“Honest & Fearless,” someone scrawled under a snapshot of him in the California archives, but many more were inclined to denounce him as a disgrace to the State Senate in which he served. He claimed to be speaking on behalf of the natural order intended by “God Almighty,” but critics argued he was the mouthpiece for the liquor industry. He insisted he was just defending the traditional domestic roles of women; a great many saw him as a bully demanding continued discrimination against them.
State Senator J. B. Sanford (D-Ukiah) was the de facto leader of those in California opposed to women’s suffrage during the years before the October, 1911 vote in the state. Every voter was mailed a pamphlet with excerpts of his “grandmother speech” which mocked suffragists and their demands for equality.
His hateful and misogynistic opinions may seem ridiculous today but in viewing history, context is everything. The passage of suffrage in California is all the more remarkable once you realize how extreme Sanford’s views were, and that so many male voters agreed with him. San Francisco, Alameda, and Marin Counties all opposed giving women the right to vote, and suffrage was likewise defeated in Petaluma, Sonoma, Windsor and Healdsburg. It won in Santa Rosa by 14 points, which gave it the boost to pass in Sonoma county overall by four percent. See “THE SUMMER WHEN WOMEN WON THE VOTE” for more background.
As part of the Petaluma Historical Library & Museum suffrage centennial exhibit, we put together a “pseudo-radio play” that imagines a 1911 interview with Sanford. In it he reads a portion of that infamous speech and has a short debate with Frances McG. Martin, the eloquent President of the Santa Rosa Political Equality Club who frequently jousted with Sanford on the editorial pages of the Santa Rosa Republican. In the production almost all of Sanford’s remarks and most of Martin’s are drawn directly from original sources.
Like a certain orange-hued impeachee, Sanford was an anti-intellectual populist. Today we’d also call him a radical Libertarian; when he ran for the nomination for governor in 1914 he vowed to repeal “about three-fourths of all the laws” and change the state constitution so that the legislature would meet only once every four years.
Some of the cloddish things said by Sanford need annotation. He often called his foes “long haired men” and “short haired women.” Yeah, he did make homophobic slurs (in the full Senate speech he tossed off the line, “we all despise a mannish woman and an effeminate, sissy man”) but the hair-length jibes were really shorthand political insults.
Sanford did not come to oppose suffrage for politically opportunistic reasons in 1911 – his misogyny against what he called “the New Woman” can be traced at least as far back as 1900. That year he praised a commencement address given at a women’s college where a Georgia judge said women shouldn’t expect equal rights until they proved themselves equal to men. “Woman is now an experiment in the working world. She is a new competitor with man. When she becomes established, and whenever she demonstrates to the world and to herself that she is a fixture, her rights will surely follow.” (It’s probably needless to say that the graduating students were indignant over his speech.) Sanford never said anything quite as crazy as that, but he embraced the same point: Women did not deserve equality and “the New Woman” was being pushy by insisting they did.
He often identified his male adversaries as the Los Angeles “long hairs” – pastors and other religious conservatives – who called for prohibition and tough laws against vice. LA was “the promised city for white Protestant America,” as historian Kevin Starr put it, “prudish, smug and chemically pure.” The “chemically pure” remark comes from a famous 1913 essay that bemoaned LA had been taken over by intolerant moral purists from the Midwest with a “frenzy for virtue.” Besides hating them for wanting more regulations passed, Sanford and others believed the Angelenos supported women’s suffrage because they hoped it would lead to voter approval of a completely “bone-dry” version of Prohibition.
As heard in the imagined debate between Sanford and Martin, he did not hesitate to trot out misinformation and flagrant lies to plead his case against suffrage. He might have made up some of it, but the “antis” had been propagandizing the Big Lie for years.
Sanford repeatedly said it was shown that most women did not want the right to vote. He based that on a non-binding 1895 referendum held in Massachusetts, where both men and women could vote to put suffrage on the general ballot. The pro-suffrage side lost badly, although almost every woman who voted wanted it to pass. Yet it failed because only four percent of the women in the state came out to vote in the referendum. The anti-suffrage groups such as the “Man Suffrage Association” (!) spun this result as meaning 96 percent of the women were opposed to suffrage – a completely dishonest interpretation.
The 1911 suffrage campaign wasn’t the end of Sanford’s political career, but he didn’t run again for office. He was mentioned often in the Santa Rosa papers as passing through to his cottage in Dillon Beach, where he apparently lived most of the time. But until his Senate term expired in 1914 he pursued his other favorite bias: Racism.
