In the spring of 2016, the mayor of Rochester, New York placed a poster with the following statement on it beside the gravestone of suffragette Susan B. Anthony:
Dear Susan B., We thought you might like to know that for the first time in history, a woman is running for President representing a major party. 144 years ago your illegal vote got you arrested. It took another 48 years for women to finally gain the right to vote. Thank you for paving the way.
Lovely Warren, The first female mayor of Rochester.
Following the primary, word spread as numerous social media and news media outlets picked up the story. Thousands of women made a pilgrimage to Anthony’s grave to place their “I Voted” stickers on her grave and pay respects. Mount Hope Cemetery extended its hours on Election Day to accommodate all of the visitors. The following photograph was posted on Election Day 2016:
This is the scene at @mounthopecemetery this morning at Susan B. Anthony’s gravestone. Visitors from all over the country have visited the gravestone to pay their respects to Susan B. Her gravestone is covered with I Voted stickers, flowers and other mementos. A powerful site to see on Election Day. 🇺🇸 #explorerochester #SusanBAnthony #ThankYouSusanB
In honor of International Women’s Day, let’s dig a little into Washington State’s history of suffrage.
In 1883, Washington Territory became the third U.S. territory to enact women’s suffrage (behind Wyoming in 1869 and Utah in 1870). The statute gave the right to vote to: “All American citizens, above the age of twenty-one years, and all American half-breeds, over that age, who have adopted the habits of the whites, and all other inhabitants of this territory, above that age…”
The 15th Amendment had been ratified in 1870, allowing American male citizens to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”. According to Commercial Age (Olympia, Wash.) March 26, 1870, p. 1, black (male) Washingtonians had already been voting in Washington territory: “Although the Fifteenth Amendment does not particularly affect us in this Territory, as the colored folks have been voters among us for sometime already, yet it will be a matter of much importance in both Oregon and California… It will be a happy day for the country when the people shall no more care to inquire whether a voter or a candidate for office is white or black than whether he is tall or short.” Several laws had been passed which banned or expelled blacks from the Oregon Trail and Oregon territory (which included Washington territory prior to 1853). With so few white women in Washington territory in the 1850s, Washington Territory passed a law allowing the adult male children of white fathers and Native American mothers – legally called “half-breeds” – to vote. In the 1860s, the “Mercer Girls” – white, educated young women from Massachusetts – were brought to Washington territory by Asa Mercer to help with the ratio of white men and women, and many of them were early Washington suffragettes.
With the passage of women’s suffrage in 1883 in Washington territory, white and black women were granted the right to vote, and women immediately participated. “A Ballot For The Ladies” stated: “Anxious to exercise their new right, women across the state voted against corrupt politicians, and voted for local option prohibition. In the 1884 election, a larger percentage of women voted than men, casting 12,000 out of 48,000 ballots. Within a few years, it was estimated that four-fifths of all the women in the territory went to the polls on election day.” Male pushback to women’s suffrage in Washington came swiftly, particularly as corrupt politicians (often town leaders with substantial ties to gambling, drinking, and smuggling opium and illegal Chinese immigrants) were voted out of office and prohibition mandates were supported by women. Women’s suffrage was legal in Washington Territory from 1883 until 1888.
However, when Washington territory became a state in 1890, women’s suffrage was not supported in Washington state legislation. For the next two decades, suffragettes continued the fight, however, and women’s right to vote in Washington state was legalized in 1910, a decade prior to the national ratification in 1920 of the 19th Amendment. For a detailed description of the history of women’s suffrage in Washington state, see The Fight for Women’s Suffrage from the Washington State Historical Society, and HistoryLink’s Washington Woman Suffrage Crusade, 1848-1920. The 1910 law “allowed only those who could read and speak English to vote. Many women, including immigrant Asians and Native Americans, who were subject to other restrictive citizenship laws, were still denied the right to vote.”
Washington Territory and State had a substantial suffragette movement – additional details about some of these women can be discovered at the Washington State Historical Society.
On a recent rainy day in Seattle, I walked around Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Seattle (learn more about this cemetery on FindAGrave and a description on HistoryLink) in search of several local suffragette gravestones. Here are the graves of one Seattle’s earliest white suffragettes, Catharine (Paine) Blaine, who attended the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, and Bertha Adine Pitts Campbell, a black civil rights activist, who attended the first suffragette parade in Washington D.C. in 1913.
Catharine (Paine) Blaine (1829-1908)
Catharine (Paine) Blaine (1829-1908), wife of Methodist minister Rev. David Edwards Blaine, was a missionary and the first public school teacher in Seattle. At the age of 18, she attended the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, led by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and is believed to be the youngest signer of the convention’s Declaration of Sentiments. She and her husband moved to Seattle in 1853. In 1854, she helped persuade Arthur Denny to introduce a proposal for woman suffrage in Washington Territory’s first legislative session, which failed by only one vote. At the same time, a law was passed which allowed the adult male children of white fathers and Native American mothers to vote, which dismayed Blaine, who wrote: “A question immediately arose in my mind as to whether women ought to congratulate ourselves that we were not associated politically with such a set or whether we ought to feel aggrieved that the highest privilege that can be conferred on citizens should be proffered to the most degraded and abandoned race possible to be imagined and withheld from us.” Blaine’s letter provides an example of the often inherent racism within the white suffragette (and often abolitionist) movement, in the struggle to achieve voting rights for both women and people of color. According to Catharine Blaine’s biography at the Washington State Historical Society, “Catharine Blaine was among the voters listed on voter registration rolls for the Third Ward in Seattle in 1885, making her the first known female signer of the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments to legally register as a voter.”
Bertha Adine Pitts Campbell (1889-1990)
Bertha Adine Pitts Campbell (1889-1990) was a black suffragette and Seattle civil rights activist. Her obituary stated that: “Campbell was one of the founders of Delta Sigma Theta, a national, black, public service sorority. She helped found the organization while she was a Howard University student in 1913 and that same year took part in a women’s suffrage march in Washington, D.C. When she was 92 she returned to lead 10,000 members of the sorority in a commemorative march along the capital’s Pennsylvania Avenue.” “In 1936, she became the first black woman ever to exercise the right to vote on the local YWCA board and served four terms as chairperson of the East Cherry Branch.” See biographies of Bertha Campbell on HistoryLink and BlackPast.org.
If you are in the Seattle area, be sure to visit these local suffragette gravestones.
P.S. – Please avoid placing stickers on these women’s gravestones- the adhesive can damage the stones and Seattle rain can quickly turn those stickers to trash. The articles mentioned at the start of this post all mention that the cemeteries featuring the graves of Anthony, Stanton Cady, and Wells placed posters beside the gravestones to encourage people to place their stickers on the posters rather than the graves themselves (although obviously, particularly in Susan B. Anthony’s case, they were not always able to effectively enforce that).
Honor these pioneering women with a visit and remembrance in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Seattle. Happy Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day!