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North County Messenger

A Century of Women's Vote

Aug 20, 2020 12:00AM ● By By Elise Spleiss

One of the rights women were fighting for was better education for their children. Here a volunteer is teaching young men the importance of voting when they get older. Public domain photo/

A Century of Women's Vote [4 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

California Leads the Nation in Winning Women’s Right to Vote

SACRAMENTO REGION (MPG) - August 26, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, the official ratification of the 19th amendment which, after a battle of 72 years, gave all American women the right to vote, changing the face of the American electorate forever.

Through organized protest, the new suffragettes gained all the rights of a full citizen, the right to vote in presidential and all other elections, the right to be on a jury, and to hold local office. 

Women had been forced to organize in each state as the U.S. Supreme Court took the phrase “all men are created equal” literally. It ruled that protection under the U.S. Constitution did not include women. The response began a nationwide campaign in 1848 just to win their basic civil rights.

Led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the national women’s suffrage campaign began in Seneca Falls New York in 1848, but it was the West that led the fight with five states preceding California: Wyoming -1890; Colorado - 1893; Utah and Idaho - 1896; Washington - 1910.

California women had previously launched an unsuccessful campaign to win the vote in 1896. Amendment 6 was defeated by over 20,000 votes due to the better organized large northern cities which easily outvoted those in the more rural south.

While women’s right to vote nationally was not ratified into the U.S. Constitution until August 26, 1920, California’s hard-hitting yet peaceful campaign with hundreds of suffragette workers, set the standard for future state campaigns.

The national fight had been a 72-year struggle, involving over 900 local, state and national campaigns with men also involved. It was the ingenuity, determination, creativity, and process of educating people to an issue which inspired the rest of the country.

During the 15 years since 1895 much had changed in the country. The railroad had brought 50,000 new residents to California each year, seeing it as a paradise and land of opportunity. California had gone from being a wild frontier to a 20th century cultured and diverse home for younger stable, middle class citizens.

Irrigation turned small farms into large ranches, home industries such as canning and sewing became major manufacturing companies, worked by women. Young women were leaving the farm for textile, food service, retail and clerical jobs in the city.

They were demanding more education to create nurses and teachers, health care and business professionals. Stanford University answered their call, opening in 1895 with eight women graduates in 1901 and more than 200 by 1910.

By 1910, as a more progressive Republican administration came into power, women acted quickly to again put the question of the vote before the voters – all men. The time was right.

On February 2, 1911 the California State Senate and House voted to hold an election on October 10, 1911, giving suffragettes only eight months to reach one million California voters over 1,000 miles with their message!

What took place was one of the most innovative, creative, well organized and strategically planned battles for a cause. Their plan was to split the state at the Tehachapi Mountains and focus on rural, previously unapproached cities and villages. Northern workers would work with the more established women’s groups and southern workers would saturate cities, farms and towns in rest of state.

One group of men already knew of the importance of women voting: the men who had depended on the courage and partnership of women in the settlement of the untamed west, working their farms and businesses together. They knew equality was not only a right, but a necessity. They realized women’s votes would help their own causes also.

Representatives from 163 women’s clubs, groups and organizations of women representing diverse ethnicities, religions, education, businesses, and social factions spread out throughout every part of California.

Well trained women were taught how to make ‘cold calls’ on homes and businesses, answering every objection put to them. They took that training to the street, speaking from actual soap boxes, among all other venues available to them. 

Every means possible and some seemingly impossible was used to get the word before every resident of every city, town and farm in California. Suffragettes learned to do things they never imagined. The power of the press was used to reach citizens in five languages and via every vehicle possible, including on actual vehicles of all kinds.

What was not realized until suffragettes began going into the cities, small towns and villages, the highways and byways talking with every man and woman they met, was the myriad of unmet needs identified which existed in every county in California. The message had to be that, only through the vote can there be change!

As these needs were identified women’s clubs and organizations were created to help meet those needs, even before the vote was won.

As votes came in the first news reports claimed defeat for the amendment, but over the next 2 days votes from the more rural and outlying cities and towns poured in. After three days, victory was announced.

The final vote was 125, 037 YES and 121,450 NO: a win of only 3,587 votes with only 50.7% of eligible voters (all men) voting. That is one vote per precinct or 1% of the vote! The farmer, miner and south had won the vote!

Following the vote, California became one of the foremost democracies in the world, with half a million women now able to vote. Immediately, 2,500 new full women citizens registered to vote and 16,000 more registered in the next 10 days. They soon were on juries and holding public office.

The message in this story is to VOTE! Man or woman, no matter your political party. We need to remember the price these women of California paid with their time, money, and stepping out into an unknown world. Don’t waste your right to vote.

To view the 25-minute video, “California Women Win the Vote” go to ‘

August 26, virtual celebration: Go to National Women’s History for a full day of live virtual celebration with videos, speakers and music from Washington D.C..

Robert J. Cooney, Jr.
National Women’s Alliance: