Woman suffrage and politics
A New Impulse
There was light ahead. The influence of the Populist Party had disappeared and politics had settled back into the old rut in the late '90's, but within the decade that followed there were premonitions of another outburst against “invisible government.“ Old party bonds were straining again. Making the most of conditions, the National Suffrage Association focussed first on the State of Washington, where an intelligent, earnest campaign was conducted by the National Association's Washington auxiliary, assisted by organizers sent by the National. In the result the Legislature of Washington submitted a suffrage amendment in 1909, to be voted upon in 1910. In spite of a regional rivalry that split the State into two separate suffrage camps, one on its eastern slope, one on its western, the campaign moved straight forward to victory and astounded the nation with a 24,000 majority. A prominent liquor campaign manager in disgusted tone said the result “was solely due to the fact that the brewers were off guard, thinking there was no danger.“
A few contributions from individuals and State associations were sent to Washington, but the cost of the entire campaign did not exceed $6,000. The brewers were undoubtedly misled by the quiet character of the campaign. To their inaction and to the incipient political uprising the suffrage movement owes the first great impulse on the “home stretch.“
California was the next centre of activity. In 1910 a new political party was organized in California and was called Progressive, the forerunner of the national party of 1912. Five parties, in consequence, had tickets in the field that year. Each carried a plank pledging submission of a woman suffrage amendment. The Legislature of 1911 carried out the political promises given and submitted woman suffrage, one of twenty-three propositions, the vote to take place at a special election on October 10, 1911. All parties supported it at the polls.
Northern and southern California, which like eastern and western Washington, do not always dwell in brotherly love, conducted each its own campaign. But the competition thus stimulated was friendly. Southern California, having been carried in the campaign of 1896, was on its mettle to save its record. Northern California, remembering that Sacramento and San Francisco had lost the State in 1896, was determined to prevent a repetition of that catastrophe. Inspired by the victory in Washington, all the liberal-minded elements of the State worked unitedly and effectively. The political parties, all women's and most men's organizations, the churches, the educational institutions, the press, all pulled together under the direction of an able and energetic central committee. The National Suffrage Association and its auxiliaries in other States helped with money, speakers and material. Every village had at least one meeting and the cities had a succession of rallies crowded to the doors, with overflows to take care of late comers. Millions of pages of literature were disseminated, hundreds of thousands of suffrage buttons were distributed, and plate matter was provided the press. In addition to suffrage news, the papers carried controversial articles on suffrage, while suffrage pennants and posters covered the State in every direction.
Ten thousand suffragists worked early and late throughout the six months of campaign, confidently carrying the slogan, “We are going to win,“ to the remotest corners of the State. So omnipresent was the insistent suffrage propaganda that the twenty-two other constitutional amendments were thrust into the background and thousands read and talked of woman suffrage only, day after day. No previous campaign had been so thorough-going, so triumphant in spirit from the first. Its participants to this day recall it with sparkling eyes and say, “Ah, it was a great campaign!“
Yet the victorious majority in the election was only 3,500.*
San Francisco again went heavily against the amendment, all voting Chinese being again rounded up against it as in 1896. The adverse city vote had to be, and fortunately was, overcome by the outlying districts. It was evident that no opponent had been “off guard“ in California. When it was over, few took time to note the fact that Washington with a small campaign had won by a big majority, while California with a big campaign had won by a small majority.
Washington had given the suffrage movement a decided impulse. California gave it a veritable boom. Suffragists in all the States were amazed at the distinct change of attitude occasioned by the action of California. In November, 1912, suffrage amendments were submitted to the electors in six States (Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio) to be voted on. In several other States, where the action of two successive Legislatures was required, amendments passed the first stage.
When Arizona prepared for statehood the women had made a statewide and stirring appeal for either the inclusion of woman suffrage in the constitution, or the submission of a separate suffrage amendment. The vicious interests of the State held so decided a balance of power that the convention that was drafting the constitution refused both appeals. The women made their appeal to every Legislature thereafter, to no avail. Even the Legislature of 1912, with a public sentiment much aroused by the action of its neighbor, California, the year before, followed its predecessors in refusing the women's petition. But when the initiative and referendum had once been established in Arizona, the women turned from the recalcitrant Legislature to this new weapon of democracy. The petitions for a referendum on woman suffrage were filed July 5, 1912. The election took place in November. Republicans and Democrats had persistently refused to endorse even the submission of suffrage, the Legislature had carried out the same policy of ignoring it, but there was a complete volte face after the National Progressive Party, with Theodore Roosevelt as its standard bearer, had adopted a suffrage plank. Both parties not only endorsed the amendment but rendered hearty support to the campaign. With every party carrying a plank in its platform, every county was carried and the State gave a majority of 7,240 for the amendment.
