South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild members in front of the Knox-Goodrich Building. Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
San Jose joins the rest of California in celebrating an important milestone: the centennial anniversary of women being granted the vote in California! In 1911 the Women’s Suffrage Amendment was finally passed by both houses of the California Legislature, and it was signed into law near midnight on October 10, 1911 by the governor, under the eye of Clara Foltz, the first female lawyer on the Pacific coast of North America, who lived and practiced in San Jose.
The struggle for women’s voting rights officially began at a tea party. In 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, along with other female American delegates to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, were not allowed to sit in the convention hall with the other delegates, or participate, because they were women. They realized the many similarities between the conditions of racial slavery and gender inequality, and resolved to address the issue on their return to the U.S.
In July of 1848, New York passed legislation giving married women some property-owning rights. Stanton, who lived in Seneca Falls, New York, met Mott at a tea party she attended, and the women discussed their political situation over tea and refreshments. Less than a week later, Stanton and Mott called the first Woman’s Rights Convention in a church in Seneca Falls, where the 300 attendees (including 40 men) discussed “the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” They also adopted 11 resolutions,including one calling for full voting rights for women. Stanton wrote, “To have drunkards, idiots, horse racing rum-selling rowdies, ignorant foreigners, and silly boys fully recognized, while we ourselves are thrust out from all the rights that belong to citizens, is too grossly insulting to be longer quietly submitted to. The right is ours. We must have it.” The media, except for Frederick Douglass’ newspaper, responded with ridicule to the meeting and the issues discussed there, but there was no going back. The issue had been raised and would not be allowed to rest.
Women registering to vote in San Francisco, 1911. Library of Congress.
Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, many women (and men) worked tirelessly to promote the idea of women having the same rights as men, and to secure those rights and opportunities step by step: from the right to higher education, to the right to work in “male” occupations, to the right own property, and the right to be on school boards and vote in minor local elections, to the ultimate goal of complete voting rights as full citizens of the United States. Many other reform groups like the WCTU, as well as churches and synagogues, joined the work, giving speeches, writing supportive articles and essays, and giving money and other valuable goods and services to the effort.
Several of the Western states started giving women full voting rights, starting with Wyoming in 1869; California followed as the 6th state to grant women the vote, in 1911. 72 years of constant work and education, struggling against negative attitudes in wider American society which were spurred on by the media through propaganda and destructive editorials, finally resulted in the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which extended voting rights to all American women in 1920.
21st century San Jose women — members and friends of the South Bay Ladies’ Tea Guild — celebrated the centennial anniversary of this successful effort by meeting at the Knox-Goodrich Building, a ca. 1889 sandstone built for and owned by Sarah Knox-Goodrich, the founder of San Jose’s branch of the Woman Suffrage Association and a champion of women’s rights in California. They then “marched” to San Pedro Square where they gathered at Satori Tea Bar to discuss the history of the movement and the accomplishments of the remarkable women who participated. They garnered quite a bit of attention and were able to celebrate this momentous event in appropriate style!
Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.
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For more information:
“Suffrage Timeline” from The Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership
“Seneca Falls Convention” from Wikipedia
“The Seneca Falls Convention, July 19-20, 1848” at the National Portrait Gallery
“Seneca Falls Convention of 1848” at History.com
“Seneca Falls Convention: First Women’s Rights Convention”
“Declaration of Sentiments” from Wikipedia