Uniquely Oregonian: Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League in 1912
The successful campaign for woman suffrage in 1912 made Oregon the seventh state to establish the enfranchisement of women. This significant milestone in the woman suffrage movement in Oregon did not come easily for the suffragists who had fought valiantly for many years in order to secure voting rights for women. The suffrage amendment was on the ballot six times in Oregon (1884, 1900, 1906, 1908, 1910 and 1912), which was more than any other state. In many instances, the campaigns in Oregon were met with stiff opposition from the liquor and business interests, as well as anti-suffragists.
However, despite the opposition, much of the success from the 1912 campaign came from the hard work and dedication of the numerous suffrage organizations that contributed to the cause. From the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) on the national level, to the Oregon State Equal Suffrage Association (OSESA) on the state level, these suffrage organizations played a significant and intricate role in organizing and mobilizing the voters of Oregon to go out and vote “yes” on the suffrage ballot. Without the hard work and dedication put forth by the OSESA and the NAWSA, it is almost certain that the suffrage amendment would not have passed in Oregon. Besides the OSESA and the NAWSA, the Oregon woman suffrage campaign in 1912 was also aided by a different organization, Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League, whose members used its unique beginnings and progressive ideology in order to reach all Oregonians, including the working class women of Oregon. Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League was founded in September of 1912, only two months before the election on November 5.
The idea for the organization was conceived and expanded upon by Esther Pohl Lovejoy in the summer preceding the election of 1912. Pohl Lovejoy believed that working class women in Oregon should have the opportunity to join a suffrage organization if it was made available to them. Many suffrage organizations required members to pay a few dollars per month for membership. For working class women in Oregon, this was simply not an option as many were making very little money and could barely sustain the cost of living. Pohl Lovejoy desired to create a suffrage organization that valued the collective community and that would be, according to the Oregonian, “free from all cliques and class distinctions and open to all.” This sort of community organization Pohl Lovejoy desired to create was new. In fact, an article on the Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League in the Oregonian, dated October 23rd, 1912 stated, “There is no precedent to follow as this league is the first of its kind in the United States, they aver, and no one has been found to contradict this statement.” With all of this in mind, it is without a doubt that the Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League was a uniquely Oregonian organization that expressed within its program and membership the progressive reform that was sweeping the United States on the state and national level during the early twentieth century.
Before Esther Pohl Lovejoy created the Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League, much of her time had been devoted to the practice of medicine and her involvement in the woman suffrage movement. During her university years, Pohl Lovejoy studied and graduated from the University of Oregon Medical Department (UOMD) in 1894. As Kimberly Jensen notes, it was during this time that Pohl Lovejoy experienced the injustice that came as a result of the inequality between the sexes. Unable to finance her tuition after her first term of college Pohl Lovejoy worked at a department store. “There were no scholarships to be won, and 18 months behind hosiery and underwear counters was the price of my last two terms.” This crucial event in Pohl Lovejoy’s life mirrored that of thousands of other women in the United States and allowed her to become conscious and concerned for the plight of working class women within Oregon and beyond. After graduation, Pohl Lovejoy began practicing medicine in the Portland area. In 1905, Portland mayor Harry Lane appointed Pohl Lovejoy to the Portland Board of Health as one of the three physicians on the board. Two years later, she was elected unanimously by her colleagues on the board and mayor Harry Lane as the Portland City Health Officer. The position was a policy making position that made Pohl Lovejoy the first woman to head a health bureau in a major U.S. city. Jensen found that Pohl Lovejoy used her experience in public policy and public health in the woman suffrage campaigns of 1906 and 1912 to advocate and argue for the idea that the vote was essential for women in order to enact laws that would create safer and healthier communities. Thus, because of Lovejoy’s experience in the medical field and her years spent laboring in working class employment in order to finance her education, Pohl Lovejoy understood the plight of thousands of working class women. She created Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League to represent and voice the opinions of working class women all over Oregon.
Esther Pohl Lovejoy’s vision in creating the Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League provided a way for working class women to become involved in the suffrage campaign. Therefore, Pohl Lovejoy made membership into the organization easily attainable for all who desired to join. Membership into the league cost a mere twenty-five cents for a lifetime membership, and all members were given instant vice president status within the group. Pohl Lovejoy was the only president of the organization; however, the Everybody’s organization was by no means controlled solely by Pohl Lovejoy. According to the Oregonian, “Wherever any vice- presidents meet, they hold a meeting. They even met the other day in a wine shop. No one takes the chair, no one stops anyone else from speaking and no one is anxious to have all the say in the matter. Their one aim is to work to obtain the passage of the suffrage amendment.” Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League was truly an organization of the people, by the people and for the people. It did not adhere to the hierarchies that were long established in other suffrage organizations such as the OSESA and the NAWSA; there were no conflicts amongst group members such as in the famous feud between Abigail Scott Duniway of the OSESA and Dr. Anna Shaw of the NAWSA.
