Oakland Centennial Suffrage Parade

October 10, 2011 marks the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in California. Needless to say, the League of Women Voters owes everything to the committed women who, one century ago, worked tirelessly and creatively to earn this most basic and essential right.

To honor the occasion, the League of Women Voters of Oakland co-sponsored the Oakland Centennial Suffrage Parade. A team of co-sponsors, organizations, and women and men of all ages gathered Sunday, October 2nd at the Lake Merritt Bandstand for the event. I interviewed my mother, Michelle DeRobertis, a member of the League of Women Voters, Oakland, to learn what the celebration was all about.

League of Women Voters of San Francisco: Why did you want to be a part of the Oakland Centennial Suffrage Parade? What made it special?

Michelle DeRobertis: I wanted to participate due to the historical significance of 100 years of women’s suffrage in our state. It was a particularly appropriate event due to the fact that Oakland, where I’ve lived for thirty years now, was the site of the very first Women’s Suffrage parade in California. On August 23, 1908, 300 women marched down Harrison Street to the Republican National Convention to petition that they include women’s suffrage in their platform. They were turned down.
LWVSF: What a legacy! I understand that the Bay Area as a whole was not very supportive of women’s suffrage at the time?

MD: That’s correct. In fact, despite the early commitment of local Suffragists, in 1911 Alameda County voted against women’s right to vote by a margin of 10,600 – 12,800. San Francisco County also shot it down, 21,900 to 35,600. It is actually the rural counties and Los Angeles County that we have to thank for passage of women’s suffrage in 1911. Apparently, the major cities were concerned that women would enforce prohibition.

LWVSF: And we now know how that noble experiment turned out. What was the crowd like Sunday?

MD: There were a ton of organizations present. The League of Women Voters, of course, but also the American Association of University Women, the Oakland Heritage Alliance, labor organizations, Girl Scouts, some in vintage uniforms, and many more. There really were girls and women of all ages. Many women were dressed in period clothing to honor the original Suffragists, complete with the iconic purple sashes. There were quite a few men as well.

LWVSF: Who were the speakers and distinguished guests?

MD: There were quite a few female elected officials many of whom gave brief speeches. Congresswoman Barbara Lee from California’s 9th District, Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland, California Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, and Oakland Councilmembers Jane Brunner and Libby Schaff. They were proud to announce that women are now a majority of Oakland’s City Councilmembers! I think that having this many successful women politicians present was so inspiring to all of the young girls there. Nate Miley, President of the Alameda County Supervisors, also spoke to show his support on behalf of his sex.

LWVSF: How was the parade?

MD: We marched down Grand Ave., complete with a motorized cable car to escort those unable to walk and excited children. After returning to the band stand, the guests were invited to the Veteran’s Memorial House for a traditional Ice Cream Social, underwritten by Assemblymember Skinner and Oakland’s own Fenton’s Ice Cream.

LWVSF: My lifelong favorite. How fun. Do you think that it is important that we celebrate the milestones of women’s suffrage?

MD: Absolutely. And I think that the lesson to take from the entire occasion is a reminder of just how difficult it was for women to earn this most basic right. There was one man at the parade in period dress with a sign reading: “DANGER: Women’s Suffrage is a Menace to the Home and Men’s Jobs!” This not only added historical flavor, but it served as a reminder of what the Suffragists were up against. Although we take it for granted now, the right to vote is a right for which our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, and for the younger generation, great-great-grandmothers, really had to fight. It was also an appropriate time to be reminded that the Equal Rights Amendment has still not passed. It reads simply, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States of by any state on account of sex.” So although there is much to celebrate, the fight continues.

LWVSF: Thanks, Mom.

Natalya DeRobertis-Theye

(This interview has been edited and condensed)

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