Women's Suffrage at 100

Randall Stephens

San Diegans will mark the centennial of women's right to vote in their state with a "Suffrage Parade" on August 28. (On October 10, 1911, an amendment on Rights of Suffrage passed by a popular vote of 125,037 in favor and 121,450 opposed.) Beautiful Balboa Park will set the scene for the gathering, which marks a major milestone for democracy. The march is sponsored by the Women's Museum of California. Organizers encourage participants to don "Suffrage outfits to march across the Laurel Street Bridge in celebration of 100 years of voting rights for California women." I hope it's not too hot for that, but knowing San Diego's predictable weather, I'm pretty sure it will be a great day.

California granted voting rights to women nine years before the nation did with the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed that the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." But even in the West, a region that was far ahead on social issues like this, there was considerable debate. It gives us some much needed perspective to consider how fiercely many Americans fought against suffrage. Both sides thought the stakes were extremely high. Why did opponents think women's suffrage was such a bad idea? What was the nature of the debate?

I paste here a selection from Dora Oliphant Coe's September 5, 1911 Los Angeles Times editorial. (The Times was an outspoken conservative paper in the early 20th century.) Notice the arguments against enfranchisement, especially the typical remark about "enslavement." Here Coe is summarizing the arguments of a prominent anti-suffragist: