Stenographers Equal Suffrage League of Oregon in 1912

A profession not often discussed in the context of history, stenography is an important part of the Oregon woman suffrage story. Portland stenographers formed their own equal suffrage league during the 1912 campaign. Stenography itself is defined today as “a person skilled in the use of shorthand and in typing… whose job it is to record verbatim everything that is said in during a court case.” In 1900, there were 134 stenographers in Oregon and by 1910 the profession had more than doubled to 387 documented stenographers. At the time of the 1912 suffrage movement, stenographers were employed for the transcription of public and civic events including speeches and presentations, in addition to court cases.

In the early 1900s stenographers worked for businesses as court reporters, law reporting assistants, and typists. They typed both public and private conventions, depositions, sermons, lectures and more. Stenographers advertised their services through local advertisements in the papers, including what is now the Oregonian. Advertisements had clever slogans like, “If you want that work, the way you want it, and WHEN you want it, call Marshall 3818,” as means for attracting customers. From these advertisements, we can gather that stenographers were capable of “notary public typewriting [and] depositions,” prepared to make “statistical tables and intricate forms [of] typewriters.”

Individual stenographers were often featured in these advertisements. Mrs. Julia Kirker Sayre worked for Brush Public Stenographers in Portland, well known for notary public typewriting and depositions. Douglas S. Dufur worked in the Abington Building as a court reporter, law-reporting assistant, court reference and public stenographer. He provided both public and private services including telephone, telegraph, phonograph dictation and typewriting.

The Portland City Directory for 1912 lists the following stenographers: Elizabth Allen, Maud R. Bartlett, Douglas S. Dufur, Nettie E. Dunlap, Ivy Gay, Gertrude Getty, Ana D. Green, Elizabeth Hendry, Ada M. Henley, Helen C Jeselson, Winnifred G. King, Mary L. Knapp, Neli Kruesel, Rose McAvoy, Anna L. Moore, Minnie E Nelson, Emily F Otis, Julia A Parmele, Mary Payne, Mrs. M. H. Potter, Ida D. Ramsay, Missie Rebe, Edith B. Roberts, Catherine Roe, Anna V. Rogers, Eugenia A. Ross, Julia Sayr-Kirke, Meter E. Van, Ida M. Wandry, and Margaret White.

The majority of stenographers conducted their business in the Portland metropolitan area in the Chamber of Commerce, Oregonian, Spalding and Yeon buildings. Stenographers also conducted business in McKay, Henry, Mohawk, Lafayette, Sherlock, Wilcox Worcester Buildings, Portland Hotel, Hotel Oregon, and the Board of Trade.

As stenography grew more popular, prior to the November 5, 1912 election, members of the profession formed the Stenographers Equal Suffrage League. The stenographers’ intent with the formation of this group was to study “all maters of a civic and municipal character, as well as suffrage. In addition it will help members to procure acceptable situations.” Although the group formed during the suffrage movement, their intent was to establish a permanent organization for both men and women stenographers. Membership included, what appears to be lifetime membership, with no dues and a minimal one-time fee of “10 cents for registration.”

The league held multiple meetings prior the November 5 election in support of the woman suffrage movement. Meetings were frequently held in the Selling Building in Portland, Oregon. The Selling building was also headquarters of the Oregon State Equal Suffrage Association.

In 1912, the Stenographers Equal Suffrage League devoted “itself to the suffrage movement in connection with the coming election, but after Nov. 5, when the members believe there will be no further use for an organization to promote women suffrage.” Stenographers spent a great amount of time and effort in support of woman suffrage because they knew a lot of information. As described by Attorney R. K. Walton, “stenographers are peculiarly fitted for the ballot, because of the generally wide business knowledge most of them possess, and the necessity for them to be well versed in general topics.” Walton spoke at the fourth Stenographer Equal Suffrage League meeting, affirming the importance of their organization in the votes for women movement.

Other speakers in attendance at their meetings included Mrs. A. C. Newell and Mrs. Weathered. These women spoke at a social session held at the home of president Mrs. E. O. Gardner at 370 Vista Street in Portland, Oregon. Newell was president of the Civic Progress circles and spoke of “the advantages to be derived from forming circles for the study of civics and citizenship.” Weathered spoke of some of the accomplishments made by “the Women of Washington since they have had suffrage.”

Additionally, nationally renowned suffragist and attorney Olive Stott Gabriel attended one of the league’s meetings to show support for their organization. Gabriel was involved in the New York City Federation of Women’s Clubs and served as three-term president for the National Association of Women Lawyers. Gabriel traveled throughout the United States, advocating for Woman Suffrage and equal rights, frequently visiting Oregon. 

Olive Stott Gabriel attended one of the Stenographers Equal Suffrage League meetings, held in the Selling Building. Gabriel hoped to inspire further stenographer support for the woman suffrage movement, and commend them for their involvement in the movement. Gabriel was appreciative of the “cooperation among women as well as among men.” She further emphasized problems women faced to rally other stenographers. Gabriel emphasized that without the ballot, women had to “petition to remedy conditions under which they labor. The status of woman is due to the prejudice that has grown out of her position under the common law, which prevails with but slight changes in all the states.” She continued by emphasizing that, “In only 14 states in the Union do women hold join guardianship in the persons of their children.  This does not give them a voice in the management of their property.” Gabriel finalized her speech by emphasizing the benefits brought about by suffrage and despite the “responsibility … it is also a privilege and one which I feel sure the women of Oregon are anxious to accept.”

As a national leader, Gabriel’s support further validated the hard work of the Stenographers Equal Suffrage League, in addition to local support from leaders like Walton, Newell and Weathered. Many individuals spoke at the Stenographers Equal Suffrage League meetings in recognition of the organization and support for their dedication to the equal suffrage movement. Stenographers dedicated a great deal of their efforts to the campaign after the initiation of their organization. 

Although their primary intention was to form an organization in support of their profession, their support for the suffrage movement was essential. Their broad knowledge of general topics allowed them to provide insights on the suffrage movement. Stenographers likely also played a large role in documenting portions of the movement by being involved in the transcription of meetings and events. With the formation of the Stenographers Equal Suffrage League, stenographers established themselves as a valuable profession to society while benefiting the votes for women movement. 

Primary Sources:

“Olive S. Gabriel, Suffrage Leader: Three-Time Head of National Women Lawyers Dies – Long Active in New York.” New York Times, May 10, 1944, 19.

“Mrs. Olive Gabriel Talks: Oregon Native Daughter Speaks on Equal Suffrage,” Oregonian, October 16, 1912, 7.

“Services Set for Lawyer, Head of National Group,” Oregonian, May 9, 1944, 9.

“Suffrage League Formed: Stenographers Will Have Permanent Club for Both Sexes,” Oregonian, August 11, 1912, 7.

“Says Stenographers are Fitted for Ballot,” Oregon Journal, September 11, 1912, 3.

“Suffrage Worker Appeals for Ballot,” Oregon Journal, October 15, 1912, 2.

“What Suffragists are Doing,” Oregon Journal, October 22, 1912, 12.

Secondary Sources

Jensen, Kimberly. Women Suffrage in Oregon. Oregon Encyclopedia.

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

Polk, R. L. Portland City Directory 1912. Portland: R.L. Polk Publishers, 1912.

United States Bureau of the Census. Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of the Census, 1975. Section D: 297-357. 480.

About The Author

Karin Traweek participated in Professor Kimberly Jensen’s Winter 2011 Oregon Woman Suffrage course as a student in the Honors Program at Western Oregon University. Karin is a Biology major, emphasis in Zoology, with interests in becoming a wildlife biologist.