates like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul picketed the White House, petitioned state legislators, marched hundreds of miles, made thousands of speeches, and handed out millions of tracts. Others protested outright and were arrested, beaten and thrown into prisons.

Thankfully, public outcry over prison abuses and conditions brought many to support the cause of women’s suffrage. Eventually the personal, intensive work of wives, mothers and sisters to influence the men who went to vote at the polls won the day.

In 1920, 72 years after the Seneca Falls Convention that formally launched the suffrage movement, suffragettes in every state of the Union celebrated as Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote.

In fact, the ratification battle came down to Tennessee. If a majority in its state Legislature voted for the amendment, it would become federal law. The deciding vote was cast by 24-year-old Harry Burn, the youngest member of the Tennessee assembly.

Burn had intended to vote “no,” but changed his vote after receiving a telegram from his mother asking him to support women’s suffrage.

Today, the state Capitol will host a campus-wide Day of Jubilation. I have the honor of dedicating the Senate Republican exhibit highlighting women who fought for the right to vote as well as those who have succeeded in government and law since the days of suffrage.

Entitled “Liberty and Justice for All,” the exhibit will induct three new members. These women represent some of America’s “firsts.”

They are Rep.-elect Jaime Herrera of Camas, of our state’s 3rd Congressional District, who just became the first-ever Hispanic woman to represent Washington in Congress; Justice Carolyn Dimmick, the first female justice on the Washington State Supreme Court; and Susana Martinez, the newly elected governor of New Mexico, who is America’s first female Hispanic state governor.

Dimmick, now a federal judge in San Francisco, is one of my heroes. In addition to my legislative duties, I am a law student in the evening program at Seattle University. Reading Dimmick’s Solomon-like decisions is an inspiration.

Appointed to the state Supreme Court in 1980, Dimmick is a unique blend of wisdom, common sense, humility, humor and charm. Her warm exterior covers a first-rate legal mind and rock-solid integrity.

In the fall of 1978, Dimmick’s sense of integrity in the law put her on the hot seat after she ordered striking Seattle teachers back to work. The King County Labor Council said the unions were upset because Dimmick not only ordered the teachers back to work, but declared that all public-employee strikes were illegal. They accused her of trying to legislate from the bench.

Unfazed, Dimmick said she was doing no such thing, saying, “It is common law that government employees cannot strike. Either the Supreme Court or the Legislature would have to change that.”

We are proud to feature her in our exhibit.

So join us at the Capitol today for the Day of Jubilation, including the opening of our exhibit at 11 a.m. in the Newhouse Building. It will be a full day of events, music, refreshments, presentations and exhibits.

Come help celebrate something many women in 2010 may simply take for granted: the right to vote.

Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, represents the 5th Legislative District in the Washington State Senate.

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