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The Souvenir of Western Women/Woman Suffrage in Washington Territory

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Woman Suffrage in Washington Territory

By JOHN MILLER MURPHY,
Editor of the Washington Standard, Olympia. Wash.

PROBABLY it was the drift of popular sentiment towards enlarging the sphere of American citizenship, and extending political privileges incident thereto, with special reference to the enfranchisement of the negro, which led to discussion of the propriety of extending the ballot to the women of this country, who had so unquestionably earned that privilege by their aid in making the government, as well as promoting its welfare whenever attacked by enemies from within or without. This question began to be agitated immediately at the close of the war, during the reconstruction period, and culminated in 1868 by the fourteenth amendment to the constitution, defining citizenship, and in 1870 by the fifteenth, declaring that the right to vote should not be denied, or abridged, on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

It was just about forty years ago that the subject of woman's enfranchisement came up as a prominent political issue in Washington Territory by introduction of the measure in the legislature, when that noble woman, Susan B. Anthony, and the no less admirably persistent advocate, Abigail Scott Duniway, publisher and editor of the New Northwest, appeared in the legislative halls to advocate favorable action. While their earnest and logical appeals had a mighty effect, both on the law-makers and their constituents, the time was not yet ripe for action, and the measure was defeated, with about an equal number of both parties-—democrats and republicans—voting for it. About this time, likewise, the Washington Standard, a weekly newspaper published at the capital, became an earnest and determined advocate of the ballot for women, and for eighteen years, up to the passage of the suffrage act, persisted in the battle for equal and exact justice to be extended to the better portion of mankind.

It must be borne in mind that, fair as this proposition may seem, when gauged by ordinary methods of determination, there were many who were controlled by the most bitter prejudice, and they were not confined solely to the male sex. Many were the objections, mostly frivolous, but some entitled to consideration, because honestly held and because, too, of the fact that the measure was over untried grounds; but all had to be met and weighed to make opinion on which the proposition depended for success. Some thought that woman's sphere should be confined strictly to the home; others thought that the feminine mind was not capable of grasping or properly weighing the great matters of statecraft; still others thought it would be demoralizing to women to go to the polls, where they were likely to be jostled by the low and vicious. But woman's champions met these, and many other objections, with a confidence that was impregnable, and, thank heaven, one that was fully justified by the subsequent trial.

So determined became the opponents to impartial suffrage that, in 1871, an act was passed, and approved November 29, "in relation to woman suffrage" (the title), in which it was enacted that "No female shall have the right of ballot, or vote, at any poll or election precinct in the territory, until the congress of the United States of America shall, by direct legislation upon the same, declare the same to be the supreme law of the land." In looking at the law now, with all feeling aside, one cannot refrain from an expression of surprise that solons of the law-giving power should have attempted such a futile method of stemming the tide that would inevitably overwhelm them. Any subsequent legislature could, of course, repeal the act which so magnanimously accorded to congress the privilege of reversing their act. It was probably intended to be merely an expression of the assembled lawmakers, but it shows with what intensity it was held, and the wonderful change implied in passage of the measure a few years afterward.

It was at the legislative session of 1883 that an act amending Section 3050 of Chapter 238 of the Code of Washington Territory gave the ballot to women. It was simply an act to omit the word "male" in the amended section and provide for interpretation of the pronoun "his" and its variations, to be construed to mean "her" as the same might require. The act was approved by Governor W. A. Newell November 23, 1883. It passed the "council," as the upper branch of the legislature was then called, by a majority of one vote. It conferred absolute equality upon women as voters, jurors and officeholders. Under it the women voted in 1884 and 1886. Their influence at the ballot box contributed in no small degree to the success of Charles S. Voorhees as delegate to congress, representing as he did the interests of the people against the grasping demands of the railroads to augment their land grant.

On February 3, 1887, the Territorial Supreme Court, in a decision rendered in a "whisky case," entitled Harland v. Territory of Washington, by Judge George Turner, declared the act invalid, as the grand jury which had indicted him was partly composed of women. The concluding part of the decision, written by Turner and concurred in by Associate Justice Langford, Judge Greene dissenting, was as follows:

"If the law conferring the elective franchise on females was not a fruit of disobedience to the wise and salutary restraint of the organic act, as has been charged, and if there is a public sentiment in the territory which favors such a measure, the next legislature will probably re-enact it."

Even in this utterance of an austere man can be seen respect for power behind the ballot, when reference is made to the possibility that "popular sentiment" might finally repudiate the courtly edict. And be it noted that after the woman had finally lost the ballot, much of that chivalry which had been accorded them as voters was lost. Politicians who had lifted their hats to the fairer portion of humanity while the law was in effect passed them by with averted eyes, becoming literally Pharisees after the law was repealed.

