October 8, 1911: Suffragists Step Up Their Game in California

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


Though confident of victory in day after tomorrow’s suffrage referendum, some California suffragists are making backup plans in case of defeat.

Twenty-two other State Constitutional amendments are up for a vote. One would establish Initiative, Referendum and Recall, permitting citizens to gather signatures and place proposed legislation on the ballot themselves instead of having to convince the State Legislature to do it. Initiative and Referendum could become new tools for suffragists to use if they become law. C.R. Burger, secretary of the Citizens’ Suffrage League of Pasadena said today:

Should the referendum carry in the election Tuesday and the amendment enfranchising women fail of passage, the referendum may be invoked in an effort to prevent the taxation of property belonging to women, on the ground that as they are not represented in government, they cannot be taxed. The men who are opposed to women’s suffrage certainly should not object to paying a little additional tax to keep the privilege of the ballot exclusively for themselves.

Pasadena suffragists have certainly been doing their part in the suffrage battle, and the Citizens’ Suffrage League is confident that the city’s male voters will give the suffrage amendment a sizable majority. But no one is letting up, and there will be a final mass meeting tomorrow night at the church on the corner of Walnut and Marengo with Dr. Robert J. Burdette as the principal speaker.

As the time until the election grows short, suffragists are getting bolder, and going directly into opposition territory. Today the Political Equality League ran a paid advertisement in the notoriously anti-suffrage Los Angeles Daily Times so its readers could hear the other side:



On October the tenth, you will have the opportunity of granting to women the privilege of expressing through the ballot their wishes and needs as to the conditions under which they shall live.

If you love justice, you will grant this – for it is just.

If you trust women you will grant this – they are worthy of your confidence.

If you want to put your power into the hands of the People, you will grant this – without it Democracy is impossible.

Through the vote of their organizations, 100,000 women have said they want it.

Unnumbered thousands more desire it, but are silent through the lack of opportunity to speak.

In the name of these, we beg of you, men of our State, men of our Town, give us Justice, that we may work together for the welfare of the child and the advance of Civilization.

Mrs. Seward A. Simons, Mrs. D.C. McCann, Mrs. John R. Haynes, Mrs. Berthold Baruch, Mrs. Shelley Tolhurst, Mrs. Charles Farwell Edson, Miss Annie Bock, Mrs. Louise B. Carr.

A cartoon in the San Francisco Sunday Call of July 4, 1909, in which a woman is holding up a ballot box and a cradle showing that she can handle both the responsibilities of motherhood and being a voter. The caption is: “I can handle both, says the lady.”

Though it seems somewhat superfluous for anti-suffragists to advertise in the Times, since its editorial page has already put forth every imaginable anti-suffrage argument, the always-overflowing war chest of the opposition apparently needed to be drained a bit today, so they took out a full-page advertisement in their favorite paper. The first sentence sums up their standard argument: “We, the women of the Southern California Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, urge you not to thrust the womanhood of this State into the political maelstrom, at the request of the small minority of women who are asking for the ballot.”

The anti-suffrage ad goes on to cherry-pick the most controversial statements of suffrage leaders, harks back to a referendum held 3,000 miles away 16 years ago, takes quotes from Judge Ben Lindsey’s pro-suffrage writings out of context, accuses suffragists of being anti-religious and unpatriotic, and even criticizes the five-star suffrage flag as a “mockery” of the Stars and Stripes. The anti-suffragists conclude by returning to their original theme: “The great majority of California women do not follow the suffrage flag, they do not want the vote; they depend upon the manhood of California to protect them from the responsibility of the ballot. They rely on manhood suffrage and a safe and sane government.”

Fortunately, opposition arguments tend to wither in the face of actual experience. A Letter to the Editor appeared in the Los Angeles Tribune today illustrating this point well. It was written by a local woman who has lived in Colorado, where women won suffrage in 1893. After attending an anti-suffrage meeting, she found their arguments so bizarre that she became an ardent suffragist – who now finds herself disenfranchised because she moved to California:

I have voted eleven years – twice for President. No man ever tried to influence my vote, not even my husband. I have never received anything but courteous treatment from men gathered at the polling place. I have not been contaminated in my contact with common man at the poll. My children, husband and friends have lost none of their respect for me, although I have registered my political wishes on the ballot.

Conceding to the ‘antis’ that I have done such a disgraceful thing as to vote, I want to make another confession to them. I have also attended church where there were men present, went shopping where I met men on the street, and have stood in line at the tax window with men. I have visited the schools where there were men, and have been to the courthouse, where one sees men – and I do not feel that I have been contaminated.

Those against suffrage put forth the argument that a woman hasn’t time to go to the poll. They talk as though every day was election day. Women will wash their breakfast dishes, comb the children’s hair and wash their faces, make jam and study for higher education just the same with the ballot as the majority do without it.

The majority of women who want the ballot do not want it because it will give them a chance to hold office, any more than the majority of men are office seekers. They want it to assume their part in making the laws of this country what they should be to protect the home, the school and the individual from unscrupulous legislation.

It seems very queer that the anti-suffragists should have converted me against themselves, but it is true, and I have always been thankful that I attended that ‘anti’ meeting. It enabled me to see the contrast between a fight for a purpose and a fight [against] it – and I hope that the fight for the purpose will win as well in California as it did in Colorado.

Day after tomorrow we shall see whether Mrs. L.W. Worth will get her right to vote back, and if other California women will be able to join her at the polls in the election following this one.

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