1911 Suffrage Victory Directly Connected to the Martinez Woman’s Club Centennial
By Harriett Burt
When members of the Martinez Woman’s Club and their guests sat down to luncheon at the Martinez Event Center on November 5, 2011, they were celebrating not only the club’s 100th birthday but also the centennial of the election campaign that led directly to its establishment.
As a “whirlwind” campaign was launched statewide in the spring of 1911 to secure the victory of state constitutional amendment 8 giving women full suffrage in California, the two organizations in charge of Northern California, the Equal Suffrage League and the College Equal Suffrage League, urged women in the many small communities near the cities and throughout the countryside to form “Civic Improvement Clubs”. The purpose was not only to lobby local governments for amenities such as cleaner streets with less dust and mud but also to raise money to purchase items such as garbage cans for the ‘downtown business areas” – something we now all take for granted as a city responsibility. That and many other projects promoting education, good governance, and city improvements since that time have been either started or supported significantly by the Woman’s Club whose original name was the Woman’s Improvement Club of Martinez and Vicinity.
From the Martinez Daily Standard in June, 1911:
LADIES MAY FORM IMPROVEMENT CLUB
“Martinez may secure a womans improvement club. Members of the Equal Suffrage League are considering such an organization and indications point very strongly to the idea taking firm root and becoming a reality before winter comes.
Nearly every live town in the state has an organization of women which works for the civic improvement and much good has been accomplished. In Vallejo the Women’s improvement club has done wonderful things working under a heavy handicap. The ladies boosted for a new high school, for paving of the streets, for the new library, and they fitted up a beautiful room for the juvenile readers in the book house.”
The project was put on hold while active suffragists such as Mrs. E. H. Shibley, Mrs. W. S. Tinning, Mrs. T. B. Swift, Mrs. Frank Prosser, Mrs. F. P. Flesh, Mrs. J. Soto and Mrs. F. Milliff organized Suffrage Teas, a Gentlemen’s Smoker and a big campaign event or two at the Bay View Pavilion plus numerous rallies and other activities.
Although Amendment 8 lost in Martinez 99 to 148 it carried the County by 21 votes (1569 yes to 1548 no) and the entire State by around 3500 votes (just barely 2 percent of total votes cast). Statewide, the margin of victory was supplied by the farmers in the Central Valley and other rural areas and by the precincts in Southern California.
On Saturday, October 14, 1911 a campaign promise was kept when around 40 of “the leading women in the city” according to the Standard gathered at the Fireman’s Hall on Las Juntas Street to form the club. 33 signed up that day including the president pro-tem, Mrs. E. H. Shibley, and the Secretary pro-tem, Mrs. J. H. Wells whose own name, Anna A. Wells, is signed at the end of each meeting’s minutes in the first year of the club’s existence.
The main item of business for the inaugural gathering was to form a committee to develop a club constitution. Revered local teacher and principal, Miss Aga Lander, was named chairman assisted by Mrs. A. Bacon, Mrs. W. R. Sharkey, Mrs. O. Hayward and Mrs. F. Prosser. The next meeting was set for the following Tuesday, October 17th by which time the committee had hand-written a several page draft of the club’s constitution which Mrs. Wells carefully copied into the minutes book. The discussion and modification took two meetings being ratified on the October 24th meeting. At that same meeting the permanent officers for the year were elected with Mrs. Shibley and Mrs. Wells assuming their posts officially. Other charter officers for the Woman’s Club of Martinez and Vicinity as they were listed in the minutes incl
1st vice – Miss Aga Lander
2nd vice – Mrs. Elam Brown
3rd vice - Miss Leila E. Veale (later Mrs. A. F. Bray)
Financial Secretary - Mrs. C. Bacon
Treasurer - Mrs.Van Prooyen
The treasurer and financial secretary were already busy as dues of ten cents per month had been set at the organizing meeting. By the second meeting, in addition to 22 new members, 20 paid their dues a year in advance adding up to $24 in revenue to begin their projects.
No time was wasted – at the next meeting on November 14, 1911, “It was moved and carried that the club purchase at least four garbage cans. A committee was appointed consisting of Miss Sadie Davenport, Mrs. Hauser and Mrs. Van Prooyen and they were asked to purchase four garbage cans and to have them placed on the streets. (Note: the club worked with the City’s Board of Trustees (City Council) on the location and the maintenance of them. Later minutes show that $6.75 was spent by the club for each can.)
