The Grange and Woman Suffrage in Oregon

The Order of Patrons of Husbandry, also known as the Grange, was a predominant force in the battle for woman suffrage. The Grange was always a family organization and never segregated men and women like other societies. The group was originally organized in 1867 to allow farming men and women to share thoughts and tips about agriculture. By 1873, Grange membership was extended to anyone who simply had an interest in agriculture, but the membership rules tightened in 1875 to only those who were “engaged in agricultural pursuits.” The organization later became a force in political reform.

As Donald Marti notes, the battle for suffrage was brought to the Grange at an early stage of its development, when Grange members were debating whether or not to support national woman suffrage. An official statement issued in 1874 claimed that the Granges allowed “a proper appreciation of the abilities and sphere of woman, as is indicated by admitting her to membership in our order.” It is important to notice that this is carefully worded to avoid the phrase “woman’s rights.” As Marti notes, in 1878, the California State Grange broke the national Grange silence on the issue and declared for woman suffrage, sending representatives to the state constitutional convention to lobby for the cause. Three years later, New York and Indiana State Granges followed suit, declaring for suffrage as well.

On May 17, 1912, the Oregon State Grange endorsed equal suffrage wholeheartedly, passing a resolution declaring: “Therefore, Be it Resolved, that the Oregon State Grange Association goes on record as favoring the granting of suffrage to the women of the state of Oregon and commend the same consideration of all those persons who now exercise the rights of citizenship.”

In 1915, the national Grange declared for votes for women but leaders noted that only a national suffrage movement would be successful, not state-by-state action. The action was still controversial: thirty voted for a national movement and twenty-five believed that state-by-state work was the way to go.

As an organization the Grange was not campaigning for suffrage – they left the campaigning up to individuals. However, the Grange did allow the use of the Grange Halls and time during Grange meetings for suffrage rallies or presentations by suffragists. The Milwaukie, Oregon Grange, for example, held a rally on August 17, 1912, where the members allowed Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy and Dr. Samuel Johnson to present their cases for suffrage. Because the Grange recognized women’s participation from the beginning of its organization the organization was an excellent platform for suffragists to base their arguments for state-recognized women’s rights. Many leaders of various suffrage organizations realized this, including those in Oregon.

As the 1912 election came closer, suffragists used mass media to spread awareness and ask for help for the campaign for suffrage. They circulated newspapers, pamphlets, and letters throughout the state. Newspapers such as the Oregonian began publishing more articles on the suffrage movement. The Pacific Grange Bulletin began publishing more articles as well, and leaders of various suffrage clubs and leagues, including the College Equal Suffrage League and the Men’s Equal Suffrage Club wrote letters directed to Grange members in the Pacific Grange Bulletin.

Leaders wrote these letters to garner the support of Grange members, appealing to their sense of justice. Emma Wold, president of the College Equal Suffrage League appealed to the women of the Grange in a letter to Hattie L. Vail, the editor of the “Woman’s Work” section of the Pacific Grange Bulletin. Printed in the Pacific Grange Bulletin in September of 1912, Emma Wold declared that “that is what every woman who has at heart the cause of women and children asks of every other woman – “Just get into the game.”” Wold asked that every woman not only sympathize, but also get active and start campaigning among her neighbors.

Printed next to Emma Wold’s letter was “A Letter to the Grange Sisters” from Hattie Vail. Vail emphasized that the Grange was considered “to be a potent factor in shaping the political destinies of our state, and workers for any movement that looks to the bettering of conditions have learned that the Grange and its women are not a negligeble [sic] quantity.” In other words, the people of the state had noticed that the Grange was a powerful force, and that the Grange and all its members could be a great influence. Vail asked the women of the Grange to start spreading their influence to fight the “destroying octopus” of the current government. She appealed to the women’s sense of motherly protectiveness when she said that the “Social Evil” of Portland “will reach out into every surrounding community with an ever widening circle; none of our children are safe from its degrading and damning power.” The Grange has always been a family organization, so the letters written in the Pacific Grange Bulletin were written specifically to appeal to the sense of protecting the family by allowing women to vote.

