Prominent suffragists arrive in Spokane on June 28, 1909.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 3/20/2008
  • Essay 8522
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At 10:00 a.m. on June 28, 1909, a  Northern Pacific Railroad train carrying suffragists en route to the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention in Seattle arrives at the Northern Pacific Depot in Spokane.  They are greeted by Washington Equal Suffrage Association president Emma Smith Devoe (1848-1927), leading Spokane suffragists May Arkwright Hutton (1860-1915), La Reine Baker, and other Spokane suffrage proponents. The upcoming convention will take place during Washington's first world's fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, held on the University of Washington campus. The exposition will sponsor a Suffrage Day and the confluence of the widely publicized convention and the world's fair will help win supporters for women's right to vote.

Forward Sisters!

May Awkwright Hutton was predominantly responsible for the many activities to which the visitors were treated during their busy hours in Spokane.The suffragists spent all day in the city, retraining at midnight.  During the course of their visit, Spokane Mayor N. S. Pratt officially declared his support for woman suffrage.  The Spokesman-Review reported another momentous event: "For the first time in the history of the west, the international hymn of the suffragists, adopted at the recent London convention, was heard, as it was pealed from the massive organ at the First Methodist Church and chorused from the 1000 men and women assembled" ("Suffrage Leaders Rule..."). 

The International Convention had concluded in early May.  A number of those aboard the Suffrage Special had attended, as had La Reine Baker.  The New York Times reported a sample stanza of the suffrage hymn, which began "Forward, sisters, forward, Onward overmore! Bondage is behind you, Freedom is before" (May 16, 1909).

Washington Is Key

The Suffrage Special carried 37 presidents of state suffrage associations from around the country; The Reverend Dr. Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919), president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association; executive officers of the National American Woman Suffrage Association; and many other leaders of national and international suffrage organizations.

The Northern Pacific Railroad provided the suffragists with train service from Chicago to Spokane, their first stop in the state of Washington.  Between Spokane and Seattle their train, designated the Suffrage Special, made whistle stops in Pasco, North Yakima (now Yakima), and Ellensburg.  At each stop stars of the suffrage movement addressed gathered crowds from the train's rear platform, enlisting the support of Washington's male voters and their female family members for the upcoming vote to amend the state constitution and grant women the voting franchise. 

National suffrage leaders joined their Washington colleagues to push for the amendment's passage.  Women could vote in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho, but the nation had been deadlocked on the suffrage issue since Idaho enfranchised women in 1896.  Suffrage leaders viewed a victory in Washington as key to further progress in the long push toward a national suffrage amendment, and sought opportunities to participate in educational and non-threatening public relations.

Catching Flies With Honey

The day before the national suffragists arrived, the Spokesman-Review ran an interview with La Reine Baker, preparing the populace for what they might expect.  Unlike the militant tactics employed by twentieth-century suffragists in England (also called suffragettes), whose methods included chaining themselves to fences, arrest and jail time, disrupting political meetings, hunger strikes, and other militant and flamboyant actions that were covered widely in the world press, the Washington campaign would be more civilized, the Spokesman-Review reported, " because American men are more tractable, more indulgent, and more gallant than their British brother" ("American Suffragists Taboo...").  The article went on to quote La Reine Baker:

"'The movement toward giving women the right to vote is progressing more gradually, with less friction in America than in England because here the battle is being fought separately in different states where there the contest covers the whole country.  The suffragette movement is essentially an English development and is necessary there because it takes parades and demonstrations by English women to wake up Englishmen.'" 

Headline writers at the Spokesman-Review extrapolated this as the sub-headline: "Our men can be coaxed, wheedled and cajoled, but forced? Nevaire! -- Voters of this state may prepare for an irresistible appeal by Women of Washington who hope to gain the ballot with winning smiles."

