Suffrage leaders from around the country arrive in Seattle by special train on June 29, 1909.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 3/14/2008
  • Essay 8517
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At 11:30 p.m. on June 29, 1909, the Northern Pacific Railroad train dubbed the "Suffrage Special" arrives at King Street Station in Seattle.  The train carries more than 250 leaders of the American Woman Suffrage movement.  The suffragists are in Seattle to hold the 41st annual convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).  Also aboard the Suffrage Special are leading Washington suffragists, including Washington Equal Suffrage Association president Emma Smith Devoe (1848-1927) and vice-president May Arkwright Hutton (1860-1915).  The convention will take place during Washington's first world's fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (A-Y-P). The confluence of the widely publicized convention and the world's fair will help win supporters for women's right to vote.

Woman Suffrage and the A-Y-P

Both the state and the national suffrage conventions were being held in Seattle at this time in order to capitalize on the publicity opportunities offered by the ongoing A-Y-P, in progress on the grounds of the University of Washington and drawing huge crowds.  The planned culmination of the national suffrage convention was an honorary Woman Suffrage Day at the A-Y-P on July 7, 1909.

On board the Suffrage Special were 37 presidents of state suffrage associations; other executive officers of the American Woman Suffrage Association; the Reverend Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, president of the American Woman Suffrage Association; Ella S. Stewart and Mary E. Craigie, both leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association; and many other leaders of national and international suffrage organizations. New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association president Clara Laddey, the main force behind New Jersey's recently enacted and notably stringent child labor laws, was also on board.

Catt Does Not Call Men Names

Former Seattle resident Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947), who led the National American Woman Suffrage Association from 1900 to 1904 and in 1909 was president of the International Woman Suffragist Association, had been expected to attend the Seattle convention but was not on board the Suffrage Special.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that Catt "was taken suddenly ill just before the departure of the train from New York and she was unable to accompany the delegation" (June 29, 1909). 

On June 27, 1909, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had carried an article in which Catt addressed accusations that she had made statements "blaming men more than women for the failure to give the franchise [meaning the voting franchise, or simply the right to vote] to her sex.  Mrs. Catt last week denied that she had made such statements or had termed American men 'lobsters and shrimps' " ("Mrs. Belmont On Train ...").  Catt expressed outrage that the story was being given wide play in newspapers and stated " 'I shall certainly not take to calling men names.' "

First The Smoking Room, And Then The Ballot

The Northern Pacific Railroad provided the suffragists with train service from Chicago to Spokane, then on to Seattle with frequent stops at which suffragists drummed up support for the upcoming 1910 election in which an amendment to Washington's constitution granting women the right to vote would be decided.  In a report printed in the August 1909 issue of the suffrage periodical Progress, editor Harriet Taylor Upton wrote:

"As we progressed delegates joined us, and at Livingstone, Mrs. Ella S. Stewart, who had been in the Yellowstone, got aboard.  The officers held meetings all the way across, and transacted much business.  As there was no one in our car but the women of our own party, we had the men's smoking room for our business office" (p.1).

In Spokane, suffragists May Arkwright Hutton (1860-1915) and La Reine Baker (both of Spokane) and Emma Smith Devoe (whose home was in Tacoma) met the train .  Baker had recently been the youngest seated delegate to the International Woman Suffragist Association convention in London.  After a day of touring, receptions, and speech-making in Spokane the party retrained and the Special pulled out at 2:30 a.m.

Enthusiastic Crowds

The train stopped in Pasco, North Yakima (now Yakima), and Ellensburg and Reverend Shaw spoke to the gathered crowds from the rear platform of the train.  The Seattle Times noted:

 "These cities gave a remarkable demonstration in favor of the delegates, receiving them at the stations with unmistakable enthusiasm.  Late yesterday afternoon, as the special drew into the station at Ellensburg, twenty-five young women, dressed in costumes of white, entered the coaches and distributed flowers, cherries, and strawberries to the suffragists.  The train itself presented a gala spectacle, being decorated with long yellow streamers, emblematic of the association.  In all of the towns mentioned it was met at the depot by large throngs of folks who had come to hear those women whose reputation has gone abroad all over the country" (June 30, 1909).

Harriet Taylor Upton recounted:

"All along the line that day, we stopped at towns and hamlets, and our train was loaded with flowers, cherries, and strawberries.  May of the eastern delegates had never seen such fruits and flowers.  Roses the size of our peonies, heavy with fragrance and ranging from dark crimson in color through the pinks and yellows to white.  The editor of Progress had five roses on one stem given to her, the largest being the size of her fist.  Sweet peas were held by the armful, and poppies and pinks as well.  At some stations cherries were brought on in pails, at others in baskets, while strawberries were in boxes, and at one place in confectioners' cups.  The arrangements for this trip were made by Mrs. Devoe and her officers" (p. 1).

English Cheers

Two sisters from Seattle, Gertrude and Louise Kangley, ages 17 and 15, who had been to the London conference and arrived in Chicago just in time to board the Suffrage Special, greatly enlivened the cross-country trip.  Once the Special commenced whistle-stops in Washington, Harriet Taylor Upton recalled that the Kangley girls "would scramble out at stations, and join with people who had gathered to hear the speaking, leading in the English cheers.  It was very inspiring" (p.1).

In Tacoma, the Suffrage Special paused for five hours.  Members of Tacoma women's clubs entertained the visitors, taking them through Point Defiance Park and receiving them at the Tacoma Commercial Club.  When the suffragists retrained they were accompanied by convention delegates from Oregon and California.

The Seattle Times predicted that the upcoming national convention would be "one of the most notable gatherings ever held in the interest of equal rights" (June 27, 1909).

A committee of Washington Equal Suffrage Association members including Dr. Cora Smith Eaton met the Special when it pulled into King Street Station.  The visiting suffragists were then escorted to their hotels.  The Hotel Lincoln, located at the northwest corner of Madison and Spring streets, served as headquarters for the National suffrage convention. The Plymouth Congregational Church at 3rd Avenue and Union Street (four blocks from the Hotel Lincoln) served as convention hall.

Sources: "Noted Suffragists Who Will Soon Visit Seattle," The Seattle Times, June 27, 1909, p. 5; "Suffragettes Here This Evening," The Seattle Times, June 29, 1909, p. 4; Harriet Taylor Upton, "The Seattle Convention," Progress, August 1909, p. 1; "Mrs. Belmont on Suffragists' Train For Coast," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 27, 1909, p. 1; "Suffragists To Arrive Tonight On Special Train," ibid., June 29, 1909, p. 1.

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