Valley Vignette    May 2020

On October 10, 1911, Women

Win the Vote in California

 

By Beverly Lane

 

The twentieth century was greeted by an energized group of women suffragists in California and Contra Costa County. Many more women were graduating from college, organizing school support groups, and running local improvement leagues.

After the earthquake in 1906, a large equal suffrage convention convened in San Francisco. The fight was on. The strategy would aim hard at the state's small towns and Los Angeles. Aided by the automobile and telephone, suffragists throughout California created an impressive campaign machine. The work was energetic and innovative, complete with handbills, posters, buttons and billboards.

Little towns all over the state learned about women's rights and the right to vote. The College Equal Suffrage League staged unique publicity events, often using their "Blue Liner," a decorated seven-seat touring car.  Men came to see the car and stayed to hear the speech. Bertha Boyle of Oakland drew a compelling image promoting Votes for Women which was plastered all over San Francisco.

1911 Bertha Boyle Golden Gate Poster

Newspapers such as the Concord Transcript of July 29, 1911 opined:

Intelligent and fair minded men everywhere are rallying to their (women’s) support. They are beginning to think that the onus is resting pretty heavily upon them of having their mothers, wives and sweethearts rated along with Chinamen, idiots and insane persons when it comes to voting.

On August 5, 1911, the Danville Grange #85 minutes stated:

“It was planned to have a debate at our next meeting and upon the subject -- Resolved ‘that Women be granted the right of suffrage.’ Affirmative Sister Nina Williams and S. E. Wood -- negative Bro W. E. Stewart and C. E. Woodward

“After some little discussion, it was decided the debate should be given in open Grange… letting the decision rest with the audience.”

Later that month the Contra Costa Gazette (8/26/1911) reported on a large meeting on Equal Suffrage at the Danville Grange Hall. Suffrage supporters addressed the meeting, arriving in the famous Blue Liner automobile.  After the debate the Gazette wrote:  “a rising vote was called for from all people present…and the ladies were given the decision. There was a large crowd present from the surrounding country.”

That day a Danville Equal Suffrage Club was organized to plan more meetings. Officers included Mrs. Lillian Close, Miss Libbie Wood, Mrs. Nina Williams and Miss Ada Cornwall. It joined four other Suffrage Clubs in the County.  Close had been president of the Danville Improvement Club and was a downtown Danville property owner.  Wood and Williams were both Grange Worthy Masters. And Cornwall was a teacher at the new San Ramon Valley High School.

On October 10, 1911, suffragist precinct workers geared for fraud and mayhem at the ballot boxes in San Francisco and Alameda counties where emotions ran high. The next day, all San Francisco newspapers except the Call declared the California women's franchise vote dead.  San Francisco voted 35,471 no; 21,912 yes. Alameda County voted against by a smaller margin.

In Contra Costa County it won by 21 votes, 1569-1548.  Then, on October 12, the small towns and valleys delivered a victorious vote by a margin of just over 1 % -- 3,587 votes out of 240,000 votes cast.  California became the sixth western state to enfranchise women.

Elizabeth (Libbie) Wood
Elizabeth (Libbie) Wood
Six states in which women could vote by 1912.
Six states in which women could vote by 1912.

The New York Times headline trumpeted: “California Farmers Give Vote to Women.”

Clearly not all farmers supported woman suffrage. Here are the valley results:

Yes                  No

Alamo                         11                    13

Danville                      23                    48

San Ramon                 12                    11

Tassajara                     5                    12

Walnut Creek             44                    36

 

By 1915, nine Western states had enfranchised six and one-half million women, translating into 45 electoral votes.  The west – and Contra Costa County -- led the way.  Next week: a final battle for the Susan B. Anthony (19th)  amendment.

 

Sources:

Danville Grange #85, Minute Books, 1887, 1896, 1911

Elinson, Elaine and Stan Yogi, Wherever There’s a Fight, How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants, Strikers, and Poets Shaped Civil              Liberties in California, Berkeley, California: Heyday Books, 2009.

New York Times, October 13, 1911