They Ruled This City

Portland resident Abigail Scott Duniway (1834-1915), the founding mother of the suffrage movement in the Pacific Northwest, echoed this appeasing tone in an interview the morning of June 28, 1909.  Duniway, a guest of May Arkwright Hutton, told the Spokesman-Review, "Women can't rule men, and no wise suffragist will want to try it, and the man who is afraid of a woman does not amount to much as a man ... equal suffrage is bound to come, and when it does, women will take it conservatively" ("Says Suffragists...").  Duniway stressed that women did not want the vote in order to then seek office, nor did they want the vote in order to pass temperance legislation, adding "every true suffragist puts her first care in the home.  She doesn't want office and her one object is to better conditions in the home."

The Spokesman-Review's report the day after the suffragists' visit stated:

"Breathing for 18 hours every atom of hospitality that could be extended through the joint working of the Spokane business men and the Spokane Equal Suffrage club and its auxiliaries women suffragists from every corner of the United States to the number of 80 yesterday held sway in Spokane.  While the majority represent states where they have not yet gained the ballot, in spirit alone yesterday they ruled this city ... . Women whose names have circled the globe for their activities in the equal suffrage movement visited Spokane, many for the first time" ("Suffrage Leaders Rule...").

As the suffragists boosted woman suffrage to Spokane, Spokane boosted its civic charms to the visiting suffragists.  The Spokesman-Review opined, "When the curtain dropped on the 'boosting' drama the city had experienced something more than unusual in the way of publicity" ("Suffrage Leaders Rule...")

Swimming, Supping, Speaking

At the Northern Pacific depot, the visitors were divided into private cars and driven to the Spokane Chamber of Commerce.  From there they proceeded to tour the town.  During a stop at the Spokane Amateur Athletic Club the suffragists were invited to use the swimming pool.  May Arkwright Hutton entertained some visitors at her home.  After these diversions, the party assembled in the Hall of the Doges, a lavish ballroom perched atop the Davenport Restaurant (after 1914 part of the Davenport Hotel), for a six-course dinner accompanied by orchestral music.  The banquet was sponsored by the Spokane Board of Trade.

May Arkwright Hutton, president of the Spokane Equal Suffrage club and vice-president of the Washington Equal Suffrage Association, served as toastmaster.  Mayor Pratt gave the official welcome, calling women's right to vote "but the logical result of the progress on enlightenment and civilization" (quoted in "Suffrage Leaders Rule...").  Emma Smith Devoe, Anna Howard Shaw, La Reine Baker, Florence Kelley, Lottie Clay, and Frances Squire Potter (1887-1914) all spoke and Charlotte Perkins Gilman read several poems. 

The Spokesman-Review stated:

"Mayor Pratt presented the Rev. Anna Shaw, president of the National Suffrage association, with a gold-bedecked gavel made from the wood grown in the four states which now have equal suffrage, namely Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho.  The gavel was presented by the Washington suffragists and in the words of Mayor Pratt, 'when it calls to order the national convention in Seattle July 1 it will echo and reecho a movement which in importance and results will equal the shot heard round the world at the beginning of the American revolution'" ("Suffrage Leaders Rule ..."). Although the Spokesman-Review described the gavel as "gold-bedecked," it may actually have been bound in silver.  Hutton and her husband were major owners of the Hercules silver mine in Northern Idaho.

An evening meeting at the First Methodist Church followed the dinner.  The delegates entrained into the Suffrage Special (a different Northern Pacific train) for the journey across the state.  Emma Smith Devoe had arranged for the train to be put at the suffragists' disposal.  Their numbers were greatly enlarged by the Spokane delegates, including May Arkwright Hutton.  The Spokane contingent had an entire train car to themselves.  The Suffrage Special pulled out of Spokane at 2:30 a.m. on June 29, 1909.

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; American Suffragists Taboo Militant Tactics," The Spokesman-Review, June 27, 1909, Part 5; "Says Suffragists Seek Not Office," Ibid., June 28, 1909, p. 9; "Suffrage Leaders Rule City A Day," Ibid., June 29, 1909; "Suffrage Congress Wins London Praise," The New York Times, May 16, 1909; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History,  "Davenport Hotel (Spokane)" (by Laura Arksey) (accessed March 10, 2008).

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