The Men’s Equal Suffrage Club of Multnomah County in 1912
The Men’s Equal Suffrage Club of Multnomah County was one of the many coalitions formed in favor of woman suffrage in Oregon that helped lead the campaign to victory in 1912. It was founded on January 3, 1912 by club president and former deputy city attorney William “Pike” Davis. Most of the members of the Men’s Equal Suffrage Club were influential men, with approximately 59 percent of the identified members as lawyers, many of whom were politically active.
There were some few other Men’s Equal Suffrage clubs in other states and nationally. According to History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920, among the states with men’s clubs were: New York, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Nevada. The clubs in Nevada and Nebraska were in part organized in an effort to retaliate against anti-suffrage groups. Overall, most information to be gleaned on Men’s Equal Suffrage clubs is mere mentions of their existence.
According to Sarah Hunter Graham, author of Woman Suffrage and the New Democracy, “more often than not, the male clubs seemed to exist solely for the purpose of prosuffrage publicity and occasional financial support rather than to actively engage in the battle for the ballot. Most men’s groups did not hold formal meetings beyond the initial organizational rally, and although their members were often listed as active supporters in suffrage propaganda, they took little part in the day-to-day campaign for the vote.” While this may be true of men’s clubs in other states, Oregon’s men’s club was active in campaigning and aided the 1912 campaign in its success.
W.M. “Pike” Davis was the originator of the movement for foundation of a men’s equal suffrage club. According to a January 4, 1912 Oregonian article, in organizing the club, he wanted to found “what might become the nucleus for clubs of men throughout the state to work actively for the passage of the woman suffrage amendment at the next election.” He was elected president of the club at a meeting on January 12, 1912. Davis also served as legal adviser for other suffrage organizations throughout Oregon. According to Kimberly Jensen’s article, “Neither Head nor Tail to the Campaign,” in June 1912, in the middle of the campaign, Davis married Etta M. Blatchley and admitted “that he probably would never have gotten married if he hadn’t become a convert to women’s suffrage.”
Though the first meeting of the Men’s Equal Suffrage Club was held on January 3, the club was not permanently organized with a full set of officers and a constitution and by-laws until a later meeting on January 12. According to a January 4 Oregonian article, both men and women attended this. Abigail Scott Duniway was there and claimed, “this is the first meeting of its kind that has ever been held in this country. We are inaugurating a movement that I hope will spread throughout the United States—the organization of men, who have a vote, for the systematic work to secure a vote for women, who do not have it.” There were so many speakers at the meeting that Davis announced that the organization of the club would wait until a meeting the following week so that the rest of the evening could be devoted to discussion.
The details of the January 12 meeting were outlined in an Oregonian article the next day: Davis was elected president of the club. The other elected officers were: vice president, Judge John P. Kavanaugh; secretary, Attorney Arthur Langguth; treasurer, W.D. Cridge; and directors, Robert A. Miller, W.H. Fear and Richard Deich. The club adopted its constitution and by-laws. It was decided that meetings would be held monthly, and membership was open to voters at the next election. Women were not allowed to join, since there were other organizations open for them. At the meeting, club vice president Judge Kavanaugh spoke about his recent travels through Washington and California, both of which had already adopted woman suffrage. “Our state should have been the first to adopt it,” he said. “Woman suffrage is one of the most advanced steps in true democracy…It has been said that politics would draw the woman down. This is an unfair statement. The result will be that woman will elevate politics. Woman will force better men and better issues.”
W.M. Davis did not dally after the club was organized – he went straight to work. According to a January 17 Oregonian article, he was invited to speak at a convention of the State Federation of Labor at The Dalles on January 15, 1912. There, he presented resolutions favoring woman suffrage. The resolutions were unanimously passed, meaning that the State Federation of Labor in Oregon would recommend and endorse the campaign, and that every member would “use their utmost efforts and vote for said initiative ballot at the next election to be held in November.”
It was no secret that much of the membership in the Men’s Equal Suffrage Club could be attributed to political interests. After all, once women could vote, they would be more likely to vote for the men who supported their suffrage cause. According to a March 18 Oregon Journal article, W.M. Davis stated in a speech at a club meeting on March 16, “This coming election I have no doubt that the suffrage amendment will carry, as you can always trust to the politicians who have their ear to the ground ready to seize on any popular movement to further their causes, and you will notice that they are as hearty in the support of this measure as they were in the support of the initiative and referendum in 1902.”
However, club members were careful to show that supporting woman suffrage was the right thing to do. The Oregonian reported that at the January 12 meeting, “C.M. Mullen cautioned the club against nominating men who would be candidates for office, saying that the voters at large would say the move was one to advance the candidate’s election.” The Oregon Journal reported on a street meeting on October 7, where John Stevenson spoke, but first called to attention that he was not running for any office, “and that he advocates equal suffrage on the strength of his convictions that it is right. There is no good reason, Mr. Stevenson said, ‘why women should not vote.’”
The Men’s Equal Suffrage Club of Multnomah County was not merely a publicity stunt as Sarah Hunter Graham suggests. Since the inception of the club until the success of the campaign, W.M. Davis and the other members held monthly meetings. We know from news articles that W.M. Davis gained support from the State Federation of Labor, and later in the campaign the club held additional public meetings in parks and in the streets in August and October. While it is impossible to say just how much of an impact the Men’s Equal Suffrage Club had on the campaign, it is fair to assume that the club was an active and effective element of the overall campaign and its participation helped lead to the ultimate victory of woman suffrage in Oregon. It also seems that the Men’s Equal Suffrage Club was more actively involved in the campaign for woman suffrage than most men’s clubs across the country. This could be in part due to W.M. Davis’s strong leadership and dedication to the cause.
Graham, Sarah Hunter. Woman Suffrage and the New Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.
Harper, Ida Husted, ed. History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 6: 1900-1920. New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922.
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.
About The Author
Melissa Wiener is a junior at Western Oregon University.