Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (1909): Woman Suffrage

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 5/06/2008
  • Essay 8587
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During the first week of July 1909, suffrage proponents from across the country gathered in Seattle to participate in the 41st Annual Convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and to celebrate Woman Suffrage Day at Washington's first world's fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (A-Y-P) Exposition, currently underway on the University of Washington campus. The Washington Equal Suffrage Association convention, held the day before the National convention, drew suffragists from around the state. The suffragists, their conventions, and their appearances in area clubs and churches received copious coverage in local newspapers and captured the attention of thousands of Washingtonians attending the A-Y-P Exposition.  Suffragists used the A-Y-P as a massive public relations opportunity and this exposure was an important component in how Washington women achieved the vote on November 8, 1910.

Campaign For Suffrage In Washington

The A-Y-P Exposition drew more than three million visitors from across the state and beyond. Suffragists seized this public-relations opportunity and held conventions in Seattle during the exposition. The national convention, scheduled in Seattle during the A-Y-P at Emma Smith DeVoe's urging even before the suffrage amendment was placed on the ballot, became even more crucial once the ballot measure was established and Washington suffragists' campaign for the vote intensified. The thousands of visiting male voters and their female family members -- whom suffragists hoped would influence to vote for suffrage -- in town to attend world's fair that week were brought into contact with many of the nation's best-known suffrage proponents.

Strategies used by Washington suffragists included canvassing for support at Chautauqua assemblies and state and county fairs, arranging for speakers, hosting Women's Days, and distributing suffrage literature alongside displays of women's sewing, handwork, baked goods, and other emblems of homey domesticity. The A-Y-P Exposition magnified such efforts a hundredfold. Ida Husted Harper stated in History of Woman Suffrage, published in 1922, "The great Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909 at Seattle was utilized as a medium for publicity" (Vol. 6, p. 677). The Washington Equal Suffrage Association also maintained a permanent suffrage exhibit on the grounds during the entire run of the exposition.

The national suffrage color was yellow, but Washington suffragists chose to use green on their "Votes For Women" banners, representing Washington's moniker, the Evergreen State.

Among the many national suffrage leaders who traveled to Seattle for the convention were:

  • The Reverend Dr. Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919), minister and physician;
  • Frances "Fanny" Garrison Villard (1844-1928), widow of Henry Villard and daughter of William Lloyd Garrison;
  • Rachel Foster Avery (1858-1919)
  • Harriet Taylor Upton (1843-1945), prolific author, leader of Ohio Womans Suffrage Association, treasurer of National Women's Suffrage Association, first woman member of the Republican National Committee;
  • Alice Stone Blackwell (1857-1950), daughter of abolitionists and women's rights advocates Lucy Stone and Henry Blackwell. She was a translator, editor, and writer; 
  • Henry Blackwell (1825-1909), abolitionist and women's rights advocate; husband of Lucy Stone and father of Alice Stone Blackwell;
  • Florence Kelley (1859-1932), lawyer, social reformer, leading member of the settlement house movement, and advocate for rights of workers and children;
  • Kate Gordon (1861-1932), civic leader and suffrage activist from New Orleans;
  • Lucy Anthony (niece of the late Susan B. Anthony);
  • Pauline Perlmutter Steinem (1863-1940), first women elected to public office in Toledo, Ohio, and president of the Ohio Women's Suffrage Association from 1908 to 1911; Grandmother of Gloria Steinem (b. 1934);
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935), renowned author of what would become the classic short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" as well as poems, many articles, and more than a dozen books.

Planning For Participation

A large portion of the April edition of the National American Woman Suffrage Association 's publication, Progress, was devoted to information about the convention:

* Train arrangements: "It is arranged that the friends and delegates attending the Convention in Seattle, Washington, July 1 to 7 inclusive, shall start from Chicago Friday, June 25 at 9:20 a.m. via the Burlington Route."

* Seattle: "The Convention will be held in Seattle, that marvelous city of the Pacific coast which in twenty years has multiplied its population twenty times."

* The Convention Hall: "The convention will hold its sessions in Plymouth Congregational church, an imposing edifice over-grown with English ivy, the one church that has thus far withstood the march of commercial invasion and still stands in the heart of the city."

* National Headquarters: "National Headquarters will be at the Lincoln Hotel (rooms $1.50 and up to $5.00 per day, meals a la carte or $2.00 per day American plan) only four short blocks from the Convention Hall. The Lincoln Hotel is famous for its exquisite parlors, its tea room, its court, with window gardens and hanging baskets of ferns and vines, and especially for its roof garden" ("Seattle Convention").

