By Marjorie Moore Brown, S’02
These quotations (throughout the piece) from the speeches of various American presidents dramatically illustrate the long, difficult struggle women faced in gaining the right to vote.
A delightfully evocative account of one Mills woman’s active role in the struggle to gain for women the right to vote was uncovered recently by Marjorie Brown, ’35. Her mother, Marjorie Moore Brown, S’02, wrote it in 1968 as an unused chapter of her published book Lady in Boomtown. In 1920 when the Susan B. Anthony Amendment lacked only one vote of the necessary 36, the suffragists of Connecticut hoped to get that necessary vote. A group of women—one representative from each state—went as a sort of emergency corps to Connecticut. Mrs. Brown was the representative from Nevada. This is her tale of the experience.
As the war progressed in Europe, the Suffrage Movement took on added momentum. Many foreign countries had offered the franchise to women in recognition of war work well done, and the women of the United States began to clamor for quick passage of the 19th Amendment which already had been approved by Congress and needed only ratification by 36 states to make it effective.
I hadn’t taken part in the suffrage movement as early as many of my contemporaries. I was what I thought I ought to be — a wife and mother. Politics were something to be talked about on Sunday night at the supper table, and I looked askance at the militancy of the women of England. But I was beginning to be ashamed of my apathy.
I have often thought the campaign for equal suffrage furnished a truer barometer by which to gauge the intellectual progress of women than the crashing of the gates of higher education. To fight for the right to vote took a different kind of courage and a far broader concept of justice.
Jane Addams had a tremendous influence on conservative women like myself. She supported her famous community settlement, HuIl House, with funds from the garbage contracts in Chicago. When she told us of the double dealings she encountered, the graft she had to fight, the battles she had to wage with the “city fathers” we realized she had ample justification for appealing to sheltered women to come out from their protected position and help her fight corruption with the only weapon possible in politics — the vote. She pled with us in the name of and for the sake of women and children less fortunate than ourselves, and her appeal carried great weight.
Miss Mabel Vernon came to organize Nevada. She was a forthright young woman, and looked like the very efficient woman executive. We are so accustomed to the well-set-up, tailored business woman now that we forget how rare she was in 1910.
Beautiful Inez Mulholiand was another who visited our state. In fact, she was in Nevada when she caught the cold that resulted in her death. She had come West on a speaking tour, when she caught cold. She refused to cancel her engagements, and her neglect of herself resulted in pneumonia. In a few days she was dead. She definitely gave her life to the cause.
Miss Anne Martin, daughter of an old and honored Nevada family, was in the forefront of the suffrage movement in the state. She was an earnest and capable leader and I was her adherent up to the time she joined the National Woman’s Party, the militant branch of the suffrage advocates. Many state leaders did join the Woman’s Party and suffragists throughout the United States were split into two factions.
My own feeling toward the National Woman’s Party was that it was a record of mistaken zeal. These women picketed the White House, went to jail for disturbing the peace — Anne Martin among them, — were forcibly fed and, in some instances, were treated almost as badly as their English sisters. Much of what they suffered, both here and abroad, was brought on by their own conduct. But most women of my generation, I am sure, will bear me out when I say that what was done by these militant advocates, both in England and the United States, was the answer to repeated betrayal by men in control. The cruelty and injustice dealt out to them by law enforcement officers are blots on the records of both nations. I saw the riots that followed the first big suffrage parade in Washington in 1912, on the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s first inauguration. I wasn’t walking with the women (it was before my active partisanship), but what I saw that day crystallized my determination.
Those women were shoved and struck by policemen; rowdies were allowed to insult them; indignities were heaped upon them. After the parade was over and the excitement had died down, I picked a little yellow suffrage banner out of the gutter where it had been trampled into the mud. I have kept it as a symbol of atonement for not having walked with those courageous women that day.
Often the suffrage leaders stayed at my home when they came to Southern Nevada. Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gillman was among these. Mrs. Gillman was one of the most forceful mentalities I ever met. She was tall, angular, almost gaunt, thin visaged, with deep-set brilliant eyes that were at once penetrating and sympathetic. She had a vibrant sense of social obligation and was possessed of a lively compassion and a ready wit.
I was very much in awe of Mrs. Gillman. She was a “socialist.” To be a known socialist was almost as terrible then as it is today to be a suspected communist. To actually entertain a socialist in one’s home was an event.
In 1918 the Congress of the United States passed the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. Then, in order that it should become the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, it had to be ratified by two-thirds of the states of the Union. When two years later, it lacked only one vote of the necessary 36 votes by the state legislatures, the suffrage leaders left no stone unturned to complete the ratification. Wherever legislatures were not scheduled to meet, active campaigns for special sessions were carried on, one of the most intensive being in Connecticut. The suffragists of that state, under the capable leadership of Miss Katherine Luddington, wanted New England to have the technical honor of enfranchising the women of the United States. But no session of the legislature was scheduled at that time.
