California first attempted to get suffrage passed in 1896. It failed. In 1910, a newly elected progressive* administration took office and the time was ripe to try again.
The California Suffrage Campaign of 1911 was the largest and most intense campaign so far. Women had only eight months to organize to get suffrage on the ballot in time for the next election. The general public views on the question of suffrage were more “indifferent” or “amused” by the idea rather than being outright against it. So instead of being argumentative or combative, the suffragists chose to promote positive messages of hope and connection.
There was a large push for advertising and merchandising to get out the message. There were billboards, posters, playing cards, pennants, buttons, shopping bags, even electric signs! Thousands of pamphlets were printed and distributed. There were lectures, high school essay contests, pageants, plays, picnics, and rallies even in the most rural of areas. The appeal was personal and speakers often opened with this type of suggested line, "I appeal to you as a mother, a grandmother, as a garment worker, a school teacher, a trained nurse . . . as the case might be.”
Being such a large state, the suffrage campaign was lead by three groups. Clara Shortridge Foltz of the Votes for Women Club and Pasadena businessman John Hyde Braly of the Political Equality League covered the south. Former pastor, Elizabeth Lowe Watson, led the California Equal Suffrage Association in the north. Smaller local suffrage groups in each area also reached out to their individual communities.
Despite all the enthusiasm and hard work, on election night, the referendum was overwhelmingly defeated in San Francisco and barely passed in Los Angeles. With such disheartening numbers from two large cities, the suffragists were ready to accept the loss and start planning to try again when the results from small districts and outlying counties started pouring in. The tide was turning but the vote was incredibly close.
The final tally was 125,037 to 121,450, a difference of 3,587 votes for the entire state. That averages out to 1 vote in every district that put suffrage over the top. Next time someone says a single vote doesn’t count, remember the passage of suffrage in California turned on an incredibly small margin. Granting suffrage in the state of California doubled the number of women in the United States who were now eligible to vote.
*Historical party platforms have changed dramatically despite keeping the same names. The 1910 Republicans were the more liberal party, wanted income taxes, and favored big government over state’s rights and the 1910 Democrats were the conservative party that fought against taxes and big government as explained in Episode 23.
This week’s song pick:
“Jiya Re” from the Bollywood movie “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” (As Long as I Live) sung by Neeti Mohan https://youtu.be/smn3mDBOUy4
Episode 52 Sources: