If recent voting trends continue, today women will cast their ballots in higher numbers than men. It wasn't always this way: Next year marks the 100th anniversary of women gaining the vote in California. Reporter: Rachel Dornhelm
There's a good chance today more women will vote than men. As it happens, we're about to hit the 100th anniversary of women gaining the vote in California.
California was an early leader in womens' suffrage. A California senator was the first to introduce the issue to the US Congress in 1878. But by 1911, women here still did not have the right to vote. UCLA history professor Ellen Dubois says in some ways the movement had become stale.
"By the early 20th century it had a reputation for being Old fashioned, humorless, the same kinds of images that I think people still associate with the prohibition movement," said Dubois.
Dubois says California suffrage leaders at the turn of the century made the movement modern and attractive.
They had beautiful graphics printed on all sort of materials -- from buttons and penants to seed packets and stamps. Once the initiative to amend the state constitution made the ballot they had nine months to campaign.
But there was a good starting point. Dubois says many women of the time belonged to at least one social club.
"So those associations and societies,already well organized with women who had a lot of public skills in running meetings, in writing, in speaking, in understanding how politics worked, were ready to jump into the campaign," said Dubois.
Alice Park was one of California's leading suffragists. Her grandaughter, Winelda Park Blum, says Park started traveling the state, campaigning for suffrage.
"She always had sort of a scratchy voice because she gave so many speeches," said Blum. "And they didn't have microphones in those days."
Blum says her grandmother was energized by the idea women would change the world with their vote.
"I know that she'd have womens' groups meeting and she'd get them to meet at the library, or some place where they could go to congregate, and talk about all the reason why they could improve their lot if they got the vote," said Blum. "For instance, they would never vote for war, according to her."
The anti-suffragists also thought women would be very effective voters. The liquor industry campaigned against suffrage on fears they'd close down saloons. The manufacturing industry feared women would put into place too many expensive workplace restrictions. The women had to come up with creative ways to take their message to California's men -- the voters who would decide their fate. Elaine Elinson, who wrote about women's suffrage in California, says the women found them.
"They got this fancy, very snazzy car called the Blue Liner and they actually drove it around the state," said Elinson. "It was a brilliant organizing activity because they knew that guys would come out to look at this really fancy car and then they would talk to them about why women should have the vote."
Elinson says besides automobiles they harnessed all sorts of technology and media for their campaign: plays, silent movies, and music.
"There was one rally that was interesting in Los Angeles," said Ellison. "The police began to clear the rally because they said [the women] didn't have a permit for public speaking, so they began singing. And I guess [the police] couldn't find an ordinance against singing and [the women] were able to carry on the rally and sing their way through it," said Ellison.
Election day 1911 came. Suffragists stationed themselves as election monitors at as many polling places as they could. That night, some of the state's major papers reported the proposed amendment lost. Helen Valeska Bary, a young suffragist in Los Angeles, heard the news and left the campaign's headquarters. In a recording from 1972, Bary recalled going back to the campaign office the following day.
"That was one of the most interesting days of my life," said Barry. "People streamed into the office. They were people I'd never seen before -- well, they began to hand me money. I began to recruit people to help me.
Well, I took in more money that day than I ever took in before,” said Barry.
And she said hundreds of people came to sign up for the next campaign. It wasn't needed. It took two days to get the results, but the suffragists won by 4,000 votes, an average of one per precinct.
"If we looked at the path of other expansions of the democratic franchise, women winning the right to vote in the early 20th century seems ridiculously late," said Dubois. "But on the other hand, when these things finally happen, they seem very quickly to be so obvious and so natural that people very quickly forget how hard it was to win them."
California activists quickly fanned out across the nation to fuel the suffrage fires. The U.S. constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the vote passed in 1920.