The 6th Star: California’s Suffrage Centennial

The Sixth Star: California’s Suffrage Centennial

By Max Eternity

(Image: SFPL)


San Francisco, California – Long before Occupy, there was another homegrown epic struggle in America—a heroic fight lasting more than a century, called suffrage.

The suffrage movement was about women “gaining the right to vote,” says Nancy Sliverrod—a librarian the Main branch of the San Francisco Public Library system.

Located next door the Asian Art Museum and directly across from San Francisco’s City Hall complex, Siverrod has curated on the third floor of the library an educational exhibition and presentation which gives a sweeping historical text and visual narrative of suffrage in California and other parts of the nation.

A hundred years ago—on October 10th, 1911—California became the sixth state to grant women the right to vote, and Silverrod says that while this is of utmost importance, it’s also important to note that the suffrage movement was about a lot of other things as well, including the broader subject of women’s rights, religion and race relations in America.


(Images: Max Eternity)


In-these-times conventional wisdom supplants the expectation that New York or California are the lead states when it comes to progressive ideals, however in the case of women’s rights, Wyoming was actually the first to grant suffrage.

A brief timeline of the first six states to grant women the right to vote:

1869Wyoming Territory grants suffrage. 1890 – Wyoming becomes a state, retains woman suffrage

1870Utah Territory grants suffrage. 1873 – Congress passed the Edmunds act, disenfranchising polygamists, which meant large numbers of Utah Territorial citizens lost the right to vote. 1887 – Congress passed the Edmunds-Tucker Act, disenfranchising all Utah women. 1891 – Utah voters passed woman suffrage by a large margin. 1896 – Utah admitted to the union, with woman suffrage rights.

1893Colorado grants suffrage.

1896Idaho passes suffrage referendum.

1910Washington grants suffrage

1911California suffrage

“California is known as the sixth star on the flag of suffrage” says Silverrod.  Explaining that one of the compelling reasons [theories] that California was one of the earliest states to join the suffrage bandwagon:

There are some interesting theories about why the Western states gave women the right to vote.  One thing that was actually put forward is that the life out on the territories was pretty hard.  For instance, in California the state was highly men populated—coming in for the gold rush—and they wanted to draw in more women out.  So, women had property rights in those states.  They had more rights [than other states] and that was attractive to them.

Adding to this, Siverrod says that the movement was not without a variety of challenges—that the process of women gaining the right to vote in California was a long and arduous process involving many strategic campaigns and coalitions.

A detailed suffrage timeline follows:



• Lydia Chapin Taft was the first woman to vote legally in the American Colonies, in a town meeting



• Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John, who was attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, asking that he and the other men–who were at work on the Declaration of Independence, to “Remember the Ladies.”



• New Jersey Colony granted suffrage to all “free inhabitants.”



• New Jersey Colony withdrew the right to vote from women and African Americans.



• The first women’s rights convention in the United States was held in Seneca Falls, New York, and had an attendance of over 300 people, despite short notice.



• First National Woman’s Rights Convention held in Worcester, Massachusetts.



• Former slave Sojourner Truth delivered her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at a women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio.



• Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the Women’s National Loyal League which aimed to abolish slavery, and promote women’s rights.



• Emily Pitts Stevens bought the California Sunday Mercury News in order to promote the suffrage cause.



• The American Equal Rights Association, an organization of women and men, both black and white, dedicated to universal suffrage was formed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.



• The Fourteenth amendment was ratified, giving citizenship to all persons born in the United States, overruling the 1857 Dred Scott decision which held that slaves were not citizens.



• The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was founded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who broke with the American Equal Rights Association which sought to immediately ratify the fourteenth amendment, while Stanton, Anthony and others wanted to continue to hold out for universal suffrage. The NWSA also focused on other social issues affecting women.


• The American Woman Suffrage Association was founded by Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and Josephine Ruffin who felt that the movement should focus solely on the issue of suffrage.


• Marietta Beers Stow and other local women founded The San Francisco Suffrage Society, which led to the formation of the California State Suffrage Association in 1870.


• The California Woman Suffrage Association was started in San Francisco, and became a formal group in 1870.


• Wyoming Territorial Legislature signs woman suffrage into law.



• 15th Amendment passes, giving suffrage to African American men. The NWSA controversially refuses to vote for its ratification, holding out for a 16th amendment to provide universal suffrage.


• A petition with 3000 signatures was presented to California state legislature requesting a constitutional amendment, on March 2nd.


