When California (male, of course) voters overwhelmingly voted to give women the right to vote in 1911, San Francisco was on the wrong side of the issue. Nonetheless, the ballot measure carried and women finally had a voice in deciding the people who represented them as well as important ballot measures of the day.
California wrestled with women’s voting rights for decades. In what should have been the end of it, the Legislature voted for women’s suffrage in 1893. But the governor felt the legislation may have been unconstitutional, so the issue was thrown to the voters to amend the constitution (sound familiar?). Women and other sensible people campaigned tenaciously to achieve the successful 1911 statewide referendum. While the record is unclear regarding the explanation for San Francisco’s rejection, the record is unambiguous that there were strong business interests opposed to opening decision-making to an electoratal block keenly desirous of sane and safe working conditions, an end to child labor, and some measure of control over out-of-control alcohol abuse. At the turn of the 19th century, San Francisco was the economic center of the Western United States.
So special interests are not a creation of modern times, and the City has since more than redeemed itself for its wrongheadedness regarding suffrage (though one wonders why there has only been one woman mayor in the City’s history).
Read more about California’s run-up to the 1911 referendum here, courtesy of the Autry, which merged with the Women of the West museum in 2002 and actively supports research and education regarding women’s contribution to the development of the western states, and the world. LLII.
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