Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle celebrates Suffrage Day on July 7, 1909.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 5/03/2008
  • Essay 8574
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On July 7, 1909, Suffrage Day is celebrated at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (A-Y-P) Exposition on the grounds of the University of Washington in Seattle.  Suffrage Day coincides with the final day of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) convention. The A-Y-P Exposition took place on the University of Washington campus in Seattle between June 1 and October 16, 1909, drawing more than three million people. Visitors came from around the state, the nation, and the world to view hundreds of educational exhibits, stroll the lushly manicured grounds, and be entertained on the Pay Streak midway, while Seattle promoted itself as a gateway to the rich resources of Alaska, the Yukon, and Asia.  Each day of the A-Y-P was designated as a Special Day for one or more groups.  Special Days drew people involved in the featured organizations, and the resulting programs, lectures, ceremonies, parades, and athletic competitions gave local people a reason to visit again and again. On Suffrage Day, fairgoers, including some 600 suffragists who have participated in the convention, enter the Exposition grounds under enormous banners bearing the slogan "Votes For Women." On July 7 the A-Y-P Exposition also celebrated "Pythian Day," designated to honor the Knights of Pithias, a fraternal order.

Calm But Fiercely Determined

In February 1909 the Washington State Legislature agreed to place an equal suffrage amendment on the November 1910 ballot. Washington suffragists were working with calm but fiercely determined fervor to enlist the state's male electorate to ratify this amendment and make the state the fifth in the nation to grant women full voting suffrage. National leaders saw success in Washington as a key step to breaking the gridlock in the national woman suffrage crusade.

Suffrage Day capped the suffragists' busy week in the local spotlight. The Washington Equal Suffrage Association convention on June 30, 1909, had ended in a highly publicized rift between May Arkwright Hutton (1860-1915) and her Eastern Washington contingent and Emma Smith Devoe (1848-1927), the organization's president. The National American Woman Suffrage Association convention began on July 1, 1909. In addition to the considerable private and public work undertaken by the board members and delegates, NAWSA president Anna Howard Smith had to handle these two warring factions. The festivities of Suffrage Day were a welcome finish line at the National convention's conclusion, and the public support for suffrage in Washington that was obviously building was heartening. Ida Husted Harper later called Suffrage Day "the always-to-be-remembered feature of the week" (The History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 5, p. 264).

Hearth and Home and Suffrage

Both the national and the state suffrage organizations used Women's Days at fairs and expositions as a place to win support for their cause in non-threatening, reasonable, demonstrably domestic ways. Under Emma Smith Devoe, the Washington Equal Suffrage Association pursued support for the state suffrage amendment using the so-called "still hunt" method to enlist support of community leaders and the male electorate through personal appeal to reason, not confrontation. Suffragists spoke and arranged for prominent pro-suffrage speakers, passed out suffrage pamphlets, and displayed women's domestic handiwork.

At the A-Y-P the Washington Equal Suffrage Association sold its Washington Women's Cookbook, a pro-suffrage message within a hearth-and-home packaging. The happy marriage of what were considered to be womanly arts with a quiet insistence that woman suffrage was innately reasonable was the suffragists' steady message.

Suffrage Day was the second time members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association had visited the exposition as part of the official program. The A-Y-P management provided the suffrage convention delegates, officers, and speakers with free passes to the fair for both Sunday, July 4, 1909, and on Suffrage Day.

The National American Woman Suffrage Association's mass public meeting on Suffrage Day was held in the A-Y-P Auditorium Building at 10:30 in the morning.

In The Sweet Here and Now

The suffragists counted the A-Y-P event a resounding triumph. Harriet Taylor Upton recapped Suffrage Day in the August 1909 edition of Progress:

"Woman's Day at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, or the A.Y. & P., as it is called, was a great success. It seemed strange as the speakers entered the gates to hear the megaphone men shouting, 'Suffrage Day,' 'Woman's Day,' 'Hear the Rev. Anna H. Shaw at the Auditorium.'

"The Exposition band was playing on the steps and people were crowding in. Over the entrance gates was a great sign, 'Votes For Women,' and flying high in the air between two kites was a huge streamer with the same words. When National officers, State presidents and speakers were on the stage, the band then inside played 'In The Sweet Bye and Bye,' and one of the National officers thanked the band for the music, but added, 'It may be in the sweet bye and bye for us back East, but not for Washington" ("The Seattle Convention").

Balloons For Suffrage

Upton's article continued:

"J. E. Chilberg, President of the Exposition, welcomed us, as did Lewis W. Buckley. Mr. Raymond, Assistant Director of the Exposition, spoke on Militant Publicity, and said the Seattle women having charge of that meeting had done the best advertising that had been done by any Association. He referred to the badges, the kites, streamers and said that they had furnished the toy balloon with a 'Votes For Women' plate so that all of the balloons had that motto thereon. Many delegates brought their balloons, so that above the heads in the auditorium occasionally one would become loose, and float to the great ceiling. The junior editor of the Woman's Journal had five attached to her, and for that reason could be easily found throughout the day, and when the midnight hour arrived she was seen climbing the hill to her hotel apparently being led by five floating bags of gas, which could easily be read, 'Votes For Women'" ("The Seattle Convention").

