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The Woman Suffrage Story

The public agitation by women for enfranchisement began in 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton hosted a meeting in her hometown of Seneca Falls, New York. Participants signed a "Declaration of Sentiments," calling for greater political, social, and economic emancipation for American women. One of those activists, Catherine Payne, moved to pioneer Seattle, Washington, as the wife of Henry Blaine, and brought her enthusiasm for women's rights across the continent. National success was slow, for the woman suffrage amendment to the U.S. constitution was not achieved until 1920. In the years between 1848 and 1920, considerable action was undertaken by many women and men, to persuade the male voters to bestow the full rights of citizenship on women. Reformers used rallies, petitions, letters to newspapers, visits to legislators, barn-storming by inspirational speakers like Susan B. Anthony, newsletters, parades, pageants, cartoons, and buttons to persuade the public to permit women to exercise the vote. Suffragists were divided over strategy, some seeking local venues (like women's participation in the election of neighborhood school board members) and others insisting that the wisest route to change lay with federal change at the top.

By the 1870s, women were permitted to vote in many school board elections throughout the country, but the west offered the widest political opportunities to women. The Territory of Wyoming gave women the vote in 1869, Utah in 1870, Colorado in 1893 and Idaho in 1896. Washington Territory authorized women's suffrage from 1883-7 and then overturned it. Statehood in 1889 did not return the vote to Washington women. But the agitation by the Northwest members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association won Washington women the vote in 1910 and inspired the nation to renew its commitment to women's rights. Two thirds of the men in every county of the state endorsed women's right to vote in the November 1910 election. Washington's victory was followed by California's woman suffrage success in 1911 and Oregon's in 1912. The west continued to break barriers before the rest of the nation did so, but Washington's campaign is considered the victory that ended the "doldrums" between Idaho's victory in 1896 and the ten-year "sprint" to the finish line for all U.S. women.

The year from November 2009 through November 2010 provides the opportunity to celebrate the centennial of the Washington fight for women's vote and remember the century of contributions women have made to public life, in politics, volunteerism, the workplace, and the arts. The Central Washington University campus joins with the community of Ellensburg and the State of Washington to support a wide array of special events, including exhibits, speakers, concerts, art shows, and receptions, to honor women's long and strong contributions to the quality of life in the Pacific Northwest.

Further Reading:

  • Beeton, Beverly. Women Vote in the West: The Woman Suffrage Movement, 1869-1896. New York: Garland, 1986. Camhi, Jane Jerome. Women Against Women: American Anti-Suffragism, 1880-1920. Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing, Inc., 1994.
  • Cooney, William and the National Women's History Project. Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement. Santa Cruz: American Graphic Press,2005.
  • DuBois, Ellen Carol. Woman Suffrage and Women's Rights. New York: New York University Press, 1998.
  • Evans, Sara M. Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America. New York: Free Press, 1989.
  • Gordon, Ann D. with Bettye Collier-Thomas et al, eds. African-American Women and the Vote, 1837-1965. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.
  • Griffith, Elisabeth. In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
  • Kerr, Andrea Moore. Lucy Stone: Speaking Out for Equality. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992.
  • Lockwood, Bert. Women's Rights: A Human Rights Quarterly Reader. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
  • Mackinnon, Catharine. Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2006.
  • Mead, Rebecca. How the Vote Was Won: Woman Suffrage in the Western United States, 1868- 1914. New York: New York University Press, 2004.
  • Ruiz, Vicki L. and Ellen Carol DuBois, eds. Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women's History. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1994.
  • Schwarzenbach, Sibyl and Patricia Smith. Women and the United States Constitution: History, Interpretation, and Practice. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.
  • Stanton, Elizabeth, Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds. History of Woman Suffrage. 6 vols. Rochester, N.Y.: Fowler and Wells, 1889


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