May 1912 Brings Vital Growth—Colored Women’s Equal Suffrage League and Grange Endorsement
By May 1912 suffrage organizations across Oregon had established a strong foundation and new groups were forming to bring the votes for women message to male voters in their communities. Activists in Portland’s African American community formed the Colored Women’s Equal Suffrage League on May 13. Endorsements of woman suffrage by existing organizations also brought potential voters to the cause. On May 18 the delegates to the Oregon State Grange convention in Roseburg voted to support woman suffrage in the state. And when the press covered these events valuable publicity expanded awareness of the movement.
“Mrs. Coe Temporary Head,” Oregonian, May 15, 1912, 11.
African American women in Portland had established the Colored Women’s Council of Portland three months earlier, part of a growing number of African American women’s clubs across the nation. At a meeting of the council on May 12 members decided to form a suffrage association for women who were members of Portland’s five African American church congregations. Their goal was “spreading equal suffrage ideas among those of the race.” Katherine Gray served as the first president of the Colored Women’s Equal Suffrage League with Mrs. Lancaster as vice president, Edith Gray as treasurer and Hattie Redmond as secretary. Redmond later served as president. The CWESL worked within the African American community and also as part of the coalition of suffrage groups in the city, including the State Suffrage Central Committee.
“Equal Suffrage Endorsed by State Grange,” Oregon Journal, May 18, 1912, 6.
The Oregon State Grange, a social and political organization representing farmers, had been an important supporter of woman suffrage in Oregon and other state Granges had supported votes for women in other western states. The national Grange waited until 1915 to endorse the suffrage cause.
The Oregon Journal, reporting on the Grange convention in Roseburg, noted that “Woman suffrage came in for a full share of attention” and reprinted the resolution that passed “without opposition” endorsing the votes for women measure on the November ballot:
“‘Whereas, The social relations of the family and state have from the beginning of the history of the human race shown man and woman, through of different spheres of activity and frequently of different viewpoints, to be essentially necessary in the social, economical and intellectual welfare of the home, the community, and the state.
“‘Whereas, The evidence of examples shown by trial in other states proves that women are not only entitled to participate in the practical duties of the state but that they have shown themselves to exhibit an interest and judgment the equal of their enfranchised brothers,
“‘Therefore, Be it resolved, that the Oregon State Grange organization goes on record as favoring the granting of suffrage to the women of the state of Oregon and command the same to the consideration of all those persons who now exercise the right of citizenship.’”
May 1912 marks a milepost in both the growth in individual organizations appealing to voters within specific communities, as was the case with the Colored Women’s Equal Suffrage League, and endorsements from organizations representing particular constituencies such as the Oregon State Grange. Each group made important contributions to the 1912 Oregon suffrage victory with appeals to particular male voters in their communities. Just as vital were their contributions to a broader vision of equality in Oregon. Members of the CWESL contributed to the coalition of suffrage groups and were part of the umbrella organization of the State Suffrage Central Committee. They also worked to achieve an end to discrimination by gender and an end to discrimination by race. The Grange resolution certainly targeted the votes of male Grange members. But the assembly also urged “all those persons who now exercise the right of citizenship” to support woman suffrage.
Want to read more articles from Oregon suffrage campaigns? Click here