Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Building Female Citizenship Beyond Suffrage: Early Women Candidates and Office Holding in Oregon..

by Jill Tanner

..was the title of Professor Kimerly Jensen's entertaining and educational presentation at the November 16, 2010, Mary Leonard Law Society monthly meeting. Professor Jensen briefly recapped Oregon’s forty year history culminating in women suffrage in 1912, which was eight years before the federal amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920. She explained that to be an office holder one needed to be a voter and “suffrage was a vital bridge to expand women’s rights.” 

In 1862 the Oregon legislature passed a law allowing women to vote in school elections:  “Women who are widows, and have children and taxable property in the district may vote, by written proxy or in person at such meetings, if they choose.”

In November, 1872, The Daily Oregonian reported “The Votes of the Ladies” were accepted but not counted!

In 1878, women who were 21 years of age, Oregon citizens, widows, had children, and owned property were allowed to vote “at a school meeting” in the district, and most important, those women ran and held elective educational offices, primarily in rural Oregon counties like Curry and Umatilla and coastal counties like Clatsop.  Unfortunately, the law permitting women to hold elective educational offices was declared unconstitutional in 1896 when the Oregon Supreme Court held that the Oregon Constitution, Article 6, section 8 required an elector to be a male citizen.  Even though the law was declared unconstitutional, Emma Warren held the office of Clatsop School Superintendant from 1904 through 1908 in what Professor Jensen characterized as “creative civil disobedience,” relying on the lawful election of a man who resigned and appointed Warren to fill the post.

The list of women candidates who ran for state offices from 1914 through 1920 are found in their filed campaign expenditure reports.  Two women, Manche Langley and Celia Gavin, were lawyers, and Marian Towne, who studied law for a term, served as representative from Jackson County from 1914 - 1916.  Langley won the primary but not the general election in her bid to represent the 15th District, Washington County in 1916.  Gavin studied law with her father in The Dalles and served three terms as City Attorney before running as a candidate for Democrat Presidential Elector in 1920.

The candidacy of Bertha Mason Buland in 1916 was characterized by Professor Jensen as giving a woman “an ability to be her own person.”  Buland was a married woman whose husband worked in Washington state and maintained a second residence in Washington during the work week.  He was a registered Washington voter. Her candidacy was challenged because he owned property and voted in another state.  Even though Buland was not elected, the fact that she was allowed to run for office was a “landmark” event in the fight for women suffrage.

The 1920 primary election to represent the Third District in the U. S Congress presented voters with a rare choice in Oregon history:  two female candidates vying for the same elective office.  Two qualified women, Esther Pohl Lovejoy and Sylvia McGuire Thompson, running against one another for the same office, according to Professor Jensen, was a tangible result of expanded female citizenship and was to be celebrated.  Professor Jensen stated that Esther Lovejoy brought considerable credentials to the campaign: Portland City Health Officer 1907-1909, suffrage activist at the local and national levels, wartime service in France, president of the Medical Women's International Association and acting president of the Medical Women's National Association, and director of the American Women's Hospitals, a transnational medical relief organization.  She was an author and local, national, and international figure.

Sylvia McGuire Thompson served in the 1917 and 1919 Oregon legislative  sessions and in the special 1920 session, where her House Bill #1 became Oregon's ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment for federal woman suffrage. 

Lovejoy's national and international experience, according to Professor Jensen, won out. She garnered 57 percent of the primary vote. Unfortunately, Lovejoy lost the general election to Republican incumbent C.N. McArthur but received a strong 44 percent of the vote.

Everyone was disappointed when it was time for Professor Jensen to conclude her presentation. There is so much history waiting to be shared!  Professor Jensen received her Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in women’s and U.S. history and teaches history and gender studies at Western Oregon University.  She is the author of Mobilizing Minerva: American Women in the First World War  (University of Illinois Press, 2008) and coeditor,with Erika Kuhlman, of Women  and Transnational Activism in Historical Perspective (Dordrecht: Republic of Letters, 2010). Her current research and writing focuses on Esther Clayson Pohl Lovejoy (1869-1967), an Oregon public health and suffrage activist, organizer and first president of the Medical Women’s International Association, pioneer in transnational medical relief, and historian of women in medicine.

To read more about Oregon women suffrage and share Professor Jensen’s on-going research and exciting historical discoveries visit her blog:  kimberlyjensenblog.blogspot.com.  Professor Jensen invites everyone to collaborate to make next year’s suffrage centennial spectacular.

Mary Leonard Law Society sincerely thanks Professor Jensen for taking time out of her busy schedule, especially when the Fall college term was coming to a close, to relive Oregon women’s suffrage history.

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