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Celebrating the Women’s Vote: Oakland Holds Suffrage Parade

| September 30, 2011
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State Senator J.B. Sanford left no doubt where he stood on a controversial, possibly revolutionary, proposition that California voters, all men, were about to decide in a special election in the fall of 1911. “Suffrage is not a right,” Sanford wrote. “…Politics is no place for a woman, consequently the privilege should not be granted to her.”

The issue before the voters: Proposition 4, granting the vote to California women. Sanford continued in a ballot argument urging a “no” vote:

Women's suffrage campaigners, 1911. Library of Congress Bain Collection.

“The mother’s influence is needed in the home. She can do little good by gadding the streets and neglecting her children. Let her teach her daughters that modesty, patience, and gentleness are the charms of a women. Let her teach her sons that an honest conscience is every man’s first political law; that no splendor can rob him nor no force justify the surrender of the simplest right of a free and independent citizen. The mothers of this country can shape the destinies of the nation by keeping in their places and attending to those duties that God Almighty intended for them. The kindly, gentle influence of the mother in the home and the dignified influence of the teacher in the school will far outweigh all the influence of all the mannish female politicians on earth.”

Sanford’s appeals to the comforts of hearth and home didn’t stop Proposition 4 from passing when the guys went to the polls on October 10, 1911. But it was a close thing. As a Ms. magazine blog recounted last year, the “no” vote appeared to be so lopsided that women’s suffrage leaders assumed they had lost and began to gear up for a new campaign. San Francisco voted overwhelmingly against suffrage, and in the Bay Area only Berkeley voted “yes.” But then the tide turned:

“As rural votes results trickled in [Wednesday, the day after the election], the election began to look more like a cliffhanger than a disaster for women’s suffrage. … In Southern California, Los Angeles went pro-suffrage, but only by a margin of 1,787 votes. … The measure squeaked by in San Diego County, despite only one of the area’s 16 papers in favor. Very early Thursday morning, with 79 percent of precincts reporting, the pro-suffrage deficit had shrunk to 808 votes.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Except of course the fight was far from over for women outside California. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the vote nationwide, was not ratified until 1920. And although Proposition 4 extended the vote to women, it didn’t extend the vote to everyone. The measure provided that “no native of China, no idiot, no insane person, no person convicted of any infamous crime … shall ever exercise the privileges of an elector in this state.” (Extensive researches fail to disclose to us how long this provision stayed on the books.)

Anyway—a week from Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in California. To mark that milestone, the Alameda County Historical Society is sponsoring a suffrage parade at Oakland’s Lake Merritt this Sunday (Oct. 2) at 11 a.m. Another reason for the parade: the historical society says Oakland was the site of the state’s very first women’s suffrage march, in 1908.

Another Bay Area commemoration: UC-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library is sponsoring an exhibit on the 100th suffrage anniversary: “… Brought to light are the faces of the state’s suffragists, many from the Bay Area, along with those of the movement’s support and opposition. This exhibit also illustrates the suffragists’ vigorous campaign to rally votes for their cause, as well as the media frenzy to predict the election’s final outcome.” That show is on through December 16th.

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Category: Berkeley, California History, Elections, Government, Politics

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About the Author ()

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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