The life-line thrown out by the court was, however, justified, as the legislature a few months later re-enacted the suffrage law, with the judicially declared objectionable provision eliminated. In an act "prescribing the qualification of voters in the Territory of Washington," approved January 18, 1888, appears the exact phraseology of the act amending section 3050 of the code, with this proviso, that "nothing in this act shall be so construed as to make it lawful for women to serve as jurors."

The act was not, however, allowed long to remain on the statute book by its implacable foes, acting through the Supreme Court. August 14, 1888. in the agreed case of Nevada M. Bloomer against the election board of a ward in Spokane, backed by the liquor interest, the law was finally blotted out of existence. It was carried up for that special purpose, and Judges Jones, Langford and Allyn lent themselves to the conspiracy, and they declared the term "male inhabitant," which fixed the qualification of the first voters of the territory to apply to the term "citizen," as subsequently used in the same act, who, it declared, should be accorded the elective franchise at all other or subsequent elections—a forced construction to say the least. But it was important to have the matter settled before the territory became a state, and so the courts were worked "overtime" to secure that result. It is hardly probable that this use of the higher court to accomplish what could not have been done by the people through their legislative representatives would have been possible had it not been for the influence of a strong trade combination which through some means swayed the court of final resort.

While the vote of the women on such local option cases as came before them was judicious, as it. was predicted it would be, favoring license of law-abiding applicants, the women did insist upon compliance with laws for protection of minors and preservation of order; and it was probably the inordinate zeal of Judge Greene, of the Seattle court, to force women to the front for these objects that led to organization for repeal of the suffrage act. Mrs. Duniway predicted this result, and urged moderation, until, at least, such time as the right might be engrafted into a state constitution, saying: "Be careful of the bridge that has carried you over; it is frail as yet and cannot bear excessive burdens till strengthened by a stronger foundation." But her advice was unheeded, and by a class of people, too, who had afforded very little aid in the passage of the law, but wished to use it as a force to regulate the morals of the people. Men who considered it a religious duty to institute crusades and compel acquiescence, instead of appealing to reason, became most persistent in urging the use of the ballot for this purpose by women.

In conclusion, I would say that the great body of women made intelligent voters and honest and conscientious officeholders, so far as their service had extended in that line of duty, and capable jurors specially fitted for protection of family and fireside. Although at first more radical in that line than prudence directed for lasting results, they were daily growing in discretion as well as knowledge, and it would not have been long till they would have become potent factors of a model system of civil government.

Instead of women being the objects of insult by a rabble at the polls, the booths ceased to be the rendezvous of the vicious or intemperate, and they were as quiet and orderly as elsewhere wherein woman's gentle influence is felt. Had a disposition been displayed to make it otherwise, there would have been enough of true manhood present to afford ample protection to women. Then, again, many avenues were opened to woman for honorably making her way forward in the rigorous struggle of life which she must meet when thrown upon her own resources.

These are, in brief, the impressions of the writer, based upon the facts presented in the experimental test of woman's capability for political rights in the Territory of Washington. That it was a success in all respects makes it the more to be regretted that a branch of our government we have been taught to reverence and honor should have been used as the only available method for triumph of the machinations of a business which a no less authority than the Supreme Court of the United States says should be regulated and restrained by law—the embodiment of the people's will in statutory form. Disheartened, disorganized and disfranchised by this means, the suffrage party was in no condition to make a successful effort to carry the suffrage clause of the state constitution in 1889; but a vote of 16,527 was polled for woman suffrage, and 35,613 against it. The women's votes would have added quite enough, it is safe to say, with the influence they would have carried with the politicians, to have placed the power irrevocably in the constitution of the State of Washington. But the end is not yet.


THE SECURITY SAVINGS AND TRUST COMPANY
266 Morrison Street, Portland, Oregon

The Security Savings and Trust Company was formed July 20, 1890, and incorporated under the names of the following gentlemen: C. H. Lewis, Henry Failing, H. W. Corbett, C. A. Dolph, C. F. Adams and A. Bush. The present officials of the corporation are: President, C. F. Adams; secretaries, R. G. Jubitz and G. F. Russell.

From the start the bank has maintained a high standard and ranks as one among the safest depositories in the Northwest. It has filled the want of just such accommodations as its name implies. To those of small earnings it means much to have at hand a place where their savings can be deposited and at the same time yield interest. This means more than the mere opportunity to deposit money in small amounts. The very possibility is an inducement to save and cultivate the spirit of economy, and also help to overcome the disposition to consume all of one's earnings in daily expenses. Hence it acts as a moral stay to the people.

The resources of this bank are $3,576,490, distributed as follows: Loans, $2,232,078; bonds, $862,154; real estate, $11,188; cash and due from correspondents, $471,069; capital stock and surplus, $375,000; deposits, $3,170,681.65.