National suffrage leaders address the public during the fifth evening meeting of the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention at Seattle's Plymouth Congregational Church on July 5, 1909.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 5/02/2008
  • Essay 8590

On the evening of July 5, 1909, Henry Blackwell (1824-1909), Mary E. Craigie, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) address the crowd gathered in Plymouth Congregational Church in downtown Seattle to participate in the fifth evening meeting of the National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention.  Blackwell, an abolitionist and longtime advocate for woman suffrage, heads the Association's Committee on Presidential Suffrage.  Craigie heads the Association's Special Committee on church work.  Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a socialist and writer, is a very popular suffrage speaker. The convention is taking place during Washington's first world's fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (A-Y-P) Exposition, held on the University of Washington campus. The confluence of the widely publicized convention and the world's fair will help win supporters for women's right to vote.

Dr. George Robert Cairns of Temple Baptist Church gave the opening prayer. Grace Seavy Towers sang a soprano solo.

Three Impressive Speeches ...

Fanny Garrison Villard (1844-1928) presided. Mary E. Craigie addressed the audience on the theme Citizenship -- What Is It? Charlotte Perkins Gilman spoke on the topic Masculine, Feminine, and Human. The History of Woman Suffrage, Volume V states that Gilman addressed her topic with "her usual keen analysis and illuminated with her pungent epigrams" (p. 262).

Henry Blackwell's topic was How To Get Votes For Women. Blackwell, with his late wife Lucy Stone Blackwell (1818-1893), a founding member of the American Suffrage Association, had never missed one of the group's conventions. The 41st convention in Seattle was destined to be his last, however, as he died at the age of 84 only two months later, on September 7, 1909.

... But Little Press Attention

There was little comment on the evening's proceedings in the Seattle newspapers. Press coverage centered instead upon the acrimonious public fissure within the Washington Equal Suffrage Association and National American Woman Suffrage Association's response to that break.

The National Association's treasurer Harriet Taylor Upton, who also edited their monthly journal, Progress, noted in her report in the August 1909 issue how difficult it was to cajole the press to focus on convention activities rather than the Washington suffragists' squabbles:

"Many suffragists in the State say this division was bound to come, that it might as well be one time as another, and that the rivalry between the two factions will spur both on to greater work. The editor is not aged, but she has never yet seen hate or injustice bring about constructive work. From National Headquarters preliminary press work had been sent out, and Adella Parker had secured the publication of the same, but the open quarrel in the State convention was too attractive to the reporters, and none of our reports printed, and in some cases our most important speakers not mentioned. The National convention was entirely overshadowed. The Washington women made great efforts to have things nice for us, but everybody was sad. Over and over again did we try, in hotel, train, on boat, in other cities, to convince people that the National convention was harmonious, but in all places where we convinced people that there had been a National convention at all, we were unable to eradicate the idea that there had been strife" ("Washington Convention").

Sources: "Program Seattle Convention," Progress, June 1909; "The National Convention," and "Washington Convention," Progress, August 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, Vols. 5 and 6, 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); Proceedings of the 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); "Mrs. DeVoe To Lose Her Salary," The Seattle Daily Times, July 5, 1909.

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