After California women won the right to vote in 1911, everyone watched the first elections of 1912 to see whether the winds had changed, particularly concerning one issue: prohibition.
Passage of the amendment to the state constitution had not been easy – it won by a narrow two percent statewide and by four points in Sonoma county. Petaluma, Sonoma, Windsor and Healdsburg all voted against allowing women to vote; local support was only enthusiastic in Santa Rosa, where male voters approved by a 14 point margin. Suffragists were fought every step of the way by a coalition of social conservatives and the national liquor industry, together dubbed the “anti’s” in the press.
Predictably, the anti’s carped about the measure passing and there were noises about a Sonoma County recount, but nothing came of it. One of the most vocal member of that faction was state Senator J. B. Sanford (D-Ukiah), also editor and publisher of the Ukiah Dispatch-Democrat, who put his unique spin on the results to make it sound as if men had foolishly decided to force women to vote against their will: “The ballot on Equal Suffrage was not a fight between the men and women, but was rather a fight between the women, and the men were called in to decide the matter…it seemed that a majority of women did not wish to assume the extra duty, but the men have said, ‘Ladies, you must vote.'” Still, he encouraged the women of Ukiah to register “…and thus offset the evil that might arise from giving the ballot to some women in the large cities.”
Sanford also couldn’t resist throwing one final misogynist bomb: “[Women] will have to go to the county clerk’s office and submit to many formalities, among which will be to give their visible marks and scars, age and previous condition of servitude, all of which will be open to inspection.”
(RIGHT: This April, 1912 advertisement ran in the Santa Rosa Republican a few days before the first local elections where women could vote, one of several display ads that month with a similar voting theme)
Some confusion arose in the weeks following passage. Technically the amendment didn’t become law until 90 days after the election, but women were already lining up to register in some places; county clerks added women registrars to help. The first woman to register in Sonoma County on Jan. 2, 1912 was Mrs. Jennie Colvin – a milestone little noticed by either Santa Rosa paper – and she wasn’t asked about any scars, or even her exact age; the legislature had changed the voter requirements after the amendment passed, and now the voter only had to swear that he or she was over the age of 21. They still required height be recorded for ID purposes, which caused a minor problem because women at the time wore elaborate hats that could be difficult to position without a mirror. So the County Clerk installed a mirror in the office.
There was also uncertainty whether or not women would have to pay the poll tax to vote, as that part of the election law named only males. It was was quickly decided that women were exempt unless voters passed another amendment to change the language, which was in a different section of the state constitution. Aside from that issue and the need for mirrors, registering new women voters went smoothly and the county soon had an all-time high of over 17 thousand voters. Republicans outnumbered Democrats more than two-to-one, a proportion that must have unnerved Ernest Finley, editor of the fiercely-partisan Press Democrat.
In an ill-conceived Sunday editorial, the PD suggested women needed a “class in politics” to educate them about the differences between Dems and Repubs so they could be sure to pick the right team. A blistering letter to the editor followed in the Santa Rosa Republican, almost certainly written by the indomitable Frances McG. Martin, titled, “MOST WOMEN ARE NOT IDIOTS”.
|It starts out with a request for nonpartisan instruction, and closes with a prayer to “politicians” to tell her why she is a Democrat or Republican…The men and women who worked for the enfranchisement of California women, worked with the hope that women would not prove to be blindly and passionately partisan, and that they would not adopt the methods of the professional politicians and wire puller; but, since the just men gave us the ballot, the women who worked against the cause or were indifferent, have displayed a very lively interest in politics of the old brand. Women are not all idiots, then why should there be such a hue and cry, raised about instructing them as to what they believe and how to prepare and write a ballot?
Then came the local elections that April. Women were eager to vote; the Republican paper told the story of Santa Rosa Police chief Boyes leaving home before dawn to setup polling places, promising his wife he would later “send an automobile for her and some other ladies in the neighborhood” so they could vote. By the time he returned home for breakfast, Cora Boyes had already gone out and cast her ballot as the first voter in their city ward.
Then there was the matter of the prohibition vote. About twenty California towns had ballot items to decide if their community would go “dry.” Locally, Cloverdale held a series of spirited public meetings; at the weekend rally before the vote, Andrea Sbarboro (male), the founder of the Italian Swiss Colony in Asti, made a rare public appearance to speak against the proposal. In the end the township of Cloverdale voted for leaders who promised to clean up the saloons – particularly gambling and serving liquor to minors – but rejected outright prohibition by an almost 2:1 majority. Overall, about half of the towns voting on alcohol went dry; in the Bay Area, only Los Gatos and Mountain View closed their saloons. “FEMALE OF SPECIES AS THIRSTY AS THE MALE,” quipped the Santa Rosa Republican headline. In November, however, county voters did pass an anti-roadhouse ordinance, about which more will be written separately.