In Kansas, by 1912, the bitter partisanship of 1894 had long since disappeared, scars only showing where it had once raged to the undoing of the reason of the State. The women had continued voting in the municipal elections in numbers nearly equal to those of men. The Legislature, as a long overdue act of justice, submitted the suffrage amendment to vote in 1912. The campaign was a quiet, uneventful and modest one, but directed by able women whose self-sacrifice was conspicuous. The amendment was carried by a majority of 10,787.
Oregon had in all six referenda on woman suffrage. The campaign in 1906 had been desperately fought by all the vicious elements of the population. After that date the women took the matter into their own hands and secured a submission by initiative and referendum petitions in 1908, 1910 and 1912. In 1910 they decided to ask suffrage for tax-paying women, since under the State law a woman owning nothing but a suit of clothes could pay a voluntary tax of a few cents on her clothes and thus make herself a voter. By mistake the amendment was so worded in the initiative petition as to cover full suffrage and neither the women nor the thousands of voters who signed the petition perceived it until a short time before election. Both suffragists and antis appealed to the officials to have the description of the amendment on the ballots made to conform to the fact, but in vain. It was printed as a full suffrage amendment with a tax suffrage heading. Had the amendment carried, it would have established full suffrage unless the courts had thrown it out. The women had believed that less hostility on the part of the combined vice interests would be shown to suffrage for tax-paying women, but the usual campaign was waged, each saloon getting out its regular quota. The following year, the women returned to the usual suffrage amendment.
In 1912, however, the suffragists of Oregon had a new argument. “Since Oregon is bounded on the north by Washington where women vote, on the south by California where women vote, on the east by Idaho and Wyoming where women vote, why should not the women of Oregon vote?“ The voters answered at the polls with an affirmative majority of 4,161.*
There was great rejoicing over these three victories of 1912, both within and without the triumphant States. Church bells were rung, processions carrying tokens of victory passed through city streets, sermons were preached, speeches made, and a greatly enlarged sale of text books on government followed. In Pittsburgh, Kansas, 200 women gathered around a big bonfire to celebrate, with thousands assembled to see the sight. At a given signal they threw old bonnets into the fire as a symbol of the passing of the old fashion in politics and the coming of the new.
The other three campaigns of 1912 met a different fate. The story of Ohio is so remarkable that it is told in a separate chapter. In Michigan and Wisconsin the campaigns were as ably conducted, as enthusiastically supported, the favorable sentiment as generally manifest through the press, resolutions of organizations, expressions of prominent men, quite as pronounced as in the winning States. But suffrage was defeated. A review will suffice to show what defeated it in both States.
From 1874, when the first referendum was submitted, suffragists of Michigan had continuously appealed to each successive Legislature for the submission of a suffrage amendment. The only variation was between the years 1883 and 1893 when an effort was made to secure municipal suffrage, which was granted in 1893, though the Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional before it was put into effect. Centering their efforts thereafter upon an amendment, the women had supported their demand in all the known ways of giving evidence of public sentiment-petitions of constituents, meetings, hearings, press and literature appeals. A petition of 175,000 had been presented to the constitutional convention of 1907-8 as part of an extensive campaign, but even that body, whose sole business it was to submit amendments to the constitution to the electors of the State, had denied the voters the right of an expression of opinion. The Legislature of 1911 had followed its predecessors with the same refusal.
A special session of the same Legislature, however, was called in March, 1912, and Gov. Osborn included in the call the recommendation that a constitutional amendment relative to the right of women to vote should be submitted to the electors. Meanwhile several other States had submitted the question. Moreover, the coming schism in the Republican party was showing unmistakable evidence. The Republican Governor was a friend of woman suffrage. The Republican party had been in full control of the Legislature since the Civil War, and the Legislature now concluded that 38 years was an overlong record for continual refusal to allow the electors the right to express themselves upon the question. The same Legislature that had refused submission in 1911 granted it in 1912.