A “tough old hardshell”
Republican Governor Marcus A. Holcomb of Connecticut was a tough old hardshell. He admitted he could call a special session “in an emergency,” but refused to admit an emergency because (as he said) ” a few women wanted to vote.” Finally he consented to receive proof of an emergency if the women could furnish it. Katherine Luddington and her followers accepted the challenge. They appealed to the National Association for help. As a result, in May of 1920 an “Emergency Week” was declared and one woman from each state was invited to join an Emergency Corps which would proceed to Connecticut to campaign for four days ending with a call upon the Governor to plead with him to assemble his legislature in Special Session to vote upon the Suffrage Amendment. And, to my delight, I was selected to represent Nevada.
When we arrived in New York we were instructed to assemble at the McAlpine Hotel. That night we were invited to dine with Carrie Chapman Catt, the wise and beloved leader of the National Suffrage Association. Many of these women were known to one another, but as I had taken no part in the suffrage work outside the state, I was pretty much of a stranger. I didn’t feel like one long. The charming young woman who met me so graciously at the door introduced me to the women who were to sit near me; these women were also from the West and were to be my companions for the next few days.
Places were set for about 60, and Mrs. Catt presided. I have never forgotten Mrs. Catt’s forceful, simple presentations of what we were expected to do. Although she was known as a woman of great eloquence she indulged in no oratorical pyrotechnics and took no time out for unnecessary preliminaries.
We were to go to Hartford, Connecticut, by rail the next day and to remain in the state four days. On the first night there would be large rallies held in the four principal cities, Hartford, New London, New Haven, and Bridgeport. There were to be twelve of us at each of these four rallies, and we were each expected to speak for five minutes. There next day we were to be split into units of four and fanned out into the highways and by-ways as a “flying squadron,” speaking three times a day at town halls and school houses. I spoke at New London. At noon on the fourth day we were to call on the Governor in a body.
As she proceeded, I heard overtones of the annoyances and disrespect Eastern suffrage workers had learned to anticipate. For instance, she said: (I am paraphrasing from my memory)
Mrs. Catt’s Warning
“Again, we are calling upon you to go into private homes. We are sorry to ask you to do this. We would much prefer to send you to hotels; we are not forgetting the uncomfortable quarters many of you have coped with, nor are we unmindful of the disrespect some of you have received from the men of the families into which you have been sent. But you are a body of hand-picked women. All of you are actuated by a high idealism. We shall enter into no controversies. We ask only that the men and women of Connecticut look us over. We hope to give so favorable an impression of the type of women who are asking for suffrage that the justice of our request will be evident. Go into their homes. Remember, wherever you go, you have been invited into that home by a woman who believes in the justice of equal suffrage. We want her to be proud of us before her men. We want her men to see us at our best.”
At the seat assigned to me at table was a large envelope. Inside I found a badge bearing the name of my state and specific instructions for my future movements. There were train schedules, my railroad tickets, the names of my companions, the names of the women who would meet me on arrival, and the addresses of the homes to which we were assigned. I knew exactly what was expected of me and there wasn’t a single hitch in any of the instructions. It was a masterly display of organization efficiency.
The next day we left for Connecticut. The large unit to which I was assigned went to New London for the first night. Our meeting was held in the high school auditorium and was presided over by Dr. Gill, President of the College of New London, a gracious and handsome man who made a splendid presiding officer. Our principal speaker — “our big gun” — was Dr. Grace Raymond Hebbard, Professor of Economics of the University of Wyoming. She had a high, thin voice that matched her spare frame and flashing eyes. Her wit, her eloquence, and her logic set a high mark for the rest of us.
Dr. Hebbard was distinguished in her own right, but her state was outstanding too, because Wyoming was the original equal suffrage state and was admitted into the Union with universal suffrage; the only one of its kind. Utah, also, had woman suffrage almost as long as Wyoming, having enfranchised their women in 1870.
Those of us who came from the far West where some states had already granted equal suffrage, were asked to speak of the effect of voting on the women themselves. We were also asked to tell of the treatment we had received by men at the polls. Today it seems so silly to think such matters could be important, but at that time much was made of the unsuitability of women going to degraded places such as “polling booths.” They would be subjected to insults and the coarsening effect of remarks unsuitable for feminine ears. It is almost unbelievable that such arguments could be used seriously, but they were. The member of our group from Washington answered these objections. She was a pretty, plump, bird-like little person with a gay chuckle. I remember her laughing words:
“We hear so much about the unfitness of women going to the polls. Ladies,” she said, leaning forward confidentially toward her audience, “you will vote in a little booth in your own neighborhood along with your neighbors and friends, and while you wait to cast your ballot, you will exchange recipes.” The whole audience broke into laughter.