Another letter appeared in the same edition of the Pacific Grange Bulletin from a well-known activist of the time – Mr. W.M. (Pike) Davis, president of the Men’s Equal Suffrage Club. While Davis’s letter seemed to be a direct appeal to Hattie Vail to use her paper for campaigning, he also appealed to every Grange member’s sense of justice. He expressed his gratitude for the state Grange’s decision to support the suffrage movement, and flattered the Grange members with his declaration that “the Grange can always be depended upon to deal out justice,” then reminded the members that “it certainly is unjust to keep women from the right of voting.”

Other newspapers also reported the Grange’s involvement in the suffrage campaign. The Portland Evening Telegram ran a notice on August 13, 1912 promoting a suffrage meeting that was being held the following Saturday at the Milwaukie Grange. It included details on how Portland suffragists were to find the meeting hall, and gave a short description of the program for the afternoon noting that “a committee of young girl suffragists will be waiting to welcome all comers and conduct them to the Grange Hall.”

On August 18, 1912, the Oregonian ran a short article about the suffrage meeting held at the Milwaukee Grange. The meeting halls were often used for suffrage rallies, much like this meeting. Here just a few short months before the suffrage cause would be put on the Oregon ballot, Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy, Dr. Samuel M. Johnson, and George C. Brownell all spoke, while the Grange lecturer, Captain J.P. Shaw, presided. Pohl Lovejoy reminded the audience that Oregon was the only state along the Pacific Coast that had not been granted suffrage, but warned the audience that using militant methods like throwing a brick would not be tolerated. British suffragists were using more militant methods to claim voting rights, and Pohl Lovejoy distanced the Oregon movement from these controversial tactics. Pohl Lovejoy also reminded the audience that it was “time for this state to take a stand with Washington and California, and even with China. She pointed out wherein women are interested in civic affairs in that they pay taxes, street improvements, and own homes.”

At the meeting Dr. Samuel M. Johnson and George C. Brownell both offered their support for equal suffrage, declaring that they had always supported giving women the ballot. George C. Brownell appealed to the female attendees’ motherly instincts, discussing the children working in factories, and the “immorality in New York and other states, which, he declared need the vote of the mothers of the land of change.”

The many suffrage meetings held at Grange Halls throughout the state, as well as the letters, pamphlets, and newspaper articles that circulated through every county led to the achievement of equal suffrage in Oregon on November 5, 1912. The Order of Patrons of Husbandry was a driving force once they declared for suffrage, and helped lead Oregon into a new chapter of its history.

Primary Sources:

“A Letter to the Grange Sisters from Hattie L. Vail,” Pacific Grange Bulletin, September 15, 1912, 204.
“Emma Wold to Mrs. Hattie Vail,” Pacific Grange Bulletin, September 15, 1912, 204.

“Equal Suffrage Fully Indorsed by State Grange,” Oregon Journal, May 18, 1912, 6.

“Oregon Urged to Act,” Oregonian, August 18, 1912, 7.

“Suffragists Meet at Milwaukie Saturday,” Portland Evening Telegram, August 13, 1912, 10.

“Viola Coe to the Members of the Oregon Grange,” Pacific Grange Bulletin, September 15, 1912, 204.

“W.M. Davis to Mrs. Hattie Vail,” Pacific Grange Bulletin, September 15, 1912, 204.

Secondary Sources

Finnegan, Margaret Mary. Selling Suffrage: Consumer Culture and Votes for Women. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Jensen, Kimberly. “‘Neither Head nor Tail to the Campaign’: Esther Pohl Lovejoy and the Oregon Woman Suffrage Victory of 1912.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 108:3 (Fall 2007): 350-383.

Jensen, Kimberly. “Woman Suffrage in Oregon.” Oregon Encyclopedia

Marti, Donald B. Women of the Grange: Mutuality and Sisterhood in Rural America, 1866-1920. New York: Greenwood, 1991.

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

Heidi Ramp participated in Professor Kimberly Jensen’s Spring 2011 Oregon Woman Suffrage course as a student in the Honors Program at Western Oregon University. Heidi is working on a double degree with majors in Spanish and Linguistics and a minor in Literature. Her interests are reading as many books as possible, working with the National Society of Leadership and Success, and volunteering around the community while working part-time at The Corvallis Clinic.