California Studies Association

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Elaine Elinson Writes to Commemorate the Centennial of Women’s Suffrage in California

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This month marks the centennial of women’s suffrage in California, a victory won almost a full decade before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote nationally.  In the San Francisco Chronicle edition of Oct. 9 CSA Steering Committee member Elaine Elinson described in her article “S.F. Women Helped Forge Suffrage Victory in State”, the creativity, tenacity and pure chutzpah involved in this crucial campaign for women’s right to vote.

From the article:

The campaign for suffrage began long before that momentous victory. In the late 1800s, California women – primarily from the urban upper-middle class – lobbied state and local governments for the right to vote. Buoyed by visits from leaders of the national suffrage movement, including Susan B. Anthony, California suffragists organized an intense lobbying campaign in the Legislature. Three hundred women went to Sacramento, claiming they represented 50,000 more who wanted the vote. They were met with ridicule. One legislator told them, “You are no more than 50,000 mice. Go home and look after your own girls. They may be walking the streets for all you know.”

In 1896, the first attempt to win the vote through a referendum suffered a crushing defeat, especially in San Francisco, then the most populous city in the state.

After the earthquake and fire of 1906, however, the movement regrouped and was transformed. It moved out of the parlors of upper-class women and into more public spaces – union halls, theaters, African American churches, libraries and even the street. In 1908, three-hundred women marched on the state Republican convention, meeting in Oakland, to demand that the party include suffrage in its electoral platform.



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