of Women’s Right to Vote
An Overview of 1911 Suffrage In San Luis Obispo County
2011 marks the 100-year anniversary of California women securing the right to vote. The first time a measure was placed on the California ballot to give women the right to vote was in 1896. The Liquor industry and politicians from the big cities put in a lot of effort to defeat the measure and they were successful. The vote in the San Francisco/Bay Area was overwhelmingly against suffrage. The vote against the measure in the Bay Area was so overwhelming that a yes vote from other areas across the state could not beat it. However, in 1896 SLO County passed suffrage by a 12% margin (1,667 YES and 1,444 NO).
By 1911 California suffragists learned from the lesson of 1896; they were ready for a fight. They took to the dusty and sometimes muddy rural roads across California campaigning for the right of women to vote. They staged debates, gave speeches, and attended teas and coffees to campaign to change the law. There are stories of a woman and her companion who road into small towns in a jazzy blue convertible, and after attracting men in the town to look at the car, they pitched the message for suffrage to their captive audience.
In September of 1911, huge rallies, some 5,000 strong, were held in Los Angeles at the Temple Auditorium. The women gained the support of businessmen, labor, prominent citizens, newspapers and even a few politicians. They were determined and organized.
Many yellow flags or banners hung on residential streets, often with the battle cry, “Votes for Women.” They flew from homes, telephone poles – everywhere and upon anything to which they could be attached.
On election day the suffragists and their supporters were very organized and had a number of important jobs. Many got up at 4:00 a.m. to hand out literature to undecided voters. Others stood watch at the polls to insure an honest election. Those few who could drive grabbed the keys to the family car, or borrowed the neighbor’s car, to drive sympathetic male voters to the polls. It is likely that many men were walked to the polls on that day. They were determined that all votes in favor of suffrage be cast.
The suffragists had their work cut out for them, as the arguments against the measure bare out. The only two arguments against suffrage on the 1911 ballot read:
“The mother’s influence is needed in the home. She can do little good by gadding the street and neglecting her children. Let her teach her daughters that modesty, patience and gentleness are the charms of woman. 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.”
“Let her be content with her lot and perform those high duties intended for her by the Great Creator, and she will accomplish far more in governmental affairs than she can ever accomplish by mixing up in the dirty pool of politics. Keep the home pure and all will be well with the republic. Let not the sanctity of the home be invaded by every little politician that may be running up and down the highway for office. Let the manly men and womanly women defeat this amendment and keep woman where she belongs in order that she may retain the respect of all mankind.”
On Election Day, October 11, the headline of Los Angeles Daily Times read “Suffrage Appears Lost.” The San Francisco Chronicle declared “Woman Suffrage Amendment Defeated By 5000.” Only Berkeley in the Bay Area voted for suffrage. San Francisco voted 62% against suffrage. Los Angeles and San Diego passed the measure by a small margin.
But in San Luis Obispo County and other rural counties across California, the hard work of the campaign really shined: SLO County voters cast 1,284 YES votes and 1,029 NO votes. Of all the cities existing in SLO County at the time, Arroyo Grande came in with the highest number of YES votes at 72%; Paso Robles went 56% YES; and the city of San Luis Obispo registered 55% support. Overall, county voters passed suffrage by a 12% margin!
When all of the votes were finally counted statewide, the measure passed by 3,587 votes out of 246,487 votes cast – less than a 1.5% margin. California was the 6th state to pass suffrage and was called “the 6th star”.
The tune of the day was “It’s a Hot Time in the Old Towne Tonight,” and it rang out across our state in celebration of political equality for California women.
San Luis Obispo county men voted for suffrage in 1896 and again in 1911. Together, the men and women of San Luis Obispo County played a significant role in giving California women the right to vote and secure their place in the history of California.
For additional information and to find events commemorating the 100-year anniversary, visit the commemorative website: http://www.votes4women.org/index3gallery.html
Trudy Jarratt, is the Co-Chair of the SLO County Steering Committee to Celebrate the 100-Year Anniversary of California Women Securing the Right to Vote. She is also the 1st Vice President of the League of Women Voters of California, Inc. and the League of Women Voters of California Education Fund, Inc.