'They agreed to share power'

Women's suffrage 100th year: Crowd gathers at Capitol to celebrate state's male voters granting women the right to vote

November 9, 2010 

There were sounds of jubilation and at one point five quick shouts of "huzzah!" by people wearing large hats and vintage clothes at the Capitol on Monday.

One hundred years after Washington’s male voters made history by granting women the right to vote, it was men, women and children who showed up at the Capitol – some in period costumes – to celebrate the pivotal date in history.

On one hand it was a time to look back in a state that was the fifth to grant women suffrage rights – after Wyoming in 1890, then Colorado in 1893 and both Utah and Idaho in 1896. The rights were conferred by the 5th Amendment to the state constitution, which male voters of the day approved a full 10 years before the U.S. Constitution’s 19th Amendment was approved in 1920 to give women the vote.

“Today is about men,” said historian Shanna Stevenson, who leads the state Women’s History Consortium and authored a new book, “Women’s Votes, Women’s Voices: The Campaign for Equal Rights in Washington.” “They are the ones that … approved the amendment to the constitution. I like to say it means they agreed to share power.’’

Like many celebrants, Stevenson wore a period dress, a hat laden with flowers and a “Women’s Vote” sash as she spoke during a break in the day’s memorial activities. Stevenson said the state vote changed Washington’s history and also helped reinvigorate the suffrage movement in other states – including California and Oregon, which followed suit in 1911 and 1912.

And, it soon led to the election of the women to the Legislature and to statewide office. The first statewide office holder: Josephine Corliss Preston, state superintendent of schools.

Secretary of State Sam Reed said Washington suffragettes were able to break through to victory by using modern campaign tactics and separating themselves from the temperance movement, which had alienated some would-be supporters of suffrage.

Emma Smith DeVoe and May Arkwright Hutton, two of the state’s leading suffragettes, also lobbied state lawmakers to put the suffrage question on the ballot, and they presaged modern campaign techniques with their targeting of voters likely to support them around the state, Reed said. The measure passed by a 2-to-1 margin.

“One hundred years ago today, the enlightened male voters of our state approved women’s suffrage in every single one of our counties. … We were part of the vanguard toward equality, and we thank the pioneer folk of Washington for being so smart,” Reed told a Capitol Rotunda crowd in a morning ceremony, which was preceded by a parade with vintage cars to the Capitol steps. Reed was decked out in a gray coat with long tails and a top hat.

In the years since, women have continued to do well in Washington politics. Washington was the first state to have a female governor (Chris Gregoire) and two women in the U.S. Senate at the same time (Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell), according to Stevenson. And it at times has had one of the highest percentages of women in a state Legislature and its Supreme Court has several female members led by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen.

Linda Malanchuk-Finnan, president of the Thurston chapter of the National Organization for Women, said it was fun to look back and dress up in a period dress from the 1890s and a big curved hat that bent downward on its rim. But she also noted that the right to vote was won and lost three times in Washington – overturned by court decisions in 1883 and 1888 and again by a vote in 1898 – before voters enshrined the right in the constitution.

She said that despite the successes of women over the past century, many battles remain: on ending pay disparities for women who do similar jobs as men but earn less; for health care access; for reproductive rights; for immigrant women’s rights; and for educational achievement in the fields of technology and computer science.

Also at the Capitol, Chief Justice Madsen and others re-enacted court arguments in one of the cases that rejected Washington’s early laws giving women the right to vote. And Senate Republicans put up photographs in their office building of important GOP women who played a role in state and national politics – including Jaime Herrera, newly elected to the 3rd Congressional District seat held previously by several women, including Democrats Julie Butler Hansen and Jolene Unsoeld and Republican Linda Smith.

For fifth-grade teachers Amy Koster and Wendy Hughes, the events were a chance to add a dynamic piece to their classroom instruction at Garfield Elementary School in Olympia. The children were learning about history and voting rights, and the kids were excited to learn even more about historical figures they were studying in class – including the film that had a speaker dressed up as a suffragist.

Student Ezra Mead was doing research on famous suffragist Susan B. Anthony, and classmate Ryan Guscott said he was doing a research paper on suffragist Alice Paul.

Paul helped form the National Woman’s Party in 1916 and used harder tactics – including pickets at the White House – to push for the 19th Amendment. Paul’s tactics landed her in jail, where she went on a hunger strike. She later authored the first Equal Rights Amendment, in 1923.

“I thought it was a really good presentation. I heard a lot of things I did not know,” said Livia Le, also a Garfield student.

Looking ahead to her adult years, Le said: “I hope to vote every time there is an election. There was a lot of people who fought for the right to vote. … I should vote.’’

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 bshannon@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/politicsblog

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