Oregon Woman Suffrage History Month to Month

August 1911: Municipal Suffrage in Portland: A “Long Pull, A Strong Pull and A Pull Altogether”

One hundred years ago this month, in her August 13, 1911 “Women’s Clubs” column for the Oregon Journal, activist Sarah A. Evans reported on the petition drive by Portland women to “have a municipal suffrage clause incorporated into the new city charter, which will give all the citizens, irrespective of sex, the right to vote” in city elections.

Many votes for women activists around the world worked for the right to the ballot in stages—voting in school elections (taxpaying women in Oregon achieved this in 1878) and voting in municipal (city) elections. They drew upon cultural views that women had a “stake” in school and city affairs, particularly taxpaying women. This was also a strategy, a partial step on the path to full voting rights. Canadian women, women in England, New South Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Denmark and women in the U.S. state of Kansas had limited but important access (usually through taxpaying or marital status) to voting in city matters by the time of the Portland campaign.

Portland did not enact a new city charter until 1913 and by that time women had achieved full voting rights statewide in the election of November 1912. Yet this campaign for city suffrage in the summer of 1911 suggests some important things about the views and goals of Portland women in the broader movement for votes and rights.

First: they used petitions. Susan Zaeske argues in Signatures of Citizenship: Petitioning, Antislavery, and Women’s Political Identity, that women who participated in petitioning the government to end slavery in the U.S. in the nineteenth century increasingly saw their act of signing a petition as a political one and viewed themselves as citizens as a result. Portland women were exercising their right to petition during this campaign for municipal suffrage and Evans emphasized their role as citizens. The petition campaign was “to give all citizens, irrespective of sex” this right. Portland women were using the civic tools available to them before full voting rights, one of which was the petition.

Second: the campaign showed unity among women. The suffrage movement in Oregon by 1911 suffered from conflict and division. Evans indicated that a strength of this municipal suffrage campaign was “because of its united effort. It is not the work of one organization, faction, or individual, it is simply ‘the women’ . . .” “Now is the time,” she wrote, for “women to make a ‘long pull, a strong pull and a pull altogether.’” Such unity would symbolize strength and be a powerful tool for the upcoming state campaign for full suffrage in 1912.

Third: it reflected the view held by Evans and other supporters that the vote would lead to better communities and that women had common interests at stake. “Anyone interested in the cause,” Evans wrote, “—and what woman should not be willing to have a vote that she might uphold the hands of the officials who are striving so hard to eliminate the white slave traffic [prostitution] and other evils that touch women so closely?—can secure petitions . . .”

Fourth: women were interested and participated in large numbers. The 1908 and 1910 suffrage campaigns were not supported by many Oregonians, but the 1912 campaign would see a rebirth of participation and interest. Evans suggests that this was already evident in the Portland municipal suffrage petition drive. “The offer for volunteer work in getting the petitions signed is rapidly depleting the supply,” Evans noted. And “many are sending in regrets that women outside of the city cannot sign the petitions.”

municipal suffrage

Sarah A. Evans, “Women’s Clubs,” Oregon Journal, August 13, 1911, 5:5.

—Kimberly Jensen

Additional Reading:

P. Orman Ray, “Woman Suffrage in Foreign Countries,” American Political Science Review 12 no. 3 (August 1918): 469-474.

Susan Zaeske, Signatures of Citizenship: Petitioning, Antislavery, and Women’s Political Identity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003)



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Posted by history class on 07/31 at 09:27 AM

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