Possible side trips including a boat trip to Anacortes and Bellingham and the chance to ascend Mount Rainier on the annual Mountaineers club expedition were also detailed. The train which bore the suffragists the remainder of their way west once they had reached Spokane was known as the Suffrage Special.

The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition was presented as a powerful enticement: "On June 1 next Seattle will open to the world not the largest, but the most beautiful world's fair ever given, anywhere at any time" ("Seattle Convention").

Preparing The Way

In late 1908 the Washington Equal Suffrage Association published 3,000 copies of the Washington Women's Cook Book. The book, comprising recipes donated by suffragists from around the state, was both a fundraiser for the group and a way to non-aggressively plant the woman suffrage message in Washington homes. Pro-suffrage information was interspersed with recipes.

After February 1909 when the Washington State Legislature agreed to place an equal suffrage amendment on the November 1910 ballot, the Washington Women's Cookbook remained a steady component of Washington suffragists' so-called "still hunt" strategy to win the support of male voters through the influence of their daughters, wives, and mothers. History of Woman Suffrage states "Many a worker started out into the field with a package of these cook books under her arm" (Vol. 6, p. 677). The book was sold throughout the 1909-1910 suffrage campaign, including at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.

Dr. Cora Smith Eaton wrote a long letter to the editor of Alaska-Yukon magazine. The letter explained the history of women's voting rights in Washington since white settlement, then touched on woman suffrage developments throughout the world. Eaton's letter appeared in the April 1909 issue. Alaska-Yukon magazine had national distribution and carried a steady stream of important information about the planning, funding, and construction of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Eaton's letter was one instance of the suffragists preparing voters for the seeds of woman suffrage they planned to sow to all receptive fairgoers during the convention.

The Suffrage Special

As they made their way across the United States along the Northern Pacific Railroad tracks, national suffrage leaders were already fighting the good fight for Washington's all-male vote. Courting public support and good will, the suffragists traveled together on a Northern Pacific special train, adding members to the party as they wound their way west.

Upon their arrival in Spokane the suffragists were met by Washington Equal Suffrage Association president Emma Smith DeVoe, the wealthy and prominent Spokane suffragist May Arkwright Hutton, and other suffrage proponents. Well publicized in Spokane papers and eagerly observed by Spokane residents, the suffrage luminaries toured the city, enjoyed a banquet in the spectacular Hall of the Doges above the Davenport Restaurant, and spoke eloquently in support of the suffrage cause at a well-attended public meeting at Spokane's First Methodist Church.

The Suffrage Special, its party enlarged by the addition of a carload of Spokane suffragists, made its way across the state. It stopped in Pasco, North Yakima (now Yakima), and Ellensburg and suffrage leaders delivered ardent speeches from the train's rear platform to responsive crowds.

In Tacoma the suffragists detrained and toured the city, dining at Point Defiance Park and addressed the public at an evening meeting at the Tacoma Commercial Club. Each speech drove home the message that the time had come for Washington's male voters to grant their women the voting franchise. Giving women the vote was right and fair, denying them the vote was akin to barbarism. The Tacoma Ledger quoted Anna Howard Shaw's appeal to the Tacoma crowd: "The reason we are here is due to the fact that men of Washington are making a desperate effort to be just" ("Ably Presents Women's Rights").

By the time the Suffrage Special reached Seattle's King Street Station at 11:30 p.m. on June 29, 1909, it carried more than 250 suffragists. The visitors were transported to their hotels or to private homes where they would stay during the convention. The Hotel Lincoln, located on the northwest corner of 4th Avenue and Madison Street in downtown Seattle, was the National Headquarters for the 41st Annual National American Woman Suffrage Convention. Sessions for the convention were held four blocks north at Plymouth Congregational Church, located at 3rd Avenue and Union Street. Plymouth was the second oldest congregation in Seattle and the pastor, Reverend F. J. Van Horn, and board of trustees supported the woman suffrage movement.

Washington Equal Suffrage Association Convention

The Washington Equal Suffrage Association convention, held June 30, 1909, was derailed by a highly publicized fissure between a faction led by president Emma Smith DeVoe (1848-1927) and another headed by vice-president May Arkwright Hutton (1860-1915). Word of the conflict, essentially a power struggle and clash of personal styles, reached local newspapers and was reported widely, embarrassing Washington suffragists and infuriating national suffrage leaders who were on the brink of their own convention.

The highest ranking members of the National convention were forced to address the Washington suffragists' grievances and ultimately the full national membership voted to deny both factions a voting seat at the national convention, although the Washington suffragists were permitted to attend. Despite steadfast attempts to steer the press back to the business at hand -- the importance of the upcoming suffrage vote, the heady presence of so many suffrage luminaries in Seattle, and the daily meetings and public addresses featured during the week-long National Association gathering, newspaper coverage hewed to the state association's skirmish, to the dismay and frustration of National leaders.