But suffrage did not equality make; it would still be a decade in Sonoma County before women were seated on a Superior Court jury, for example. And although Senator Sanford tried to frighten men in 1911 with the image of a helpless mother sequestered late at night with eleven leering men, there were five women jurors on that trial in 1922. Turns out they didn’t need Sanford’s protection at all. Never did.
WOMEN WILL NOT PAY POLL TAXAnother Amendment of the Constitution Would Be Necessary Before Tax Can Be Collected
Many opponents of woman suffrage before and after the recent election declared that the adaption of the amendment allowing women to vote would carry with it the added responsibility of paying poll tax. This, however, is not true.
The right of suffrage was given by the adoption of an amendment to Section 1 of Article 2 of the Constitution of California, and which amendment consisted of stipulating the word “male.” Women could not be allowed the right of suffrage without the addition of the amendment.
The liability for poll tax is fixed also by the constitution of the state: Section 12 of article 13 of the Constitution of the State of California reads as follows…
…So it will be readily seen that the women will not and cannot be required to pay a State poll tax without an amendment to Section 12 of article 13 of the Constitution. In the adoption of such an amendment as will require the women to pay a State poll tax the women will now have the right themselves to vote on such an amendment, and if such an amendment is adopted it necessarily must be done with their consent.– Press Democrat, October 20, 1911REGISTRATION PROVISIONSSome Changes in Registration Laws Are Noted
The recent legislature made a number of changes in the form of the registration blanks used in the registering of voters for the coming elections. The changes were made mostly for the accommodation of women, as a voter under the new law will not have to give his or her age, nor visible marks or scars. The only requirement about the age is that the voter must swear that he or she is over the age of 21 years.
There might be a little dispute over the question of whether the husband or the wife is the head of the house, but the decision is that this question must be settled in the home.
The question of naturalization is also different from the old blanks. A woman of foreign birth must state how she became a citizen–if she became one by the naturalization of her father when she was a minor, by the decree of the court, or by marriage. If by marriage, she must state when she was married, and if she registered under one name and afterwards married, she must re-register. The same rule applies to change of name by divorce.– Santa Rosa Republican, January 1, 1912REGISTRATION OF VOTERS HAS BEGUN
Registration of voters began at the county clerk’s office on the new year…Rev. Peter Colvin and wife, Mrs. Jennie Colvin, registered. Mrs. Colvin was the first lady to register…– Santa Rosa Republican, January 2, 1912M’LADY YOUR HAT CAN COME OFFBig Mirror to be Installed in the Office of the Registrar of Voters in Court House
County Clerk Feit is to install a big mirror in the County Clerk’s office which will add materially to the comfort of the women voters who visit the office for the purpose of registering.
A number of women who have called to register have not been able to give their height and have had to take off their hats prior to standing under the measure. When it came to readjusting their hats without the aid of a mirror, the effort has not proved very successful in some instances.
Hence the providing of the big looking glass by the county clerk.– Press Democrat, January 28, 1912
MOST WOMEN ARE NOT IDIOTS
Will you please explain the following clipping, taken from the Sunday morning paper?
There has been this past fortnight several expressions regarding the establishment of a non-partisan class in politics for women. If some of the deep-thinking politicians would volunteer to discuss simple political problems from purely unselfish standpoints, they would undoubtedly be listened to with interest and pleasure. Last week one new voter asked: “Will you ask some Democrat and Republican to briefly state through the press, why I am a Democrat and why I am a Republican?” Attention! politicians, tell us why.
It starts out with a request for nonpartisan instruction, and closes with a prayer to “politicians” to tell her why she is a Democrat or Republican. A non-partisan, in politics, is one who is not blindly or passionately attached to any political party, so defined by the standard dictionaries. The men and women who worked for the enfranchisement of California women, worked with the hope that women would not prove to be blindly and passionately partisan, and that they would not adopt the methods of the professional politicians and wire puller; but, since the just men gave us the ballot, the women who worked against the cause or were indifferent, have displayed a very lively interest in politics of the old brand.