• The California Woman Suffrage Association formed by San Francisco attorney Laura deForce, Sarah Armstrong Montgomery Green Wallis, J.A. Collins, Rev. C.G. Ames, Mary W. Coggins, Mrs. McGee, Mrs. Rider, Miss Perry, Mrs. Collins, and Emily Pitts Stevens, owner and publisher of the suffrage paper, The Pioneer.


• Mrs. Julia Stevens Fish Schlesinger transforms her spiritualist paper, The Carrier Dove, into a suffrage paper, published in San Francisco.


• Utah Territorial Legislature grants suffrage to women.



• Laura deForce Gordon is nominated for California state senate by the Independent Party of San Joaquin Valley.



• March 13 – Mrs. Nettie C. Tabor addressed the joint committees of the California Senate and Assembly on the issue of woman suffrage.


• Victoria Woodhull runs for President on the Equal Rights Party ticket.


• Susan B. Anthony is arrested in Rochester, NY for trying to vote in the Presidential  Election.


• Sojourner Truth is turned away from the polls in her attempt to vote in Grand Rapids, MI.


• Virginia Minor is denied the opportunity to register to vote in Missouri. She files a lawsuit which goes to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in 1874 upholds the rights of the states to confer, or withhold suffrage.


• U.S. Congress passes a law guaranteeing equal pay for women employed by the federal government.



• California Legislature passed a law allowing women to run for election for school offices – although not the right to vote in them!



• The first federal amendment to grant women the right to vote is introduced by Senator A.A. Sargent of California.



• New California constitutional bans discrimination in admitting women to the State University system.



• The U.S. Senate forms a special select committee to consider and review all woman suffrage petitions, bills, and resolutions.


• Marietta Beers-Stow runs for Governor of California.



• Washington Territorial Legislature gives woman suffrage to both black and white women. The decision is rescinded in 1887. The Legislature votes to give women the vote again in 1888, but it is overturned by the Territorial Supreme Court.



• Belva Ann Lockwood runs for President on the National Equal Rights Partyticket and wins 4149 votes in 6 states.



• Medora Salter is elected Mayor of Argonia, Kansas, becoming the nation’s first woman mayor.



• During a visit by Julia Ward Howe, The Century Club of California was formed in San Francisco by Suffragists Ellen Clark Sargent (wife of Senator A.A. Sargent), Phoebe A. Hearst, Sarah Dix Hamlin, Emma Sutro Merritt, M.D, and others. The Club still exists at 1355 Franklin Street.

• Belva Ann Lockwood again runs for President on the National Equal Rights Party ticket.



• Wyoming is granted statehood, maintaining the previous territorial right of women to vote, and thus becoming the first state to offer full woman suffrage.


• The National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman  Suffrage Association join forces to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association.



• California women try to have suffrage passed by statute, but the proposal dies in committee.



• Victoria Woodhull runs for President, this time on the Humanitarian Party Ticket.



• The California state legislature approves suffrage for women but Governor Henry H. Markman vetoes the bill as unconstitutional.


• Colorado becomes the first state to approve woman suffrage.


• New Zealand becomes the first country to grant women full suffrage.



• Colorado elects the nation’s first three female state legislators.



• California women again try to have suffrage passed by statute, but this time the state Senate declares it unconstitutional.


• A constitutional amendment giving women suffrage passes both the California House and Senate, but must be ratified by public referendum



• The California statewide suffrage referendum approved by the House and Senate in 1895 is defeated in the polls.

• The Pacific Coast Woman’s Press Association (founded in 1890), creates the West Coast Woman’s Congress Association. The Congresses met annually for four years,

between 1894 and 1897. The theme for the 1896 Congress was “Woman and Government, with the subtheme being “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Rears the Patriot.” The

1896 theme spurred women toward seeking the vote.

• The National Association of Colored Women founded by ¬Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Charlotte Forten Grimké, Harriet Tubman, Margaret Murray Washington, Fanny Jackson Coppin.

• Utah is granted statehood becoming the third state to grant full suffrage to women.

• Idaho becomes the fourth state to grant full suffrage to women.



• California Federation of Women’s Clubs founded. Originally the clubs were largely social groups, but individual clubs began to work for suffrage and other political and social issues.



• Woman’s Socialist Union of California founded, bringing suffrage issues to trade unions and working class women.



• San Francisco Labor Council endorsed woman suffrage.