Seattle, Meet Suffrage

The Executive Committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association met at Plymouth at 2:00 on the afternoon of June 30, 1909. From 8:00 to 11:00 that evening Seattle residents had their first chance to see the suffrage luminaries who had arrived the previous evening, when the Washington State Equal Suffrage Association hosted a reception for the National Association's officers, delegates, and friends. Prominent Seattle women made up the receiving line, connoting their approval of the event and their support of the woman suffrage cause.

The Seattle Times spelled out why the reception was so important: "The event promises to be a most notable one in view of the fact that not only are suffragists proper invited to be present, but all who are interested in the cause, and that it provides an opportunity for meeting women of international reputation" ("Suffragists To Convene"). Reverend Anna Howard Shaw, Rachel Foster Avery, Harriet Taylor Upton, Alice Stone Blackwell, Kate Gordon, and Lucy Anthony (niece of the late Susan B. Anthony) addressed those gathered.

Sweet Reason, Not Militancy

During the 1909-1910 campaign, Washington suffragists used the so-called "still hunt" strategy of gaining public support for the suffrage amendment through a calm, reasoned, direct appeal to Washington male voters and their female family members. Suffragists appeared at local fairs and gatherings, spoke personally to the electorate, formed suffrage clubs to work within communities across the state, and distributed suffrage literature. They eschewed militant publicity such as that which resulted from the militant methods of British suffragettes, and for the most part avoided holding large public rallies, meetings, or demonstrations.

The Washington campaign was planned to convince the male electorate without antagonizing them.

Morning Business, Afternoon Discussion

During the convention morning sessions were reserved for reports and general business. Afternoon sessions, most open to the public, were used to hold discussions on educational or morale-building topics immediately relevant to the suffrage cause. On Friday July 2, for example, discussion topics offered in advance convention materials were: "Discussion: Conditions which create Suffragette Methods. The American Situation vs. The English Situation. Report of the Committee on Industrial Problems, Florence Kelley, Chairman. Discussion: Wage Earning Women and The Ballot. Disfranchisement of Women and Wage-Earning Children" (Progress, June 1909). A late afternoon automobile trip through Seattle was also promised.

Young Avis Hunsicker, Anna Capwell, and Janet Stranack played an important role in these sessions. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a photograph of the trio under the headline "Little Pages Who Have Served The Convention," stating "Those who have been in attendance at the suffrage convention will long remember the little pages who were always hurrying to carry the messages from the delegates to the chair, and the little ones will always remember the pleasant smile and the cheerful word with which they were received by those whom they have served" (July 8, 1909).

Evening Public Sessions

The evening sessions were used as educational opportunities for the general public. Held in the sanctuary of Plymouth Congregational Church, they were well attended. Evening sessions always opened with a prayer given by a local minister, and included musical selections. A collection plate was passed nightly.

On July 1, 1909, representatives of the state, the city, and the A-Y-P Exposition welcomed the delegates, and Anna Howard Shaw delivered the President's Annual Address. July 2, 1909, was College Night and the speakers described the growth of the woman suffrage movement on campuses. On July 3, 1909, the Washington Equal Suffrage Association had charge of the meeting, and concerned the history and the present state of suffrage in Washington. On July 5, 1909, suffrage luminaries Mary E. Craigie, Henry B. Blackwell, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman addressed the crowd. Janet Richards and Professor Frances Squire Potter spoke on July 7, 1909, and Anna Howard Shaw gave a closing address. It was the last public meeting the suffragists held at Plymouth: for the final day of the convention they moved to the Auditorium at the A-Y-P Exposition.

Bringing In The (Suffrage) Sheaves

A-Y-P Exposition managers provided free passes to convention speakers, officers, and delegates for both Sunday, July 4, 1909, and Wednesday, July 7, 1909.

Cooperation and support from local ministers bolstered the suffrage cause. On Sunday, July 4, Reverend Anna Howard Shaw addressed a crowd at the Auditorium Building on the A-Y-P grounds. The session was billed as a "Mass Meeting on the Sacred Duties and Obligations of Citizenship under the auspices of the Committee on Church Work" ("41st Annual Convention ..."). The Ballard Norwegian Methodist Episcopal Church choir sung a hymn and Seattle ministers 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 all spoke.

Churchgoers across Seattle also heard the gospel of woman suffrage in their own congregations. In The History of Woman Suffrage, editor Ida Husted Harper listed the many well-known suffragists who took pulpits on Independence Day, 1909:

"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).

