Book Review:
Women's Votes, Women's Voices: The Campaign for Equal Rights in Washington

  • Posted 1/21/2010
  • Essay 9274
By Shanna Stevenson
Washington State Historical Society, 2009
Paperback, 114 pages
Illustrations, footnotes, bibliography, index
ISBN: 978-0-917048-74-6

Written in conjunction with the development of the Washington Women's History Consortium's traveling exhibit of the same title, Women's Votes, Women's Voices traces Washington's zigzagging path to woman suffrage in 1910 and the campaign for social, economic, and political equality for women in our state that has continued over the past century. Author Shanna Stevenson, coordinator of the Washington Women's History Consortium, deftly weaves together the national and local stories, providing a rich context for Washington's story. 

Women's Votes, Women's Voices traces the roots of the suffrage movement in Washington to the 1850s, when the territorial legislature considered, but didn't pass, the first bill that would have granted the vote to women. Stevenson explains how territorial women gained the right to vote in 1883, lost it (in the courts), then regained it in 1910, while also providing the social context in which the process played out. The suffragists allied with other political and social groups and changed their strategies as social mores and the political landscape changed over time. 

While the suffrage movement was dominated by white women, Stevenson does not forget that many women living in Washington were ethnic minorities or spoke languages other than English.  The state legislature limited suffrage by excluding non-white women and imposing English literacy requirements. Federal laws against citizenship also meant that Native Americans and some Asian immigrants could not vote until 1924 and 1952 respectively. Black women legally gained the right to vote in 1910, but discriminatory practices were not completely ended until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. 

After the success of 1910, Washington women turned their efforts to the newly rejuvenated national campaign for a federal constitutional amendment. Washington, as the fifth state to grant woman suffrage provided, as Stevenson relates, "a tipping point" for the national movement. Women's Votes, Women's Voices details Washington women's participation in the fight for passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, including convincing then-Governor Louis Hart to call a special session of the legislature for the ratification vote.  

The conclusion of Women's Votes, Women's Voices discusses women's political activity, including helping to pass many Progressive reforms and founding the League of Women's Voters, and efforts to achieve social, political, and economic equality for women since 1910. Stevenson discusses the Equal Rights Amendment movement and the contentious International Women's Year Conference held at Ellensburg in 1977. Recent decades have seen other advances, including the campaign for equal pay for equal work in state government and Title IX educational and athletic programs. 

Throughout Women's Votes, Women's Voices, quotes from newspapers, letters, and journals bring the suffragists, their allies, and their foes to life. Likewise, photographs and ephemera that illustrate the book provide a wonderful visual record of the suffrage campaign and advances made by women since 1910.

 Stevenson drew on a wide range of resources; some in archives, some electronic, and others published. The book's footnotes and bibliography will prove a treasure trove for readers seeking to learn more about Washington women's history and the suffrage movement.  

By Jennifer Ott, January 21, 2010

Submitted: 1/21/2010

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