The Portland Woman’s Club and the 1912 Campaign

The year 1912 was important in Oregon. After decades of tireless work and endless campaigns, activists achieved equal suffrage (the right to vote). Hundreds of Oregonians were involved in this task over the years, but in the final year of the battle there were certain individuals and clubs that were instrumental in the victory. The Portland Women’s Club was one such group. The women of the club worked on many aspects of the campaign, raising money, holding various events, and rallying support for the cause.

Since its founding in 1895 the Portland Woman’s Club has grown exponentially, and members have been involved in numerous events and civic actions statewide. The club was founded and held its very first meeting in the home of one of the members, Mrs. W. W. Spalding. The first set of officers for the club included Mrs. J. C. Card, Caroline Dunlap, Julia Comstock, Frances Harvey and Mrs. N. B. Cox. Card served as President of the club, and became a leader of numerous other clubs. At the time of the foundation of the club there were 78 members. Two years later, in 1897, the club had grown to include 116 members, and had an average attendance of 70 at each meeting.

Club meetings consisted of numerous activities, such as recitations of poems and stories, musical performances, and many addresses. During the early years many members suggested forming a philanthropic committee, which was something that President Card did not agree with. In a speech given by Card she said “Far be it from me to repress any noble enthusiasm for doing good; I only wish to point out that nothing so makes the judicious grieve, and the wicked rejoice, as hasty and ill-considered attempts to right some wrongs or suppress some evil, ending, as hasty attempts of the kind are pretty sure to do, in the confusion of the assail and the escape of the assailed, for us, unarmed and unprepared, to attack the mighty host of evil, may be heroic, but it is futile.” Despite an unsupportive president, the club went forward with its plans and formed a philanthropic division. Over the years the Portland Woman’s Club was involved in many social welfare issues. The club mainly focused on issues faced by women of children such as labor laws, child welfare, and various public health concerns. As detailed in Sandra Haarsager’s book Organized Womanhood the club helped pass laws on child labor, and worked to improve conditions for women in jail. In 1904 the club rallied support to increase the salaries of school teachers. The club also worked to get women placed in positions usually held by men, like market inspector. Among other notable feats accomplished by the club was the organization of the first city-wide trash collecting service.

Clubwomen worked to improve conditions for others at a time when women were not allowed to vote in elections except for school boards or hold most elected political office. Before 1912 the Portland Woman’s Club had not been involved as an organization in the fight for woman suffrage. But a letter from Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), written in 1911 spurred the club women in to action. In the letter Dr. Shaw asked the president Mrs. A. King Wilson to create a committee for the purpose of working on the campaign. King appointed Elizabeth (Mrs. Frederick) Eggert, Mrs. William Fear, Mrs. George McMillan, Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy, Grace Watt Ross, Sarah A. Evans, and Nan (Mrs. William) Strandborg. The Portland Woman’s Club Campaign Committee opened its headquarters in January of 1912. Dr. Shaw contributed $200 a month for the upkeep of the headquarters and other expenses of the campaign. The Portland chapter of the club worked closely with NAWSA in coordinating various events and visits from nationally known suffrage leaders, such as Anna Howard Shaw.

Some members were concerned about participating in the suffrage campaign in 1912. They worried that the club would become strictly a suffrage organization, and because of this fear leaders placed restrictions on the new committee. The committee would only be in place until November 5, 1912, and funding of the committee would only continue until that day. If the suffrage bill passed then the committee would be dissolved forever, and if it failed the committee would be set aside to resume again during the next election.

The Portland Woman’s Club Campaign Committee joined an umbrella advisory committee for the equal suffrage campaign in early 1912. However, in March of the same year the Club decided to remove its delegation from that committee due to misunderstandings and disagreements. In a letter to the advisory committee the campaign committee of the woman’s club reminded the advisory committee that “The Woman’s club is not a suffrage organization, therefore cannot be an auxiliary of any suffrage organization, either state or national, but must do its suffrage work through its own regularly appointed committee”. The Woman’s Club felt that its motives for joining the committee has been “greatly misunderstood, misconstrued and misrepresented” and they felt that they should no longer work together. The Woman’s Club was still involved in the suffrage campaign, but they worked on their own through their own committee rather than with any others.