Since 1907 he had been trying to get his anti-Japanese alien land bill through the state legislature; Sanford was not shy in admitting that his intent was that “California should be maintained as a white man’s country.” After raising alarm in Washington by his big push for passage in 1912-1913, the progressive Governor Hiram Johnson hijacked the issue and passed a watered-down version that had little impact on Japanese farmers and smoothed over Japanese-American diplomatic tensions caused by Sanford’s bill and his acerbic racist comments.
One of the brightest, ablest and most genial young men in the house of representatives is Judge J. M. Griggs of Georgia. Usually he is a man of great discretion and tact, but unless the Baltimore Sun is the greatest liar in the country the judge recently stirred up a most ablebodied hornets’ nest in delivering an address at Rome. Ga., to the graduating class of Shorter College For Young Ladies, for he tackled the new woman and pronounced a eulogy for the old fashioned woman which it does the heart good to read, but which is liable to bring down on the judge’s devoted head the wrath of every short haired woman in the land, and I fear that my genial friend will not have as easy sailing in the contest which he has evoked as he generally has in his debates with his fellow congressmen, where he is thoroughly capable of holding his own. I have no doubt that somehow he will be able to come out victor, but he will need to have all his wits about him. No doubt the judge was influenced by patriotic and philanthropic motives. His address as reported in The Sun is one of the most brilliant that I ever read. It shines and glistens and sparkles like the ocean in the morning sunshine. But the trouble is, the more it shone and the more it glistened and sparkled the madder his audience got, for it was composed of young women who want to belong to the new woman class.
– Ukiah Dispatch Democrat, August 31, 1900
The “long haired men” and the “short haired women” are all in favor of woman suffrage. The courageous, chivalrous and manly men and the womanly women, the real mothers and home builders of the country, are opposed to this innovation in American political life. There was a bill before the legislature (The Sanford bill) which proposed to leave the matter to the women of the state, before the men should vote on it. The suffragettes, knowing full well that the women would vote down this measure, caused its defeat. Why the women would have beaten it ten to one. The club women and the mannish women, and the effeminate, sissy men are for the suffrage amendment. Let the men and women who are in favor of keeping the home pure and sacred come out in the open and defeat this amendment. The election will take place Oct. 10th.
– Ukiah Dispatch Democrat, September 22, 1911
Extracts from A Speech Against Woman’s Suffrage
Delivered by Senator J. B. Sanford in the California State Senate
Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Senate: I bow in humble submission to the absolute supremacy of woman so long as she is woman, but when she leaves her sphere she abdicates her throne and throws down the scepter of her power. The gentle influence that goes out from the little circle where woman is queen shapes the destinies of nations. The bedside prayer of one pure, noble. Christian woman far outweighs all the work of all the mannish female politicians on earth. (Applause)
Men and woman are constituted differently and have different spheres of usefulness. We all admire a manly man and a womanly woman. We all despise a mannish woman and an effeminate, sissy man! The attempt to confer upon woman those duties and responsibilities that are distinctly for men is entirely wrong as it will blunt their finer sensibilities and bring to the front a political type of woman whose conduct and characteristic are repellant to those who cherish conservative and reverent ideals of womanhood.
Woman has her sphere in life and so has man and they cannot be changed without producing an ill effect. Man’s chivalry, love, respect and esteem for woman will never allow him to do aught but what is for her good. And any attempt to shove woman into man’s sphere to be tossed about where men congregate will lessen the respect and esteem for her. There isn’t a man on earth but what respects woman as woman and who would not defend her unto death to preserve her good name and honor. He would go further for the defense of fair woman than in any other cause on earth. But this pro- position of shoving woman into too much familiarity with men breeds contempt and lessens the regard for her.
HOME, THE PLACE FOR WOMAN
Man can attend to all the affairs of a governmental nature. But in order that our country shall endure we must look to the home side of life. The home is the place for woman. God knows she has enough to do there in bringing up the little ones in the way they should go. If she does that duty well and trains up the modest daughter with gentle influences and makes the young boy regardful of the respect that is due his sister and his playmates’ sisters all will be well with this republic of ours. (Applause.)
WOMANS SUFFRAGE A FAILURE
In the states where woman suffrage has been tried it hqs proven to be a failure and the people wish they could undo the wrong they have done. The great majority of women do not want to vote and thus have the added responsibility of serving on juries and doing man’s work. The real mothers and home builders are opposed to this measure. They do not want the sanctity of their home invaded by every little constable that may be traveling up and down the highway for office. (Cheers.)
KEEP THE HOMES PURE.
