“SUFFRAGE,” FROM THE Latin word “suffragium,” means “to support,” particularly by voting. It was a household word a century ago, when American women won the right to vote after decades of ups and downs. The women were in the trenches, and they were aided in their final victories by fair-minded men, including some who marched as “suffragents.”
Parades, exhibits and other festivities planned for 2020 will mark the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Washington, notably, was the penultimate state in the push to enfranchise 26 million American women. We passed the torch to Tennessee, whose Legislature put the amendment over the top on Aug. 18, 1920, after a young lawmaker changed his vote at the urging of his mother. (Where’s her statue?)
It’s important to acknowledge that resilient Washington women were a decade “Ahead of the Curve” — the theme for a series of profiles excerpted in Pacific NW magazine. After a half-century of short-lived victories and galling setbacks, the women of Washington finally won the right to vote — permanently — on Nov. 8, 1910. Nearly 64 percent of the electorate approved the amendment, with all 39 counties favoring ratification. “The stunningly decisive victory … is widely credited with reinvigorating the national movement,” Northwest suffrage historian Shanna Stevenson notes.
(Some Washington women remained legally disenfranchised after the 1910 victory, including those who had married an immigrant, as well as Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, and Korean and Japanese immigrants. Some states erected discriminatory legal barriers that kept African American women from voting, but Washington state did not.)
“Ahead of the Curve,” an exhibit sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of State, opens Sept. 19 at the state Capitol in Olympia. The agency’s website, sos.wa.gov/legacy/, will feature profiles on trailblazing Washington women. My teammates, Bob Young and Lori Larson, and I are spotlighting 21 in all, including the six profiles that are excerpted now in Pacific NW magazine.