On November 5, 1912 years of hard work finally paid off. The men of Oregon voted in favor of the suffrage amendment, granting women the right to vote. Many attribute this win in 1912 to the various clubs that worked together to gather support for the cause, and through coalition building they held enough power to influence many a voter.

The Woman’s Club was a very influential group, and had many prominent and well known members. Some of the better known members were Abigail Scott Duniway and Esther Pohl Lovejoy. Two other members of the Portland Woman’s Club, Dr. Mary Anna Thompson and Sarah A. Evans were influential in the suffrage movement in Oregon.

Mary Anna Thompson was born in New York in 1825. Although Dr. Thompson never actually obtained a medical degree, she was known as “Portland’s first woman physician.” For most of her young life Dr. Thompson worked to improve conditions during childbirth for both the women and the babies born. Dr. Thompson and her family moved to Oregon in 1866, where she became more involved in political and economic issues while still maintaining her medical practice. Dr. Thompson soon became involved in the suffrage movement. Along with her friends Bethenia Owens-Adair and Frances Fuller Victor, Dr. Thompson strongly supported temperance and prohibition. This caused disagreements between Abigail Scott Duniway and Dr. Thompson, and though they did not agree with one another they respected each other for their respective strengths and character.

In 1877 Dr. Thompson began a yearlong speaking tour in which she addressed various groups throughout the country, as well as speaking at the NWSA convention in Washington, D.C.  While at the capitol she also visited with President Rutherford P. Hayes, spoke before the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections, and met with other influential suffrage workers such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone.

Sarah Ann Evans
was born in Bradford, Pennsylvania around 1855. Between the years of 1893 and 1894 Evans and her family moved to Oregon and settled in Oswego (now known as Lake Oswego). Shortly after the move Evans noticed a need for a public library, and joined forces with other local women to form the Portland Woman’s Club. In 1905 Evans became the president of the club. While president she was appointed Market Inspector in Portland, and also worked on the suffrage campaign both locally and nationally.

In addition to being club president and Market Inspector Evans was a well known journalist working for the Oregon Journal. She wrote a weekly column detailing the activities and importance of women’s clubs.

Although the Portland Woman’s Club was only involved in the suffrage movement in the final year of the campaign they contributed substantially to the victory. Because of close ties with NAWSA, strong and influential leaders, and great organization, the Portland Woman’s Club was able to accomplish quite a bit in a years’ time. Many historians have said that one of the reasons for the victory in 1912 was strong coalition building, and the Portland Woman’s Club was a huge player in the building of coalitions.

Primary Sources:

“Laws Held Unfair,” Oregonian, April 12, 1912, 15.

“Suffrage Forces Divide,” Portland Evening Telegram, March 16, 1912, 3.

“Woman’s Club to Travel Own Road,” Oregon Journal, March 16, 1912, 11.

“Women’s Clubs,” Oregon Journal, April 28, 1912, Sec. 5 4.

“Women Urge Suffrage,” Oregonian, February 24, 1912, 4.

Secondary Sources

Del Mar, David Peterson. Oregon’s Promise: an Interpretive History. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2003.

Haarsager, Sandra. 1997. Organized Womanhood: Cultural Politics in the Pacific Northwest, 1840-1920. Norman: University Of Oklahoma Press.

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.

Jensen, Kimberly, ”Sarah Ann Shannon Evans (1854-1940),” Oregon Encyclopedia,

Ward, Jean M. “Mary Anna Thompson (1825-1919),” Oregon Encyclopedia,

About The Author

Tayleranne Gillespie participated in Professor Kimberly Jensen’s Winter 2011 Oregon Woman Suffrage course as a student in the Honors Program at Western Oregon University. Tayleranne is a Political Science major. She works with the Associated Students of Western Oregon University as Director of Public Relations, and plans on attending law school after graduating from WOU.