Let us keep our homes pure and independent and all will be well with the republic. Let us make them homes o£ refinement in which we shall teach our daughters that modesty, gentleness and patience are the charms of woman. Let us make them temples of liberty in which we shall teach our sons that an honest conscience is every man’s first political law, that no force can rob him and no splendor justify the surrender of the simplest right of a free and independent citizen.
PENDULUM HAS SWUNG TOO FAR.
My friends, we have drifted too far from the ideals of the fathers of the republic. The pendulum has swung too far. We have too much new era and too much new woman. Why if some of the old grandmothers that have rocked the cradle of earth’s greatest patriots and reared the best women on earth could be called back to earth they would be astounded beyond comprehension. Let good old grandma come back and take a walk down the street with us and see what meets her gaze. Suddenly a something approaches her, and she eyes the “what-is-it” in amazement.
THE NEW MAN AND THE NEW WOMAN.
It has on a fried collar and a boiled shirt, has a bushy head of hair not unlike a Hottentot, wears a hat about the size of your hand. It also wears one eyeglass, sucks a cane and talks with a drawl. Being told it was a Man suffragette grandma mutters ” what strange things we see when we haven’t got a gun” and soliloquizes as follows;
“A very small brain and a very small cane
And a sweet button-hole bouquet;
A very small hat and a pocket book flat
Wears the nice young man of today.”
Grandma proceeds a little further when a ruffling of skirts causes her to take off her spectacles and view a kangaroo shape that approaches. It has on a man’s shirt front, a collar and tie to match, wears tan shoes and hen skin hose. It has on a hat that sticks out over a half a mile with a multitude of birds and an ostrich on it. It wears a coat, the sleeves of which look like a sack of hops, and walks with a gait that reminds one of a pair of bars as it jumps along in its hobble skirts. Grandma rubs her eyes as the kangaroo shape hops by m its skirts with a large valise-like pocket book satchel in one hand. Being told it was a Suffragette, she soliloquizes thusly:
“A very sweet smile and a bushel of style
And a hat towering up to the sky;
A nobby silk dress and a dog to caress
And a sofa on which to lie.” Is this the woman of today? (Prolonged applause and laughter.)
DEFINITION OF A SUFFRAGETIE
(At this juncture a voice from the gallery asks “What is a Suffragette”?)
“I will tell you,” continued the Senator, “by reading from a letter of a dear old mother in Oakland.— A Suffragette is a mannish woman who kisses lap dogs instead of babies and who wants to raise hell but no children” (Wild applause in gallery and hisses from Suffragettes.)
A Suffragette is a woman who believes in single blessedness and would decimate the race if she could. With her the world is all wrong. She wants to regulate the birth rate of the nation and propigate her own species by a process of chemical analysis or “Chickaluma incubation”. Now, if she will only regulate the death rate the problem of human life will have been solved. (Tumultuous applause and laughter.)
Oh, you kid, I’ll get you yet, you Suffragette!
A GLANCE INTO THE FUTURE
Poor old grandma, of whom we were just speaking, sees how the pendulum has swung the wrong way and goes back to her grave and turns over with a sigh. But if she returns to this realm fifty years hence she will see still greater wonders. Time has wrought great changes and wonderful changes are yet to come.
We are standing in the daybreak of he 20th century and wonderful things will the mind of man evolve. Paraphrasing Bob Taylor, I think some magician greater even than Edison will coax the laws of nature into easy compliance with his dreams. He will invent a huge tube and call it the “Electroscoot”. Passengers will enter it at one end in New York, press the button and arrive in San Francisco two hours before they started. An invention will be made where by the young man of the future can stand at his “Kissophone” in Sacramento and kiss his sweetheart in San Francisco with the same delightful sensations as though he were holding her hand. Some noble Liebig will, by a concentration of the elements of food, enable a man to carry a whole years’ provisions in his vest pocket. Senator Charley Shortridge can then store his raiment in the head of his cane and the commissary department of the entire army need consist of but one lop-eared mule and a pair of saddle bags. Some dreaming learuss will perfect the flying machine and on the aluminum wings of the swift Pegasus of the air the light hearted society girl will sail among the stars and behind a dark cloud where no one’s allowed, make love to the man in the moon. The rainbow will be converted into a vast Ferris wheel. All men will become baldheaded and learn to sing sweet baby songs as they rock the cradle and wash the dishes. The women will wear bloomers and run the government——and then the world will come to an end. Cheers.
And, from out of the wreck of world and the dissolution of nature and the smoke and dust of the awful crash will emerge a Suffragette; and seating herself on the top rail of creation she will shake the dust and ashes out of her feathers and look around over the ruin she has wrought and say; Well, haven’t I raised h—?” (Laughter and applause.)
– Ukiah Dispatch Democrat, September 22, 1911