The popularity of Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League grew so much during its brief two month existence, that by the time the November election came, Everybody’s organization was perhaps the largest votes for women organization in Oregon with over six hundred members. According to the Oregon Journal dated October 24, 1912, Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League enjoyed the distinction “of being the youngest and at the same time the largest numerically of any of the many organizations.” And the popularity did not simply cease with the inclusion of working class women; membership included “both men and women, young and old, and from the humblest walks of life up to and including United States senators and supreme court judges.” Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League even received a twenty-five cent piece from the famed suffragist Ava Belmont from New York along with her letter wishing success in the 1912 election. With such support, Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League was not simply a fad; it truly played an important role in not only unifying Oregon suffragists, but in bringing the cause to the people.
To better understand the context and motives for the creation of Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League, one must understand the conditions of working class women in Oregon during the early twentieth century. According to Janice Dilg, in her article titled For Working Women in Oregon, in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, many Oregon women worked in the agricultural, domestic or industrial fields. Within these occupations, women worked long hours for meager wages that could not sustain the cost of living.
An example of the adverse working conditions imposed upon Oregonian women during the early twentieth century can best be described by the experiences of the activist Caroline Gleason, who in the fall of 1912 (during the prime of the 1912 woman suffrage campaign) went undercover in order to work in the Stettler Box Factory on Portland’s Glisan and Tenth streets. As factory workers at Stettler, workers glued labels on to shoeboxes; however, after completing two or three labels, their hands needed to be washed. Hot water was the only method of cleansing that could adequately remove the glue from one’s hand and the water could only be obtained by hauling five gallon pails through the factory to an open steam pipe where the water could be heated and the glue could be removed. Gluing the labels on to the shoeboxes was simple; however, the constant repetition of washing one’s hands meant less time gluing labels on to shoe boxes, which ultimately meant fewer wages for the factory workers. During her stint as a factory worker, Gleason worked three ten-hour days only to make a meager $1.52. This minimal amount of compensation for a painstaking amount of labor was obviously an unfair circumstance for the factory workers at the Stettler Box Factory and the thousands of other working class women who faced the same circumstances on a daily basis during the early twentieth century. Pohl Lovejoy and other activists believed that empowering women through the vote would enable them to reform such working conditions.
Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League embodied the essential characteristics that the suffrage campaign of 1912 in Oregon needed in order to succeed. Esther Pohl Lovejoy created an atmosphere that was inclusive and allowed anyone’s voice to be heard. There were no class distinctions or bitter rivalries. Pohl Lovejoy worked within the group to make woman suffrage a tool that could be used for the common good and targeted working class women in order to allow their opinions to be heard. Pohl Lovejoy’s vision in creating an organization “free from all cliques and class distinctions” was to create a sense of community that many other suffrage organizations were not embodying. Suffrage meetings could be held at any time and parliamentary procedure was thrown out the window. Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League stands as a testament to the progressive idealism of enacting change within a community; moreover, it stands as a symbol to the progressive era, and is distinct as something uniquely Oregonian.
Dilg, Janice. “For Working Women in Oregon”: Caroline Gleason/Sister Miriam Theresa and
Oregon’s Minimum Wage Law,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 110 no. 1 (Spring 2009), 96-129.
Hall, Greg. “The Fruits of Her Labor: Women, Children, and Progressive Era Reformers in the Pacific Northwest Canning Industry,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 109 no. 2 (Summer 2008), 226- 251.
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 http://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/entry/view/woman_suffrage_in_oregon/
About The Author
Zachary Jones is a first year student at Western Oregon University and participated in Professor Kimberly Jensen’s Winter 2011 Oregon Woman Suffrage course as a student in the Honors Program. Zachary is currently undecided on what his major or minor will be; however, he has interests in History, Psychology and English. An avid vocalist, Zachary is a member of Western’s premier male a capella group, 15 Miles West. Additionally, Zachary is a Ford Scholar, a recipient of the Ford Family Foundation Scholarship award.