Founding Feminists: September 3, 1912

Founding Feminists is the FMF’s daily herstory column.


Despite a valiant try, the 1912 Ohio suffrage campaign is ending in defeat tonight. Efforts to get the issue of woman suffrage on the ballot here date back decades, and finally in late May of this year a State Constitutional Convention approved putting a proposed woman suffrage 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 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 war 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 the State capital of 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. Two years ago, Washington became the first new suffrage State in 14 years, then last October, California approved “Votes for Women,” and 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.

via Wikimedia Commons
via Wikimedia Commons

Among the major difficulties encountered here were a series of anonymous handbills that tried – apparently with success – to tie the issue of woman suffrage to Prohibition. Brewing is a major industry all over the State, especially in the Cincinnati area. Suffragists have been vigorously trying to reassure the public that the two issues are separate, and by no means do all suffragists, or all women, favor outlawing alcohol. The Ohio Woman Suffrage Association even offered a $ 100 reward for information about the authorship of these handbills, but their origin still remains a mystery.

The vote today was quite light, despite 42 amendments appearing on the special election ballot covering a wide spectrum of issues, so it’s not known whether suffrage would have carried if the turnout had been high. Amendment 23 is faring especially badly in many of the large cities. This is a common phenomenon, because the saloon operators tend to have great power there, 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 of getting 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. Five other States have suffrage referenda on the ballot on November 5th, so hopefully some victories in Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas, Arizona and Oregon will re-start the victory train !

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