Votes for Women: A Relatively New Prize…and Harder Won Than We Remember
By Ruth Geos
To continue our Road to the Election series, we now look at votes for women:
In 1911, California became the 6th state to recognize women’s right to vote—and it was no walk in the park. In that election, San Francisco voters, all men, mostly voted against it.
A similar California referendum had failed in 1886 and a constitutional court challenge failed in 1872. The California Supreme Court, in Van Valkenburg v. Brown, 43 Cal. 43 (1872), had supported the refusal of the County Clerk of Santa Cruz County to allow Ellen Van Valkenburg to register to vote, finding that neither the 14th or 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution established the right to vote by women.
The push for voting rights for women in the U.S. was initially state to state. Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Washington all came before California in winning women’s right to vote. Each state effort built on the next, and not all campaigns were successful.
It was not until 9 years after California suffrage, that the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would be fully ratified, on August 26, 1920. This next year, 2020, will be not only the next Presidential Election but the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, which is quoted here:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Even with that landmark Constitutional accomplishment, and its plain and forthright language, still not all women could vote. African American women, who had equally fought for suffrage, had another 45 years ahead until that right was legally protected, with the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
To see a glimmer of what it took to make U.S. women’s suffrage a reality, take a look at the National Portrait Gallery’s, Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence, along with the exhibition from The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Five African American suffragists you should know, and the evocative array of archived objects in the Smithsonian collections, including campaign buttons worn throughout all.
Next Election: November 5, 2019: SF Consolidated Municipal Election
Still need to Register to vote? Check with the SF Board of Elections.
You can also Register to Vote at the San Francisco Law Library.
Confused about the new SF voting system? Come to our free program on Friday 9/27.
See our Election Guide for more details.