There was much talk of the degradation of hobnobbing with politicians. Terrible thought! Another woman spoke of this:
“You have been told that politicians are a low group of men, not fit to be interviewed by a woman. Ladies, don’t you believe it! They are PERFECTLY CHARMING! They come to your club all dressed up in Prince Albert coats, with a boutonniere, and they remember you when they meet you next day on the street. They inquire about the children and the state of your husband’s health and they are willing to do anything — that is, BEFORE ELECTION!”
The next day we were taken by auto to a small town near New London where we spoke at noon at the school house and at three o’clock in the Town Hall. We spoke again at the school at night. We stayed overnight at a private home, and I realized what Mrs. Catt meant when she apologized for the conditions with which we would have to cope. There were no men here. Our hostess was a widow. However, it was desperately cold in her house. May is still spring in New England, and the house was scrupulously neat and very handsome in an old fashioned way, but oh, for central heating!
In three days we visited 36 towns. Wherever we went we were treated with respect. I heard afterward some of the other groups were subjected to a little heckling and that the unit at Yale was rather roughly dealt with by the student, but for our group the trip was delightful. At the end of the third day, however, I felt sure our quest would be fruitless. The people just weren’t interested.
The effect of that countryside is still with me. I was so conventional, so remote from the atmosphere of my own vigorous life in the West. The country itself was beautiful, so green, so well ordered, so quiet, The people were keenly intelligent, with gentle manners. I had a feeling of intentional isolation. It gave me a realization of the apathy which Eastern suffrage leaders had faced — something entirely absent from our Western experience.
The Battle in the West
We had had to campaign for recognition in the West and in some respects it had meant a real contest. I have a very vivid recollection of one episode where I was personally involved. When equal suffrage was first introduced to the Nevada Legislature, three women who had been active in the campaign were selected to present the petition, Miss Anne Martin, Miss Bird Wilson, and myself. I was the one delegated to make the presentation. As soon as the clerk made the announcement I stepped forward full of anticipation, but one of the legislators rose and with a great formality moved the petition be tabled. It was seconded and brought to a vote before we could catch our breath. We were out of there in three minutes! It was a shock to all of us and it was the only time in my life I was ever publicly humiliated. The treatment we had received was good for a laugh everywhere. The next time I met Key Pittman, he was inflated with masculine satisfaction. I told him he was ungallant, but his eyes just danced. “Well, we licked you, anyway,” he crowed.
But we didn’t have to cope with the mild antagonism we felt in Connecticut that took the form of condescending indifference. Our men took our struggle more as a matter of course; the influence of our pioneer ancestors was still too close to us for it to be otherwise. It was only yesterday that Grandmother had held the reins, as the prairie schooner wound its slow way up the draw, while Grandfather sat, rifle across his knees, with his eyes fixed on the horizon for signs of hostile Indians. It was easy for men with that tradition behind them to share political responsibility with their women.
On the fourth day we were consumed with excitement over our visit to the State House. It took all morning to assemble us at one hotel in Hartford and at eleven o’clock, about 50 strong, we were driven through the streets of mildly curious people. There were a few sneering faces, a little cat-calling, but for the most part the trip to the State House was without incident.
We were ushered into the presence of the Governor in his private office. He was a man about seventy, who looked like a Mormon Bishop with his short chin beard. He sat back of his desk with the air of a man braced for combat and made no move to rise. Mrs. Catt opened the occasion with a few gentle words, after which she introduced the speakers.
There were six in all, each woman pleading in her own way for consideration and recognition. Our Dr. Hebbard was one of the six, and I was proud of her and fearful for her. She was not arguing with this man; out of a long, full, useful life, in a state where women had always voted, she was asking a recognition for other women—asking for something that meant “justice.” Justice to which he must know we were entitled.
It was interesting to me, as an onlooker, to watch his militant attitude relax and almost a tenderness take its place. The moment was extremely impressive but there was no acquiescence in his relaxation. After a long silence he said what he had intended to say all along: He “would take it under advisement.” He said it kindly and not belligerently (as I am sure he had intended to say it) and we all filed out quietly.
But, I for one knew it was a lost cause. Prejudice and indifference would make it easy for masculine self-interest to prevail. Therefore, a few days later, while on the train on my way home, I wasn’t surprised to read that he had declined to call a special session of his legislature — “since no emergency existed.” However, the Flying Squadron in Connecticut focused attention on the situation and Tennessee came through with a ratification before the week was out. Ohio followed almost immediately, and the long fight for Woman Suffrage was won.
Letter written to her mother by Marjorie M. Brown from the train on her way home from the suffragist meeting in Connecticut.
On Train, May 1920
Well I am almost home and very glad indeed for I have had a very strenuous trip.