The minutes of that meeting contains the following paragraph:
“A communication from Mrs. Mastick, chairman of club extension of Alameda District asking us to join the State Federation of Woman’s Clubs, was read. The Sec’ty was instructed to answer this communication in order to find out more about the aims and purposes of the State Federation of Women’s Clubs.
“A letter was also rec’d from the American Civic Association as us to join them, too. This communication was laid over (tabled).”
At a later meeting that year, the invitation from what is now called California Federation of Woman’s Clubs (CFWC) was also “laid aside” until 1914 when the Woman’s Improvement Club of Martinez and Vicinity officially joined the CFWC and changed its name to the Martinez Woman’s Club as it has been known ever since.
But the local link to CFWC is also part of the suffrage movement and the successful 1911 campaign as the state federation played a significant role in the victory. It was one of the first state federations of women’s clubs to publicly support women’s suffrage. According to an article in the national General Federation of Women’s Club’s magazine in late 1995, the Political Equality League of Southern California asked the annual convention to endorse Amendment 8.
“Although many California clubwomen doubted the constitutionality of even considering an amendment that did not have the support of all (CFWC) members, President Mrs. Russell J. Waters ruled that the resolution be brought to the convention for a vote. When the vote was taken, the vast majority of California clubwomen supported the amendment” according to the article.
The Political Equality League president, Mrs. Seward A. Simons, considered the CFWC endorsement “the single greatest factor in winning the suffrage….It is true that most of the clubs felt that they must have both sides of the subject presented, but that was a help to the cause, as the arguments of the anti-suffragists were so antiquated that they made converts to the suffrage side.”
The CFWC and unaffiliated clubs with similar aims played another important role in the campaign that made California the sixth state to adopt full equal suffrage for women. The College Equal Suffrage League of Northern California, one of the most important organizations in the 1911 campaign had its various chairmen (the masculine form was used by all documents written at the time by women and in the early minutes of the Woman’s Civic Improvement Club) write detailed reports of exactly how their responsibilities were fulfilled.
The chapter on the press and publicity in particular delineated a sophisticated campaign using the same strategies and techniques used today even as the methods of communication have been revolutionized by technology in our era. Organizers used a big blue 1911 Packard Touring Car to lead parades through small towns to a rally site knowing that the men would come to see the car. Newspaper advertisements were thought to be ineffective so organizers instead depended on events (such as the “Blue Liner” to attract reporters who would cover the speakers. Public speakers were used at small and large meetings and rallies without the benefits of public address systems, radio and television rather than debates which tended to reinforce previously held opinions. Because most of the effective speakers lived either in states that had already won suffrage such as Colorado and Washington or on the East Coast which was still the center of the leading organizations, it was too expensive to bring many out to California for an extended stay.
“The most economical plan is, of course, to develop a good local speaker from one of the women’s clubs in the State—a woman whose experience in genial debate and in forming organizations would fit her to go out to the towns in all parts of her State to form fresh organizations,” the editor stated adding with regret that developing an extensive network of such speakers would have required starting the identification and training process two years earlier. While ground-work for victory had been laid for years, mostly after 1906, this task had not been done. Even so, on the local level, the women’s and civic clubs already in existence did supply significant organizational and communication skill in the short six months campaign during the spring and summer of 1911 as evidenced in the clippings from the Martinez newspapers.
One other complaint the report’s editor expressed was that the successful start of women’s civic improvement clubs such as the Martinez Woman’s Club drained energy from compiling a complete report as she would have liked to have sent to suffragists in other states to serve as a roadmap for their own success.
“The building up of these organizations drew the life-blood from the parent organism. Instead of having in California an old guard, who delights in nothing so much as the recounting of campaign adventures, we have the vigorous ranks of a new soldiery striving with all the enthusiasm, and a growing self0discipline towards the realization of a purer and better California.” But that meant the reports didn’t get done.
The Martinez Woman’s Club was no exception to this as it immediately started a round of civic projects, some through pressuring the City government and some by providing funds and volunteers to assist under the leadership of local Equal Suffrage League veterans including the first president, Mrs. E. H. Shibley. And unlike similar clubs formed at the same time in Walnut Creek and Crockett for the same reasons, it continues to exist and work for the betterment of all in the community and beyond.
For more information on the entire history of the Martinez Woman’s Club go to www.martinezhistory.org, click on ‘history’ and look for “Martinez Woman’s Club – July 2007.