• California Woman Suffrage Association changes its name to the California Equal Suffrage Association, with the goal of attracting more male supporters to the cause.



• California Federation of Labor endorsed woman suffrage.


• Union Labor Party endorsed woman suffrage.


• The Yellow Ribbon suffrage newspaper founded by Katherine Reed  Balentine of San Francisco.



• Mrs Lillian Harris Coffin organized 300 women to attend the California State Republican Convention.



• College Equal Suffrage League of Northern California founded.



• The California Progressive Party submits suffrage issue to voters via referendum.


• Selina Solomons founded the Votes-for-Women Club which reached out to young working women in San Francisco who could stop by the offices at 312 Sutter Street for an inexpensive meal and talks on suffrage. Solomons, unlike most other suffragists, also reachedout to the working class and immigrant communities of San Francisco.


• Many California labor unions endorse woman suffrage in 1910 and 1911.


• Washington becomes the fifth state to approve full suffrage for women



• The Wage Earner’s Suffrage League was organized by Maud Younger and Louise LaRue in San Francisco.


• California Federation of Women’s Clubs endorses woman suffrage.


• Samuel Gompers, head of the AFL, endorses woman suffrage at the San Francisco Labor Day parade.


• October 10th CALIFORNIA WOMAN SUFFRAGE is passed, making California the sixth state to grant full suffrage to women.


• December 6th, Los Angeles women vote for the first time, in a local election



• February 14th – the New Era League of San Francisco held a voter registration drive tea, transporting women back and forth between the St. Francis Hotel and City Hall where they registered to vote.


• March 28th  – San Francisco women vote for the first time, in a local election.


• The May 14th presidential primary was the 1st opportunity for women in California to vote in a national election.


• Former President Theodore Roosevelt breaks from the Republican Party and forms the Bull Moose Progressive Party. He runs unsuccessfully for President with former California Governor and supporter of woman suffrage, Hiram Johnson, former governor of California as his vice-presidential candidate, on a suffrage and reform platform.


• Oregon and Kansas, and the territory of Arizona approve suffrage for woman.



• Alice Paul and Lucy Burns organize the Congressional Union, which becomes the National Women’s Party in 1916, and take on some of the more radical civil-disobedience tactics of British Suffragists. They hold a well-attended suffrage parade in Washington D.C. the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration.


• The Territory of Alaska Legislature gives full suffrage to women.



• Nevada and Montana grant full suffrage to women.


• The National Federation of Woman’s Clubs, representing more than 2 million women, endorses the woman suffrage campaign.



• The first meeting of American Women Voters is held at the Panama Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco, and gathered signatures to take by car to Washington urging the passage of the 19th amendment.



• Woodrow Wilson endorsed woman suffrage.


• Suffragist Jeanette Rankin became the first woman to serve in the U.S.  House of Representatives when elected by the state of Montana.



• New York granted full suffrage to women.


• Russia granted women the right to vote.



• The U.S. House of Representatives passed a woman suffrage amendment that was introduced by Montana representative, Jeanette Rankin, but the amendment failed in the Senate.


• Michigan, Oklahoma, and South Dakota granted women the right to vote.



• On August 26th the 19th Amendment passed the House and Senate, granting full suffrage to women.



• The 19th Amendment was ratified by 36 States, and became law. Twelve more states went on to ratify, with the most recent being Mississippi in 1984!



• The National Women’s Party introduced the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to Congress, and it was introduced every year until 1972, when it finally passed and was sent to the states for ratification. The amendment was ratified by 35 states, leaving it 3 short of the necessary number. The amendment expired in 1982. It has been introduced in Congress every year since that time. The amendment reads:


o Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.


o Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.


o Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.



• Wyoming elects Natalie Tayloe Ross as the nation’s first woman governor.



• Charlotta Spears Bass of Los Angeles was the first African American woman to be nominated for vice-president, by the Progressive Party.



• Senator Margaret Chase Smith was the Republican nominee for President, making her the first American woman to run for the office on a major party ticket.



• Shirley Chisholm is the first African American to run for President, on the Democratic ticket. She ran in twelve primaries and was the fourth highest vote winner at the Democratic convention.



• Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman to appear on a Democratic Party vice presidential ticket with presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale.


1988 and 1992

• Leonora B. Fulani is the first African American candidate for President to appear on ballots in all 50 states and to qualify for federal matching funds.

_________________________________________________________ thanks Nancy Silverrod and the San Francisco Public Library system for their ongoing commitment to public service.

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