I have hit New York on Saturday afternoon and went alone to see Drinkwater’s play of Abraham Lincoln. It was very fine, of course, but some way it did not wholly convince me.
Sunday morning Mr. and Mrs. Boston came to call at eleven, and then Mr. Boston and I went off to spend the day together and Mrs. Boston and Major Van Gyle (Lyle?) went off together. Of course I had a very, very high-brow day, and I was very tired when I left him at five, for while I love to be intellectual—a little goes a long way.
In the evening, Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt entertained all the delegates at dinner where there were a few speeches and lots of instruction, interviews by reporters and pictures. But we separated early because we had to take a train at eight the next day for Hartford. We were all introduced to one another and I met those who were to be my traveling companions. They were a woman from Wisconsin, one from Washington, and a bright, snappy young girl from Arkansas. Before we separated we had become firm friends.
At Hartford we were met by a deputation of women with autos who took us to the country club for lunch. There we had more speeches, some very good, and were all introduced one after the other to the people of Hartford. My only qualifications seemed to be good looks—I have never had so many women praise my aPpearance. I know New England is not famous for the beauty of its women.
We separated at 3:30 into groups of twelve going in four different directions to the four big centers of Connecticut—Bridgeport, New London, New Haven, and Hartford. We held meetings in all four of these cities with six speakers. I spoke at New London. Oh, Mother, I wish you could have been there. It was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. One of the high-water marks of my life surely.
Our first speaker was Dr. Hebbard, the Professor from Wyoming. She looks like the old type suffragist with set lips and sharp features, but her talk was masterly—brilliant, witty, forceful. Then followed a woman from Utah, the wife of the President of the University of Utah and a granddaughter of Brigham Young, by the way, who spoke well. Then a woman from Michigan who was very handsome and had a deep forceful voice like a man, and a fine logical delivery. Then came the little fire-brand from Arkansas, and she was perfectly charming with the cutest little southern drawl and the most fascinating cleverness. Her plea was international, saying that all the other women of the great powers had been enfranchised except the women of the greatest republic on earth, the United States. She got a storm of applause. In fact, the audience was most enthusiastic. Then I followed dressed in my black net dress and black hat. I will send you a draft of my little speech. I was assigned the western attitude toward suffrage. I was clapped several times and received quite a hand.
After I closed, the chairman said, “I am perfectly astonished and thrilled by the high tone, the womanliness, and the brilliance that is displayed by our brilliant guests, each in her own style and each representing the charm of her own locality.” This was greeted by a storm of applause. After one more speaker, the evening closed. People were loath to leave. They gathered around us and were enthusiastic in their praise. It was a great meeting, and I understand that all four of these big meetings were equally as successful.
The next day we were taken by auto to Central Village where we spoke that night and so on from town to town, always entertained in private homes and speaking at night in the town halls—always to enthusiastic audiences but, of course, small. Our last meeting was at Putnam, and then we returned to Hartford for our interview with the Governor.
As you probably know, he refused to call the legislature after all. The mission failed to accomplish its specific end, but such a move cannot fail to accomplish something, for every woman there was hand-picked, and the appeals that were presented to that Governor were all national, all on a high plain, all affecting to a degree.
Now, whether he refused because enfranchising of the women will elect Hoover, which is my opinion, or whether the factory conditions in Connecticut would not stand in the face of woman suffrage, which is the opinion of others, I cannot tell, but I know that the oid state was shaken out of his lethargy as never before in its life. It cannot fail to have an effect that will grow and grow in influence as time goes on. Think of the dramatics of such a move—laying a net of 48 women down over that state to make those people think nationally. You mark me, something great will come out of that move. I was deeply stirred and deeply thrilled to be a part of it—this last attempt to free the women of this great country from the bonds of sentimental dependence. I know we did not fail in our mission.
We returned to New York in time to see Ethel Barrymore in “Declassé.” It was charming. She is perfectly delightful, but the play could not compare with “The Woman of Bronze.”. . . We went to a big theatrical benefit. It was a perfectly wonderful performance. The finale was a Shakespearian pageant. The stage represented a mountain with a river running at its base. Nance O’Neil, dressed in gauze of green and red stood at one side, and representing “Memory” chanted the lines from Shakespeare as each one of his heroines appeared at the top of the mountain and walked down the incline and disappeared into the river. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Here were all the most famous stage beauties of today—Elsie Ferguson as Titania, Jane Cowl as Mad Kate, Marjorie Rambeau as Ophelia, Blanche Ring as Rosalind, etc., etc., and with storms of applause and shouts—Lillian Russell looking as beautiful as a picture, and then Ethel Barrymore as Portia. She is the queen of the American stage and the people gave her a rousing reception. We did not get away from the theatre until twelve thirty.
I shall be so glad to get home and hear from you all.
My love to all my dear ones. . . and with an extra share for your dear self, I am ever your devoted.