Woman Suffrage leaders speak from Seattle pulpits and The Reverend Dr. Anna Howard Shaw speaks at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition on July 4, 1909.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 5/02/2008
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8566
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On Sunday, July 4, 1909, prominent national leaders of the woman suffrage movement speak from the pulpits of local churches, and National American Woman Suffrage Association president, The Reverend Dr. Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919) speaks in the Auditorium at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (A-Y-P) Exposition in Seattle. The national suffragists are in Washington for the July 1-July 6, 1909 National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) Convention currently underway at Plymouth Congregational Church in downtown Seattle. The confluence of the widely publicized convention and the A-Y-P Exposition, Washington's first world's fair, will help win supporters for women's right to vote.

Anna Howard Shaw

One of the most prominent figures to arrive in Seattle on behalf of woman suffrage was the minister and physician Anna Howard Shaw. Shaw was born in England, immigrated to Michigan with her family, and at age 14 felt the call to become a minister. She graduated from Boston University School of Theology in 1878 and two years later was ordained by the New York Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church. She earned a medical degree from Boston University while working at Wesleyan Methodist Church in East Dennis, Massachusetts. 

Shaw was a passionate and well-respected leader of the woman suffrage movement and later advocated for the creation of the League of Nations. Along with Ida Husted Harper, Carrie Chapman Catt, and others, she provided leadership and support for the American woman suffrage movement following suffrage pioneer Susan B. Anthony's death in 1902.

Mutual Benefits

Suffragists sought ministerial endorsement on both the local and the national level. In return they offered religious leaders their potential assistance in the voting booth -- when they gained the voting franchise. Mary E. Craigie, NAWSA's Committee on Church Work chair, stated during her official report to the Seattle convention:

"Women are to-day and always have been the mainstay and chief support of the churches and the leaders in all great moral reforms; yet as a disenfranchised class they are powerless to aid in bringing about reforms that depend upon legislative or governmental action and the church is thereby deprived of more than two-thirds of its power to help extend civic righteousness throughout the land. Now that there is a world-wide movement among women to demand the political power to do their part in the world's work, they have the right to ask and to receive from ministers and from all Christian people support and help in working for this greatest of all reforms" (The History of Woman Suffrage p. 259).

Preparing The Way

The April 1909 edition of the National Woman Suffrage Association journal Progress explained why Plymouth Congregational church was chosen for the Seattle gathering's Convention Hall: "The pastor, Rev. F. J. VanHorn, D.D., and the Board of Trustees are all in sympathy with the woman suffrage movement, and have given substantial evidence of their interest by making exception to their rule in extending to us the hospitality of this commodious and convenient structure" ("Seattle Convention").

The groundwork for the church-related events held during the National suffrage convention had been laid by Washington suffragists who had assembled a list of 186 Seattle clergymen and corresponded with these ministers to determine which were willing to speak publicly for woman suffrage and/or allow speakers into their pulpits.

The History of Woman Suffrage (Vol. 5, p. 260) lists Seattle ministers who opened various sessions of the convention with prayer:

  • Doctors A. Norman Ward, Protestant Methodist;
  • Thomas E. Elliott, Queen Anne Methodist;
  • George Robert Cairns, Temple Baptist;
  • Edward Lincoln Smith, Pilgrim Congregational;
  • Sydney Strong, Queen Anne Congregational;
  • The Reverends J.D.O. Powers, Unitarian;
  • W. H. W. Rees, First Methodist Episcopal;
  • W. A. Major, Bethany Presbyterian;
  • Joseph L. Garvin, First Christian;
  • C. Lyung Hanson, Scandinavian Methodist;
  • F. O. Iverson, Norwegian Lutheran;
  • P. Nelson, Norwegian Congregational Missionary.

Dr. Sarah Kendall masterminded the Sunday meeting at the A-Y-P Exposition and placed speakers in area churches. A-Y-P Exposition managers provided convention delegates, officers, and speakers with free passes to the Exposition on both July 4 and July 7, 1909. July 7 was Woman Suffrage Day at the exposition

Sunday Suffrage At A-Y-P

Suffrage church work activities occupied the auditorium instead of July 4th activities due to the fact that Independence Day fell on Sunday. Independence Day celebrations were officially scheduled for Monday, July 5.

Harriet Taylor Upton recounted Sunday activities in a convention recap in the August 1909 edition of Progress:

"The Sunday Services were in charge of the National Committee of [sic] Church Work, but the chairman, Mrs. Craigie, could not preside, owing to loss of voice from cold. Mrs. Miller, local Chairman of Committee on Church Work, together with Dr. Kendall and Dr. Eaton, had arranged this meeting. Dr. Kendall also had charge of the meetings held in different churches in the city. Her first intention was to have a meeting on the Fair Grounds, but the authorities did not seem to care for it. Later the Fair officials changed their minds, and rather insisted upon a meeting being held in the auditorium, and so it was. This meeting was opened by Mrs. Buckley, Director of Ceremonies. Miss Shaw was introduced and presided. Several ministers spoke, although some who had accepted for the meeting when it was in town could not keep the engagement. Miss Janet Richards of Washington talked on the English situation, and Prof. Potter was among the speakers. The audience was large and, unlike most exposition audiences, quiet and attentive" ("The Seattle Convention").