The campaign that followed was triumphant in character. No unfortunate or unpleasant incidents occurred. But when the time came to print the ballots an altercation arose as to method. It was the duty of each county clerk to print them for his county, always a dangerous provision, but in this case the opportunity for irregularity was much increased by two facts, one because the ballots were to be separate and the other because the Legislature had given three suggestions for printing the question, to one of which the ballots must universally conform. In response to queries from bewildered clerks and anxious suffragists, the Secretary of State issued instructions to all clerks to follow the uniform plan of printing the full text of the amendment on the ballot. The situation produced was well suited to political chicanery. Many clerks ignored and many jumbled the instructions. Suffragists familiar with methods of juggling election returns faced election day with dread.
The early returns showed favorable figures and the suffrage majority steadily climbed to 8,000. But many scattered precincts mysteriously withheld their returns without explanation. One by one these were released, cutting the majority to 5,000, where it seemed established and Michigan was announced to the world as another suffrage State. Then the delayed precincts began sifting in their returns, each with a suspiciously large adverse majority, until the favorable majority became a slightly adverse one. Many weeks had been consumed in the process and nerve-racked suffragists, knowing precisely what was taking place, stood helpless before the deliberate theft of an election.
The well known method by which crooked politics counts out candidates and measures by withholding returns from controllable precincts, until returns from the rest of the State show how large an adverse vote is required to wipe out the favorable one, had been brazenly applied, the withheld precincts being finally released with a sufficiently large adverse vote to accomplish defeat. The better elements of the entire State arose in protest. Suffragists engaged counsel and filed petitions for recounts in suspected sections, notably the large cities. Though the hand that had performed the trick was well hidden, it became evident that some power in collusion with local election officials of both parties had accomplished by fraud what could not be done by an honest vote. Saloon-keepers, bar-tenders, pool-room managers, the puppets of political directors who had connived at the misprint of the ballots, now came forward with writs of mandamus to compel injunctions restraining the boards of canvassers from counting these ballots. Great irregularity was revealed in five counties. Without these counties the State had been carried by a large majority. Governor Osborn issued a ringing denunciation of the liquor interests which were clearly attempting to defeat the will of the people, in which he said:
“If the liquor interests defeat the amendment by fraud, proved or suspected, the people of Michigan will retaliate in my opinion by adopting statewide prohibition; the question seems to be largely one as to whether the liquor interests own and control and run Michigan.“
Thirteen precincts in Detroit were still withheld but after the Governor's charge of trickery, nine came in with large adverse majorities. The count was still further delayed to get an opinion from the Supreme Court which finally declared that all the ballots must be counted as printed. A recount was now demanded by press and public. A conference of public men was called to consider the situation and was attended by prominent men from different parts of the State, including many eminent lawyers. The conference demanded a recount, but it also declared for a resubmission of the question by the Legislature, the election to take place at the spring municipal election in the event that the recount proved that the amendment was lost.
Despite the many obstacles imposed, the recount was finally secured, the entire nation watching the result, for it had now become less the question of woman suffrage than the honor of Michigan that was at stake.
So skillfully had the party election officers managed their frauds that the official count of Saginaw County, which on the original report showed 1,300 majority against, now increased it by 1,200; that of Ottawa County, first reporting 2,139 majority against, increased it by 561; and St. Clair County doubled her adverse majority of 530. The Wayne County (Detroit) recount showed 12,000 ballots not initialed by election officers as required by law and an application was made to the Circuit Court to determine the status of these ballots. The court denied the application to have them thrown out. A cry went up from all parts of the State to take an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Michigan was in a turmoil of political excitement. It was rumored that the county clerks would be arrested and tried on the charge of falsely printing the ballots with malicious intent. A story went the rounds that the saloons had been assessed in proportion to their sales and that the liquor interests had worked under common direction. In after years the brewers confessed that this had been long their established custom, but at the time the liquor representatives loudly denied both charges and the Michigan public was still unconvinced that the politics of their State was under control of the wets. Many citizens, not suffragists, were convinced that the bipartisan election officials had connived at a miscount, whoever might have paid the bill, and joined in the demand for investigation.
