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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Esther Pohl and the Portland Woman's Club Campaign Committee Surprise Many Oregonians

In the last blog I noted that the Portland Woman's Club as an organization resolved to support woman suffrage in Oregon for the first time in January 1912. Esther Pohl, her friend and colleague Sarah Evans, and other members had been suffrage supporters for years and now other club members were catching up. In her Women's Club column Evans noted that "it has been a matter of some surprise, particularly to clubwomen outside of the city, that the Portland Woman's Club should have endorsed the suffrage amendment."

Other sources tell us more about the surprise. The Portland Evening Telegram reported that the suffrage resolutions "were sprung as a surprise at the close of the business session" of the club. Grace Watt Ross read the resolutions and "hardly had Mrs. Ross finished reading when Mrs. Sarah Evans moved the adoption of the resolutions, a second was quickly made in another part of the house the question put and passed with not more than three or four faint voices opposing."

"Before the close of the session" club president Dora Espy Wilson named members for a special campaign committee. They were Esther Pohl, Grace Watt Ross, Elizabeth Eggert and Sarah Evans as chair. The wonderful Historical Collections & Archives at Oregon Health & Science University has digitized a splendid image of Pohl, Eggert and Ross canvassing for suffrage at a later date in the campaign.

"Woman's Club Votes for Equal Suffrage," Portland Equal Telegram, January 13, 1912, 8.
Esther Pohl and Sarah Evans apparently headed an "inside coup" that led to the surprise. Since the 1906 campaign many suffragists had been in conflict with first generation leader Abigail Scott Duniway. Pohl, Evans and their colleagues in the women's club had planned this series of events to create a separate woman's club campaign committee outside of Duniway's Oregon Equal Suffrage League and away from her leadership.

Duniway was not pleased. In a January 29, 1912 letter to Evans (in the private collection of Amy Khedouri), Duniway wrote "Sorry you thought it necessary to side-track the wheel-horse and leader of the cause. But all is well that ends well . . . You couldn't have planned the Club movement better if you had told me yourself. But I cannot yet see what you expected to gain by secrecy. I quite agree with you that it is well to withhold that matter of History till after election."

Next -- why did Esther Pohl send a copy of Duniway's letter to Anna Howard Shaw president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association?

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