Women are not all idiots, then why should there be such a hue and cry, raised about instructing them as to what they believe and how to prepare and write a ballot? The Los Angeles women certainly demonstrated the fact that they could vote more rapidly and mark their ballots more accurately than a great many men voters. Any man or woman who is fit to cast a ballot can master the mechanical part of it in ten minutes. Each voter is furnished with a sample ballot not more than ten nor less than five days before an election. Full directions are printed upon those sample ballots, and the woman voter, as well as the man, can take her time and mark her sample ballot as she intends to vote, take it with her to the voting booth and use it as a model by which to stamp her real ballot.
No woman can vote who cannot read the constitution in the English language and write her name, then why can she not read the able editorials which appear in the leading papers and magazines, and deal with the vital questions of the day. If she have children in the public schools, let her take up with them the study of civics as set forth in a state text book of that name and sold for sixty (60) cents. Any woman can afford to buy one for herself. In the History of the United States, published by the state for use in the public schools–price eighty (80) cents–she will find both the state and national constitutions, and a history of bot the Democratic and Republican parties. If she desires to study Socialism, she can secure the literature of that party at a nominal price, or she can attend the lectures delivered in all parts of the country by the best Socialist speakers.
For a number of years, women, in constantly increasing numbers, have attended public political meetings; in fact, the writer has often heard men complain that the non-voters crowded out the voters; that the tired men had to stand if they wished to hear the speeches, while the women occupied their seats. Now, why do they not know whether they are Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, nonpartisan, etc.? Women have now, as they have always had, men relatives and friends, who are willing to talk over all kinds of questions with them, but why pose as idiots without minds of their own? I sometimes wonder that men gave the ballot to women at all, as so many women disclaim all title to reason and judgement; but I conclude that the men relatives of good, level-headed, conscientious and devoted mothers, sister, wives, daughters and sweethearts, who are strangers to afternoon bridge, divorce courts, etc., felt that such women are in the majority and that they would do their duty toward their homes, state and nation.
Women of Sonoma county, it is our duty to inform ourselves by reading, conversation and observation as to the measures most important to be voted upon, the candidates most likely to carry out the best of those measures, if elected, and vote accordingly; to vote for the best measures and best candidates, irrespective of party lines, and not need to be “told” by somebody just how we must vote; after hearing all sides, let us conscientiously decide that for ourselves.
Let us vote for members of the legislature and congress who are not so anxious to make new laws, as to simplify and embody in plain English the laws now in existence, so that any citizen of common intelligence may read and understand them, and it may not require years for the courts to interpret them.
And let us no longer play at being feeble-minded–the day has passed when that pose appeals to any man whose regard is worth having.
ONE OF THE NEW VOTERS.– Santa Rosa Republican, March 12, 1912MANY LADIES VOTING AT MUNICIPAL ELECTIONSome Interesting Happening With the Fair Suffragists
Santa Rosa’s first election at which the ladies voted has almost passed into history and that it was all the better for the influence which the ladies exerted cannot be doubted even by those who have heretofore been opposed to the injection of the ladies into politics. Many had caused their names to be placed on the great register, giving their ages, to be permitted to cast their ballots at this election. They are the pioneers in the suffrage cause. The others, who waited until the law made it unnecessary to give their ages, failed to get the privilege of the ballot at the municipal election.
During the hours of the forenoon and afternoon the ladies went to the polls, many preferring to walk and cast their vote than to avail themselves of the time-honored custom of the men to ride in automobiles or buggies. To show that they were awake to the privileges and enthusiastic, some of them were at the polls quite early in the morning.
In at least two instances ladies were absolutely the first to vote…
…At 12 o’clock figures were obtained from each of the polls in the city, and the table given below shows the the total number of votes cast, and the number of women who had voted: [Votes cast to that time: 808 “Ladies”: 284]
Many amusing incidents were narrated on the fair sex, one being to the effect that one lady left her ballot lying on the desk after having marked it, and failed to hand it to the judge of election to be placed in the ballot box, and that another lady marked her ballot and then calmly folded it up and placed it in her pocket.
Chief of police Boyes arose at 4:30 o’clock Tuesday morning to go with City Clerk Charles D. Clawson to distribute the election ballots and paraphernalia. Mrs. Boyes asked her husband regarding her going to the polls and he informed her that during the afternoon he would send an automobile for her and some other ladies in the neighborhood. After the chief had gone, Mrs. Boyes arose and dressed herself, wended her way to the polls and when Chief Boyes had returned to his breakfast, the good wife calmly informed him that she had cast her ballot.
[..]– Santa Rosa Republican, April 2, 1912