Equal Suffrage in Eugene, Oregon in 1912

Suffragists in Eugene, Oregon were active in the 1912 campaign in the state and helped to secure victory. They organized a suffrage league early in the year and both city residents and University of Oregon students and staff were active. Eugene workers also used popular culture to raise awareness of the vote, as other suffragists were doing, and kept the issue before city residents with speakers, events, and information.

About 200 women met to organize the Eugene Equal Suffrage League on March 28, 1912 at the Commercial Club of the city. As the Eugene Daily Guard reported, they elected Minnie Washburne honorary president, Susan (Mrs. Prince Lucien) Campbell, Mrs. Fletcher, Mrs. M.E. Watson and Mrs. Morris Duryea vice presidents, Mrs. E.J. Frasier recording secretary Lizzie Bryson corresponding secretary. The goals of the club were to “work for votes for women, and to educate women in their political duties and responsibilities.” Membership was open to “any woman.”

Three members of the Portland Woman’s Club Campaign Committee, Elizabeth Eggert, Grace Watt Ross, and Esther Pohl (Lovejoy) traveled to address the meeting. According to the Portland Evening Telegram Eggert stated, “we were royally entertained and found the sentiment in favor of equal suffrage very strong and held by the foremost men and women of the city.” She noted that University of Oregon’s President Prince Lucien Campbell and “many members of the faculty are firm adherents, and there is a flourishing college league, with Miss Birdie Wise, of Astoria, acting president.” She also noted that Eugene men had formed a league and asserted that “it looks as though Lane County would be one of the most active in the state during the coming campaign.”

The Eugene Equal Suffrage league held regular meetings. Clara Bewick Colby visited the group in May 1912. She reported on conditions in Wyoming, long a votes for women state, and concluded that “the success of woman suffrage had answered every possible argument against it.” Members invited other speakers throughout the campaign.

Eugene suffragists also helped to pioneer the use of popular culture and mass campaigning strategies. Like Portland activists Esther Pohl Lovejoy and others who sponsored a suffrage lunch wagon and entered a float in the Portland Rose Festival that June, Eugene workers prepared to advertise suffrage at the Oregon Electric Parade. They made plans for a suffrage “sandwich wagon” with ham and homemade-bread sandwiches and coffee for sale. “Of course,” the Eugene Daily Guard noted, “the main object of the ‘sandwich wagon’ is to attract attention to the cause of suffrage.”

Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) visited Eugene on October 2, part of a speaking tour to support states like Oregon with votes for women on the November 1912 ballot. Shaw had first arrived in Pendleton for the Round-up, then spoke at many events in Portland. She visited Corvallis on her way to Eugene so that the students at Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) would have the opportunity to hear her speak. After her speech in Corvallis suffragists drove Shaw and her colleague Lucy Anthony to Junction City, where a delegation from Eugene greeted them.  The entourage drove to the Hotel Osburn in Eugene and then went to the courthouse at 8 p.m., when Shaw delivered her speech to a record crowd. The Eugene Register Guard reporter thought she made the most effective plea ever made for a cause in the city. 

The meeting featured prominent Eugene citizens. Mayor F. J. Berger spoke in favor of woman suffrage and suggested it was the most important issue being voted on that election year. Berger introduced President Prince Lucien Campbell of the University of Oregon. Campbell supported woman suffrage because he believed that equal rights had prevailed for many years on campus. Campbell then introduced Anna Howard Shaw.  Shaw asked that Oregonians create a true Republican form of government governed by representatives elected by the people and asserted that women were people and should have a voice. Shaw believed that votes for women and more complete female citizenship would bring a better understanding between the sexes. Modern industrial conditions had changed society and the political relations between men and women also needed to change.

It took more than seventy years for women to achieve suffrage in Oregon. The right to vote was an important victory for women. Suffrage is not something to take lightly or for granted. I believe women should actively participate in the political process. I was a candidate for the State House of Representatives, District 20 in 2004. Like many other candidates I participated in the interview process, where ordinary citizens questioned each of the candidates to ascertain whether or not the candidates supported their values.  Canvassing door-to-door is something I have always done as a Polk County Democrat and a member of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 503, OPEU (Oregon Public Employees Union) Local 082-the classified staff at Western Oregon University. Canvassing is particularly important to candidates. Voters feel they know you if you go to their home and discuss the issues that are important to them. Phone banking is also something I have participated in for years for both the Polk County Democrats and SEIU.  Nothing is more important than getting the voters to drop their ballots in the mailbox or deliver them to the ballot box on Election Day. Tabling is also an important political tool. I have joined other SEIU members and the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) faculty union at Western Oregon University in this process. Students are an important voting bloc, and it’s necessary to provide them with information on the ballot measures as well as the candidates, so that they can make educated decisions. Now that retirement is near, I predict that I will spend even more of my available time participating in the political process, and I encourage others to join me.

Primary Sources:

“Big Crowd Hears Dr. Anna Shaw’s Addess,” Eugene Daily Guard, October 3, 1912, 6.

“Eugene for Suffrage Say Women Workers,” Portland Evening Telegram, March 30, 1912, 7.

“Eugene Suffragists Organize League in Eugene Last Night,” Eugene Daily Guard, March 29, 1912. 6.

“Suffrage League,” Eugene Daily Guard, May 14, 1912, 3.

“Suffragists Will Be in Parade,” Eugene Daily Guard, October 10, 1912, 1.

Secondary Sources

Edwards, G. Thomas. Sowing Good Seeds: The Northwest Suffrage Campaigns of Susan B. Anthony. Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1990.

Jensen, Kimberly. “‘Neither Head nor Tail to the Campaign:’ Esther Pohl Lovejoy and the Oregon Woman Suffrage Victory of 1912.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 108 no. 3 (Fall 2007): 350-383.

Mead, Rebecca J. How the Vote Was Won: Woman Suffrage in the Western United States, 1868-1914. New York: New York University Press, 2004.

About The Author

Jeanne Deane is an Administrative Program Assistant in the Social Science Division at
Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon.  She is a senior working toward a
major in Social Science and a minor in German. Jeanne is one of the founders of Abby’s
House Center for Women and Families on the Western Oregon University campus. She
has been the adviser for Abby’s House for the last sixteen years. Jeanne was also an
active member in the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi for many years, and has assisted
in the organization of the Academic Excellence Showcase at Western for the last several years.