The meeting in the Auditorium on the A-Y-P Exposition grounds began at 3:00. It was billed on the daily program as "Mass Meeting on the Sacred Duties and Obligations of Citizenship under the auspices of the Committee on Church Work" ("41st Annual Convention ..."). Musical selections included a "Schubert Quartette," a soprano solo, and a hymn sung by the Ballard Norwegian Methodist Episcopal Church choir.

Four Seattle ministers addressed the crowd: Reverend C. Lyng Hanson of the Scandinavian Methodist Church, Reverend Herman Lind of the Swedish American Church, Reverend Sydney Strong of Queen Anne Congregational Church, and Reverend Edward Lincoln Smith of Pilgrim Congregational Church.

Sermons for Suffrage

Suffragists spoke to Seattle churchgoers in sanctuaries across the city. The History of Woman Suffrage states:

"Mrs. (Florence) Kelley spoke in the First Christian Church, Mrs. Eva Emery Dye in the Second Avenue Congregational Church and the Rev. Mary G. Andrews preached for the Universalists on The Freedom of Truth. At the First Methodist Protestant Church, Miss Laura Clay talked on Christian Citizenship in the morning and Dr. Shaw preached in the evening. Mrs. Charlotte Perkins Gilman spoke at the Boylston Avenue Unitarian Church in the morning and Mrs. Gilman and Mrs. Pauline Steinem at a patriotic service in Plymouth Church in the evening. Mr. Blackwell and Mrs. Steinem spoke in the Jewish synagogue" (Vol. 5, p. 260).

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's advance press stated:

"Miss Eva Emory Dyer [sic] will be heard in the Queen Anne Congregational Church, her subject being 'Newcomers in the Northwest.' Mrs. Charlotte Perkins Gilman will speak in the Boylston Avenue Unitarian Church. 'The Golden Rule and Child Labor' will be the text of an address by Mrs. Florence Kelley in the First Christian Church, Broadway and Olive Street, this morning. Miss Laura Clay will speak from the pulpit of the First Methodist Protestant Church. Addresses in the evening will be delivered by President Anna Howard Shaw and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the former speaking in the First Methodist Protestant Church and the latter in Plymouth Congregational Church" ("Suffragist Officials To Speak In Churches").

Sunday Peace

Harriet Taylor Upton concluded, "Sunday evening the delegates gathered informally in the parlors of the Lincoln (Hotel) to visit, and the speakers at the various churches joined them later. Many Seattle women were present, and the evening was very enjoyable" ("The Seattle Convention").

Spokane's Spokesman-Review assessed this gathering at the Lincoln with tongue in cheek. Referring to the very public and widely reported rift between Spokane suffragists (led by May Arkwright Hutton) and Washington Equal Suffrage Association president Emma Smith Devoe, the article stated:

"The olive branch has now found a place in the decorations of the Plymouth church beside the four-starred (suffrage) flag...delegates of both factions met in harmony and sisterly affiliation at the informal 'at home' held by the national officers in the parlors of the Hotel Lincoln and the Solomon's judgment of the national convention rendered last Saturday is now considered by both factions a 'closed incident'" ("Women Rivals Bury Hatchet").

The Solomon's judgment was the decision by the National American Woman Suffrage Association to seat both the warring Washington state factions at the National convention but deny either a vote in the proceedings.


Harriet Taylor Upton, "The Seattle Convention," Progress, August 1909, p. 1; "Seattle Convention," Ibid., April 1909; "41st Annual Convention of the National American Suffrage Association," Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition Daily Programs, University of Washington Special Collections; "Women Rivals Bury Hatchett," Spokesman-Review, July 6, 1909; Forty-First Annual Report of the National-American Woman Suffrage Association Held At Seattle, Washington July 1st to 6th, 1909 ed. by Harriet Taylor Upton (Warren, Ohio: The Association, 1909); The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 5, 1900-1920 ed. by Ida Husted Harper (New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922); "Suffragists Will Speak In Churches," The Seattle Times, July 4, 1909; "Suffragist Officials To Speak In Churches, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 4, 1909; G. Thomans Edwards, Sowing Good Seeds: The Northwest Suffrage Campaigns of Susan B. Anthony (Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1990); "Anna Howard Shaw," The Anna Howard Shaw Center, Boston University School of Theology website accessed May 3, 2008 (http://www.bu.edu/sth/shaw/).

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