Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.

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Despite a valiant effort, the 1912 Ohio suffrage campaign is ending in defeat tonight.

Attempts to get the issue of “Votes for Women” on the ballot here date back decades, and finally in late May of this year a State Constitutional Convention approved putting such a proposal (Constitutional Amendment #23) on today’s special election ballot. This gave supporters just over three months to overcome the entrenched and well-funded opposition of the liquor industry as well as refute the usual anti-suffrage arguments.

The campaign was run by Harriet Taylor Upton of the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association. She is an experienced suffragist, and was Treasurer of the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1894 to 1910. She raised an impressive was chest of $40,000, and was assisted by over 50 full-time workers out in the field, plus large numbers of local volunteers in each community. The highlight of the campaign was a colorful suffrage parade in Columbus last month, in which over 5,000 took part.

National momentum seemed to be swinging in favor of suffrage, so there were great hopes for victory in the Buckeye State. Last October, California approved a suffrage referendum, nearly doubling the number of women voters in the U.S. overnight, and then in May, there was a hugely successful suffrage parade in New York City. But Ohio seems to have brought the advance to a temporary halt.

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Among the major difficulties encountered here were a series of anonymous handbills that apparently succeeded in tying the issue of woman suffrage to prohibition in the minds of the State’s male voters. Brewing is a major industry all over Ohio, and suffragists have been busy trying to reassure the public that the two issues are separate, and by no means do all suffragists, or all women, favor banning alcohol. The Ohio Woman Suffrage Association even offered a $100 reward for information about the authorship of the handbills, but their origin still remains a mystery.

The vote today was quite light, despite 42 amendments appearing on the special election ballot and covering a whole spectrum of issues. So it’s not known whether suffrage would have carried if the turnout had been high. Amendment 23 is faring especially poorly in many of the large cities. This is a common phenomenon, because the saloon operators tend to have great power in big cities, and in this State there are major breweries to contend with as well.

Fortunately, Amendment #6, which provides for Initiative and Referendum, is passing by an overwhelming majority, so Ohio suffragists are confident that they can get the issue back on the ballot again by going directly to the people, instead of having to lobby the Legislature to put it there, or wait for another Constitutional Convention.

Despite tonight’s disappointment, there’s still some room for optimism this year. Five other States have upcoming suffrage referenda on the ballot, so hopefully a win in Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas, Arizona or Oregon will get the victory train back on the tracks in just a couple of months.

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David Dismore

David became a lifelong admirer of the suffragists after briefly encountering them in a high school textbook in the early 1960s. Though missing out on that first part of the struggle for equality, he became active in "second wave" feminism through LA NOW in 1974 and has been a full-time feminist, TV news archivist, and women's history researcher at the Feminist Majority Foundation since its creation.