Party politics also entered the lists. The Chairman of the National Progressive Committee, Senator Dixon, wired the national committeeman of Michigan, Henry M. Wallace, the “situation appears suspicious“ and asked him to prevent the amendment from being defeated by corruption. Thereupon Mr. Wallace gave out a public statement charging that the Republican party controlled the election machinery and that “the same elements are now fighting the suffragists that opposed us. They are crooked business and crooked politics, the saloon element allied with machine politicians.“ The Republicans replied with denials. Meanwhile the weeks passed by, the Legislature met and no end was in sight. It had become clearer each day that the discrepancies and irregularities were so numerous, yet so tangled, that the truth concerning the election would never be uncovered by recount or court decision and that the best plan was to hold another election.
The election returns finally agreed upon as official, although under the suspicion of fraud, were: Yes, 247,375; No, 248,135, an adverse majority of 760.
The State Suffrage Association held its annual convention in Lansing, January 16, 1913. The newly inaugurated Governor Ferres had urged resubmission in his message, and the Lieutenant-Governor and the Speaker of the House not only invited the convention to visit the Legislature but both Houses adjourned in order to receive it. The entire convention (150 delegates) accepted the invitation and its representatives addressed the Legislature “amid thunderous applause.“
The women had sworn statements of ballots not given out to voters; of ballots missing in the final count, of contents of ballot boxes burned before the recount could be taken; of suffrage ballots refused to voters when called for; of ballots marked both yes and no, of amendment ballots taken out and brought back two hours later, and that thirteen precincts in the city of Detroit had held back their count for one month. With such an arraignment of an election, few Legislatures would have taken the responsibility of refusing a resubmission. But suffrage opponents had frankly announced that they would be able to postpone any action by the Legislature until after the date of the April election, and legislators who had shared in the conspiracy to secure false returns in their constituencies now boldly advertised that, their constituency having gone against the amendment, they would vote against resubmission. Yet on February 20, the House resubmitted the amendment, 74 to 21; the Senate in March, 25 to 5. The vote was set for April 7, 1913, leaving a month for the campaign.
The State had been so completely aroused, the press and the people had so poignantly felt the disgrace of an election so clearly fraudulent, that the tired suffragists rested in a false security. Not so the opponents. Rumors were soon afloat that cash prizes were offered saloon men for increasing their quota of the anti vote, and the Republican and Democratic machines were suspiciously uninterested.
The German-American Alliance, Carl Bauer, President, in March, 1913, circularized the members of the “Staatsverbund Michigan“ telling each “German brother“ just how to vote no on the woman suffrage amendment on April 7. Said the leaflet:
“If the suffrage would be laid into the hands of the nativeborn American woman only, the results, which surely will follow, can easily be predicted. Narrow-mindedness will triumph everywhere; fanaticism will flourish; prohibitionists and their refuse, the Anti-Saloon League, will easily set up for dictators in the State of Michigan.“
There is no allusion in the leaflet to the temperance issue and it showed no connection with the brewers whose decoy the Alliance was.
The returns from the April election were: Yes, 168,738; No, 264,882. The total vote in November had been 495,510; the total vote in April was 433,620. The number of “no votes“ was increased by 16,747. The “yes votes“ fell off to the astounding number of 78,637. “The wets had worked like mad,“ the press said. The municipal election was of small interest to rural voters, which accounted for a considerable loss. Some rural precincts recorded no vote at all on any issue. The over-confidence of suffrage men that the amendment was certain of an enormous vote accounted for a further loss. Twenty-five counties had fewer “no votes“ than in the first election and sixteen had not to exceed 100 increase in the “no vote.“ Of the 16,747 increase of the “no votes,“ 13,000 were gained in counties where a wet and dry contest was in progress. The wet interest in the question was evidenced by the fact that the next heavy vote fell 47,000 behind the total suffrage vote.
