Talk focuses on women and Washington State Constitution

Talk focuses on women and Washington State Constitution


Local historian Shanna Stevenson talks about the history of suffrage in Washington.

Suffragists in Washington Territory were told to leave voting rights to the “chivalry of men,” who would eventually allow for them to vote. Thankfully, many activists and suffragists ignored that advice. Washington state became the 5th state in the United States to permanently protect women’s right to vote.

This was just one story from local historian Shanna Stevenson’s presentation. At a brown-bag event hosted by Secretary of State Wyman on Wednesday, Stevenson detailed the history of the suffrage debates at our Constitutional Convention, the activists who came to Olympia, the vote on suffrage in 1889 and the rights won and lost as women approached their victory in 1910 for permanent women’s suffrage in Washington.

In 1883, women in our territory actually had the right to vote. Here in the West, there was no entrenched body of anti-suffrage laws compared to the eastern United States, Stevenson said. Also, women in Washington had already left behind many of the traditional, domestic expectations for their gender due to the demands of frontier living.

By the 1889 Constitutional Convention, however, women’s right to vote had been removed. Suffragists held their own opposing convention to champion their right to vote. Their convention inspired real discussion of women’s rights and roles as citizens of the new state.

To overcome their opposition, women in the Washington Territory became activists. They built coalitions, signed petitions, separated themselves from Prohibition, moderated elections and even published a cookbook. In a particularly persuasive (and familiar) argument, activist Zerelda McCoy said she would not submit to taxation because she had no representation.

In 1888, to challenge the laws that barred her participation, McCoy went to the polls and voted. Fifteen Washington women had made a similar move in 1870. These were bold statements, since it was another 50 years before the 19th Amendment passed in America.

Through their perseverance, women finally convinced Washington’s Legislature that they wanted and deserved the right to vote. The male voters of Washington approved suffrage in 1910.

Secretary Wyman is the second female elected Republican official. Before her was Josephine Corliss Preston, who was the first woman elected to Washington state government after women won the right to vote in 1910. She served as State School Superintendent.

This event was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women.

Retired Washington Supreme Court Justice Gerry Alexander will talk more about Washington’s journey to statehood next month. More information about his upcoming presentation can be found here.

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