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The Souvenir of Western Women/Woman Suffrage in Idaho

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Woman Suffrage in Idaho

By WILLIAM BALDERSTON.
Editor of Boise Daily Statesman

WE WANTED IT; we went after it, and we got it. After we got it we liked it, and we find ourselves liking it better after an experience with it reaching over four campaigns.

That is the story of equal suffrage in Idaho.

The ballot was placed in the hands of the better half of the population of this state at the election held in 1896, and the results of the change have fully justified those through whose efforts the reform was brought about.

A brief review of the subject may, however, be of interest to the reader, and for the purpose of such a review we shall turn back a few years and recall the circumstances under which the change occurred.

The first political step toward the enfranchisement of women was taken in 1894, when the state republican convention adopted a resolution pledging the party to submit the question to a vote of the people. This was brought about through the activity of an equal suffrage association that had been maintained for two years, and was aided by national suffragists, including Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, Mrs. Ida M. Johns and Mrs. Abigail Scott Duniway.

True to its pledge, the party, at the ensuing session of the legislature, submitted an amendment to the state constitution giving women the right of suffrage. The equal suffrage association then went to work with great vigor to carry the amendment through, and its efforts were crowned with success at the election in 1896. On election day there were workers at the polls who called the attention of voters to the amendment at the last moment, and all were rejoiced when the returns were received to find the reform had been carried by a safe majority. One obstacle remained, however, a question being raised whether less than a majority of all the votes was sufficient to carry an amendment. This question was carried into the Supreme Court, where it was decided that it was necessary only to have a majority of all those voting on the amendment.

The change went into effect as smoothly as though the women had always been accustomed to voting. There was, though, a remarkable improvement in the conduct of elections. A better tone was observed at once. The presence of women at the polls had an effect similar to their presence at any other place—rowdyism disappearing and giving place to a quiet, genteel polling-place atmosphere comparable to that observed in a dry goods store, or any other place where the sex gathers.

Some women have become officeholders, but there is no disposition among them to crowd into politics in that manner. In nearly all instances women are selected as superintendents of schools in state and county: some have been elected as county treasurers, and we have one female county clerk. When the change was made a few women were elected as members of the legislature, but there seems to be no disposition to demand places there, and for some sessions none has appeared.

Women have generally taken part in oar elections; they manifest a lively interest in them, and their influence is felt in all contests. There may be a few who do not embrace the opportunity to vote, but the writer has no knowledge of such.

In connection with this feature of the subject, it may be stated that the lesson taught is that the placing of the ballot in the hands of women has not brought about any such conditions as are always portrayed by opponents of equal suffrage. It has not changed or lowered women; it has not started them out as politicians; it has not taken them from their homes. It has simply made them a power in determining who shall be chosen to make and administer our laws. Those who have served in public positions have reflected credit upon their sex and upon the state.

The influence of the women vote is felt in the convention. It has improved our ticket, better men being nominated as a rule. Whenever an important question, especially one of a moral nature, is before the people, the women can be relied upon to carry the election for the right. While that is true, they cannot be stampeded by politicians who seek to play upon their emotions when the facts do not justify the action asked of them. They are sane and sound in their political action, but when, in a practical manner, a moral question comes up for decision at the polls, the women vote is on the right side in far greater proportion than that of the men. This has always been the hope of the conservative supporters of equal suffrage, and that hope has been fully justified by the results of women's voting in Idaho.

Fear of the women vote deters legislatures from taking action that would have been a forgone conclusion in the days before the wife and mother appeared at the ballot places to aid in deciding as to men and measures. We had gambling licensed in Idaho prior to the reform, but at the next session of the legislature the law was changed. That was because the members realized the women would smash those who might defeat such action. In municipal elections the women sweep the foundations from under those who wink at violation of the law we now have against the vice.

Soon after the adoption of the amendment a woman's club in Boise prepared an ordinance prohibiting expectoration on sidewalks and in public places. It was sent into the city council with request that it be passed. The members looked at each other and indulged in some badinage, all being plainly ashamed to father the measure. But something had to be done; a powerful club of voters had made the demand in the name of decency, and this ordinance, which would not even have received consideration in the old days, was passed without a dissenting voice.

God bless the women of the state! They are a tower of strength for all who enter the lists in the cause of civic decency and righteousness, their votes being always ready to support a reasonable, just and practical demand.