According to The Great Balloon Game Book ..., imported rubber balloons had been available in the United States since 1889, but were manufactured domestically only since 1907. That this novelty item, especially the imprinted variety sold on Suffrage Day, was so remarked-upon in contemporary accounts of the event suggests that it was a truly unusual sight at the time.

In the minutes of the national convention, editor Harriet Taylor Upton included Henry B. Blackwell's remarks thanking the Bon Marché for decorations, indicating that department store as a probable source of buttons, streamers, pennant, and the printed balloons (Proceedings ... p. 67).

A History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. 5 states that "all of the toy balloons sold on the grounds that day were stamped with the words 'Votes For Women' and many of the delegates bought them and went around with them hovering over their heads like Japanese lanterns -- yellow, red, white, or green, but predominantly green" (p. 264). If indeed every balloon sold at the A-Y-P on July 7, 1909, were stamped "Votes For Women," it seems clear that the ranks of fairgoers carrying the pro-suffrage message throughout the A-Y-P must have been legion, especially among child fairgoers.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, "Without regard to creed or sex, so long as the liberal supply of badges and buttons held out, every incomer at the gates was decorated with the label of the suffrage cause" ("Suffragists Fly Banners ..."). The Seattle Times stated that the suffragists "succeeded in pinning the green emblem of the association upon the person of just about everybody within the gates. Even the exposition guards were thus decorated. Moreover the suffragists engaged a barker to stand out in front of the building and announce the meeting in the Auditorium. By the time set for the opening address of the program, the Auditorium was well filled" ("Suffragists Have Program...").

Speaking For Suffrage

Alice Stone Blackwell, Florence Kelley, Kate M. Gordon, Ella Seass Stewart, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Laura Clay joined Reverend Anna Howard Shaw in addressing the crowd. Blackwell's topic was "The Ignorance and Indifference Of Women." Florence Kelley's topic was "The Unjust and Importunate Widow." Kate Gordon's topic was "Bugaboos in the Light of Compassion." The program for the day stated "Alaska-Yukon-Exposition Clubs throughout the State are cordially invited to seats in the audience and Presidents to seats on the platform" ("41st Annual Convention ...").

When the public meeting concluded, the NAWSA officers and Fanny Villard were treated to a luncheon that was cooked and served by the girls in the Olympia's Domestic Science and Manual Training School. The event was held in the school's space in the Washington State Education Building.

Afternoon Reception

The suffragists re-convened at 2:30 in the Washington State Building for a reception.

Kate Gordon presided, and again speaker after speaker gave the crowd encouragement for the woman suffrage cause.

Harriet Taylor Upton, speaking of herself in the third person, remembered, "Despite the bands outside, the crowd sat patiently and anxiously listening to all that was said. Men who dropped in to the rear of the room out of courtesy remained to learn. It was a long program, and the editor of Progress, who watched the meeting from the side, wondered how many hours these listeners would have stayed if the speakers kept on" ("The Seattle Convention").

Dinner At The Firs

The Washington Equal Suffrage Association hosted a dinner for the National American Woman Suffrage Association at The Firs. The Firs was a restaurant within the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) Building. This was an opportunity for most of the visiting suffragists to say their goodbyes: Although the NAWSA Executive Committee and General Officers continued their convention work through the evening of July 9 and some visitors participated in optional side trips to Bellingham or Mount Rainier, most of those who had come to Seattle for the suffrage conventions began their journeys home once Suffrage Day was over.

Newspaper coverage of the dinner mentions that the evening included much toasting. Whatever the beverage being sipped was, it was probably not alcoholic. Since the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition was held on University of Washington grounds all sale of alcohol was forbidden, although it could be consumed without charge. The A-Y-P Exposition was the only large-scale fair or exposition to be produced without the sale of alcoholic beverages. Although Washington suffragists had distanced themselves from the Prohibition cause, many among them held personal anti-alcohol beliefs -- most, it seems likely, would have refrained from toasting with wine during this farewell reception.

And -- Pythian Day

The Knights of Pythias, a fraternal order founded in 1864 with the aim of promoting universal peace, was also honored at the A-Y-P on July 7. The Knights had a women's auxiliary, the Pythian Sisters. At the time of the A-Y-P event, suffragist, Ida M. Jayne-Weaver was a prominent Pythian Sister, indicating some possible crossover between the two groups.

Sources: 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; 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); Marte Jo Sheeran, "The Woman Suffrage Issue In Washington, 1890-1910" (master's thesis, University of Washington, May 27, 1977), p. 129; Mary Susan Pacey, "The Breakthrough State: The Washington State Suffrage Campaign of 1906-1910" (master's thesis, University of Washington, June 5, 1978); Pots And Politics: An Historical Cookbook, From The Suffragists To The Equal Rights Amendment ed. by Shirlie Kaplan (Tacoma: Washington State Women's Political Caucus, 1976); Ida M. Jayne-Weaver and Emma D. Wood, History of the Order of the Pythian Sisters (Seattle: Peters Publishing Company, ca. 1925); Arnold E. Grummer, The Great Rubber Balloon Game Book and More Balloon Activities (Appleton, Wisconsin: Greg Markin, Inc, 1897); "Suffragists and Knights Meet At Fair," The Seattle Daily Times, July 7, 1909, p. 10; "Suffragists Have Program At Fair," Ibid., July 7, 1909, p. 5; "Suffragists Fly Banners At Fair," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 8, 1909; "Women To Spend Day At The Fair," Ibid., July 7, 1909.

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