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Suffragists provide ‘proof of life’ for the good fight
By Jean Sherrard
In real life and in the movies, “proof of life” is an oft-used trope in which kidnappers pose a hostage grimly holding up a newspaper’s front page. This week’s astonishing panorama of suffragists, unearthed by researcher Ron Edge, uses a publication to provide proof of a different sort: the life of a movement.
Nearly 70 women and a handful of men lined up a century ago, with mostly stern faces that might reflect not merely the conventions of unsmiling portraiture, but also their years of struggle to secure a fundamental right of democracy. In a note on the back of the photo, they are identified only as “Women suffragists circa 1915.” Two clues, however, provide more precision.
At far right, a partially obscured sign for Wilson’s Modern Business College places us at Second Avenue and Stewart Street (the terra-cotta-clad two-story building from 1914 is being replaced this year by a high-rise). The other pointer is that women are holding up four copies of the March 18, 1916, edition of “The Suffragist,” the weekly newspaper of the Congressional Union for Women’s Suffrage, founded in 1913 by activist Alice Paul and published in Washington, D.C.
The paper’s cover depicts the suffrage opera “Melinda and her Sisters,” staged as a benefit for Paul’s Union at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. None other than Broadway headliner and movie actress Marie Dressler — who, 17 years later, played the title role in “Tugboat Annie,” a film made in Seattle and loosely based on the life of Thea Foss, founder of Foss Maritime — played the operatic lead.
The long campaign for women’s suffrage, however, had not been merely an Eastern affair. By 1896, four Western states — Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Idaho — had voted to authorize the franchise. Efforts in Washington languished until Nov. 8, 1910, when the state’s male voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to our state constitution, giving women the right to vote here, and reinvigorating the national debate.
California followed suit in 1911, with Arizona, Kansas, the Alaskan Territory, Nevada and Montana soon to follow. But hidebound Eastern and Southern states proved resistant, so Paul rallied her members to travel the pro-suffrage West for six weeks and whip up enthusiasm.
Luminaries of the tour included Harriot Stanton Blatch (daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton), Florence Bayard Hilles and Elizabeth Selden Rogers, “speakers known throughout the country for their personality and power.”
In Seattle, the “Suffrage Special” tour took flight. “Visiting Suffragist Joyrides in Aeroplane … Scatters Tracts,” bubbled a front-page Seattle Times headline. The story explained: “The doctrine of ‘Votes for Women’ reached its apex 1,400 feet above Seattle when Miss Lucy Burns … flew over [the city] in [Terah] Maroney’s beautiful flying yacht … and scattered handbills.”
(A prescient side note: One year earlier, Mahoney had taken William Boeing on his first flight, after which Boeing told his partner George Westervelt: “There isn’t much to that machine of Maroney’s. I think we could build a better one.”)
The women’s Seattle tour stop did not disappoint. A crowd of 1,500 packed the Moore Theatre on May 1 for rousing female oratory. Proclaimed Selden Rogers, “The force of women is needed in the land for peace, strength and righteousness.”
The next morning, the envoys gathered for a boisterous pep rally at the University of Washington, where they were welcomed to Meany Hall by Henry Suzzallo, UW president. (Today, the microform collection of the UW library named for him houses the entire seven-year run of “The Suffragist.”)
In the afternoon, a downtown luncheon took place at the New Washington Hotel, now the Josephinum Apartments. Our “Now” group photo was staged just around the corner.
By 1920, requisite states had ratified the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote (though many women of color remained disenfranchised even after the passage, legally or because of discriminatory practices). In 1923, Alice Paul became the first drafter of the Equal Rights Amendment. The fate of the latter might well lie in the wisdom and spirit embodied in our “Now” photo.
To see Jean Sherrard’s 360-degree video of the “now” prospect and compare it with the “then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Jean, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!
Thanks to Clay Eals for painstaking identification of the participants in our “now” photo (from left). We have only included the names we know. Please help us fill in the gaps!
Allison Feher; Alyssa Weed; Leah Litwak; Assunta Ng, founder, Northwest Asian Weekly; Michelle Merriweather, president and CEO, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle; Sheila Edwards Lange, president, Seattle Central College; Sadiqa Sakin; Marie McCaffrey, co-founder and executive director, HistoryLink; Jessica Forsythe; Lily Wilson-Codega, director, Seattle Office of Intergovernmental Relations; Lisa Herbold, Seattle City Council member; Teresa Mosqueda, Seattle City Council member; Lorena González, Seattle City Council member; Courtney Gregoire, Port of Seattle commissioner; Sally Bagshaw, Seattle City Council member; Debora Juarez, Seattle City Council member; Jenny Durkan, Seattle mayor; Pramila Jayapal, U.S. representative, Seventh District; Debra Smith, CEO, Seattle City Light; Christine Gregoire, former Washington governor; Michelle Gregoire; Mitzi Johanknecht, King County sheriff; Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Council member; Claudia Balducci, King County Council member; Constance Rice, former vice chancellor and senior chancellor, the Seattle Colleges; Emily Pinckney; Karishama Vahora; Maqsud Nur; McKenna Lux; Nura Abdi; Jessica Finn-Coven, director, Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment; Pat Griffith; Kathryn Tyson; LaNesha DeBardelaben, executive director, Northwest African American Museum; Mariko Lockhart, director, Seattle Office for Civil Rights; Ann Murphy; Linnea Hirst; Kiku Hayashi; Julie Sarkissian; Dianne Ramsey; Amy Peloff; Connie Hellyer; Dave Griffith; Joanna Cullen.
We continue this week’s Extras with a slight mea culpa. Two photos were taken on July 2nd – the first just prior to some delayed arrivals. We reassembled for a second portrait, but lost a few participants in the process. Here’s a version of that earlier photo:
A big thanks to all who joined us for the repeat!