Wood and Gold

The gavel with which Anna Howard Shaw called proceedings to order had been given to her by Spokane Mayor N. S Pratt during the suffragists' dinner in Spokane. The Spokesman-Review described the gavel as "gold-bedecked ... made from the wood grown in the four states which now have equal suffrage, namely Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho" ("Suffrage Leaders Rule ..."). Most likely the gavel was banded with silver, possibly from May Arkwright Hutton's Idaho silver mine.

Before her death in 1906, suffrage matriarch Susan B. Anthony, in a ceremonial gesture, donated three $5 gold pieces to the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In an emotionally charged moment during the proceedings on July 6, 1909, treasurer Harriet Taylor Upton announced that the coins would be sold to the first bidders. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer states, "had there been twenty of the coins they all would have sold for double their face value" ("Five-Dollar Pieces ...").

Suffrage Day at the A-Y-P

Suffrage Day at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (A-Y-P), celebrated on July 7, 1909, was the highlight of the National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention. A-Y-P Suffrage Day coincided with the final day of the convention, and the festivities were planned as both a celebration to mark the end of the convention and an enormous public relations bonanza. Fairgoers, including the roughly 600 suffragists who participated in the convention, entered the Exposition grounds under enormous banners bearing the slogan "Votes For Women."

Contemporary accounts of Suffrage Day emphasize how thoroughly the slogan "Votes For Women" was carried through the Exposition grounds. Suffragists pinned buttons with their message to nearly everyone who crossed the threshold, and every toy balloon sold at the fair that day was imprinted with the slogan. A free morning public meeting in the Exposition Auditorium drew a large crowd of fairgoers to hear Reverend Anna Howard Shaw, Alice Stone Blackwell, Florence Kelley, Kate M. Gordon, Ella Seass Stewart, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Laura Clay speak out for suffrage. A-Y-P Exposition president J. E. Chilberg welcomed the convention delegates to the fair.

During the closing toasts at the suffragists' final dinner at The Firs, the restaurant in the Y.W.C.A Building on A-Y-P grounds, Harriet Taylor Upton summed up her Seattle experience: "There was only one dark spot for me in this convention, and that was between 2:30 and 7:30 a.m." (quoted in "Suffragists Fly Banners ...").

A-Y-P Exposition management was generous in providing convention delegates free passes to the fair, as was their policy with other conventioneers.

Suffragists at the Summit

On July 30, 1909, Dr. Cora Smith Eaton (1867-1939), photographer Asahel Curtis (1874-1941), Major E. S. Ingraham, and other summiting members of The Mountaineers 1909 expedition to Mount Rainier planted a large Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition flag with a smaller pennant bearing the motto "Votes For Women" attached to its staff at the summit of Columbia Crest on Mount Rainier. After only 15 minutes, high winds snapped the staff, so the climbers placed the flag inside the crater and left it there for posterity.

The History of Woman Suffrage described the pennant as being a smaller version of the one that flew from the hot-air balloon above the A-Y-P Exposition grounds on Suffrage Day, and in an editorial note identifies Cora Smith Eaton as the person who carried the silken pennant up the mountain (Vol. 6, p. 677-678).

Sources: "Suffragists Convene In Seattle," The Seattle Times, June 30, 1909, p. 1; "Ably Presents Woman's Rights," The Tacoma Ledger, June 30, 1909; "Suffragettes Here This Evening," The Seattle Times, June 29, 1909, p. 4; Harriet Taylor Upton, "The National 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; "Suffragists Convene In Seattle," The Seattle Times, June 30, 1909, p. 1; "Women Who Received For The Suffragists Last Night," Ibid., July 1, 1909, p. 13; "Oh The Women!," Ibid., June 27, 1901; Washington Women's Cookbook compiled by Linda Deziah Jennings (Seattle: Washington Equal Suffrage Association, ca. 1908); 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); 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); 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); "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; "Little Pages Who Have Served The Convention," Ibid., July 8, 1909; "Five-Dollar Gold Pieces Sell For Ten Dollars," Ibid., July 7, 1909; Rebecca J. Mead,  How The Vote Was Won: Woman Suffrage In The Western United States, 1868-1914 (New York: NYU Press, 2004); "The Limits of Sisterhood: The Woman's Building in Seattle, 1908-1921," in Women In Pacific Northwest History: An Anthology ed. by Karen J. Blair (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988), 65-82; Alaska-Yukon Magazine, April 1909, p. 73; Ohio History Central: An Encyclopedia of Ohio History, "Harriet T. Upton." (accessed May 6, 2008); "Gloria Steinem," Ohiana Authors website accessed May 6, 2008 (

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