By what means the wets increased the adverse vote will never be known; but that it represented honest public opinion few believed. One point stood forth nakedly startling: All the frauds, irregularities and delays of the first election could not have been possible without the collusion of the local bi-partisan election officers, and these under direction of “higher ups.“ Two questions were therefore raised-and never answered: 1. Did the State Central Committees of these two parties join in the conspiracy, or could a marauding band within the parties carry on its steal of an election without the knowledge or the reproof of their leaders? 2. Did not the same boards, in charge in 1913 as in 1912, do the same things in the same way?
A grave suspicion remained in the minds of the public which went far to deepen the prevalent pessimism concerning the possibility of achieving honest campaigns and elections in this country.
Governor Osborn's prophecy was fulfilled and in 1916 prohibition was established in Michigan by popular vote, many voters being actuated by the patriotic desire to free the elections and legislation from control by the liquor traffic.
The State of Wisconsin stood second among the States in its output of malt liquors. The brewing industry was one of enormous importance to the State, the capital stock valuation being $85,000,000. Several cities were brewing centres with large populations dependent upon liquor prosperity, yet there as everywhere the prohibition movement was threatening the overthrow of the trade. These facts should have warned suffragists that Wisconsin was not an auspicious point for a referendum on their question, but they did not understand, and in 1912 continued the campaign of a generation to secure the submission of an amendment.
The Legislature that passed the question on to the voters discussed at length and with apparent sincerity the best means of securing a general expression of opinion on amendments, with the result that an order was passed providing that all future constitutional amendments should be printed on separate pink ballots. This project was introduced by a wet legislator and all wet members voted for it. The bill was passed before the suffrage amendment was actually submitted and the Attorney-General, who collaborated with the liquor interests, ruled that the suffrage amendment only should be printed on the pink slip as other amendments passed by the same Legislature, and to be voted upon at the same election, had been passed before the new order had been voted! The isolation of the suffrage amendment on a ballot the most sub-normal voter could distinguish furnished corrupt agencies with an ideal weapon with which to compass its defeat.
The liquor trade did not rely upon election methods alone, however, but emphasized in the trade press of Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, through press communications and press advertisements, and by the word of mouth of numberless workers sent out to canvass voters, that all who did not want prohibition must vote against woman suffrage as women would be certain to bring it. More, every voter who did not want to see the absolute destruction of all the trades dependent upon the manufacture and sale of liquor, such as coopers, bottle and cork makers, farmers who grow the barley and corn used, must also vote against the amendment. They pictured thousands of men thrown out of employment, with starving families a charge upon charity. The effect of this propaganda was insidious and with many classes overpowering. There were cities in Wisconsin, so suffrage workers reported to the National Suffrage Association, where practically every man's business was dependent upon the good will of the big breweries and where “no business man dared allow his wife to come out for suffrage.“
The women waged the best campaign they could and spent time and money in the effort to acquaint all friendly voters with the fact that the suffrage ballot would be found on a pink slip. In Racine and vicinity where they expected the largest suffrage vote, they were filled with consternation when, on election day, they discovered that the suffrage ballot was not pink, but white. “The calibre of voting intelligence in many cases is not equal to straightening out such a complication,“ wrote one observer.
The usual tricks which accompany the separate ballot were not forgotten by the opposition. The suffrage ballots had not arrived when the early voters came to some polling places; they had been exhausted when the late voters came to others, and clerks forgot to hand them to voters in still others. The total votes thus lost were many. The responsibility for these irregularities was obscured in the mysterious maze created by the joint action of a bi-partisan board, each member disclaiming knowledge and referring the query to another official equally surprised and ignorant.
As Oscar Schmidt, Milwaukee brewer, said on October, 1913, to the Interstate Conference Committee and Board of Trustees of the United States Brewers' Association: *
“In the last campaign we had . . . woman suffrage, etc, which were all defeated; and I can say that can only be done by organization and the brewers being on the job all the time.“
The vote stood, Yes, 135,545; No, 227,024; adverse majority, 91,479. The pink ballot did it, reported the suffragists, but the federal investigation pointed to a power behind the pink ballot.
Thus the year 1912 closed with three victories to inspire suffragists, and three defeats to comfort opponents. All the world knew now that a political war was being waged which was not likely to end until women were the victors.
* Yes-125,037; noes-121,450.
*The no vote remained about the same as in the two preceding referenda, but the yes vote gained 25,000.
* “Brewing and Liquor Interests,“ Volume 1, page 1170.