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Friday, April 27, 2012

April 28, 1912: Suffrage Goblins?

Esther Pohl, Sarah Evans and other members of the Portland Woman's Club were active suffrage supporters. They had many challenges and, as Sarah Evans's April 28, 1912 Women's Clubs column suggests, some came from within the Portland Woman's Club.

Sarah Evans, "Women's Clubs," Oregon Journal, April 28, 1912, 5:4.
Evans used the phrase "the goblins will get you if you don't watch out" from the popular 1885 poem by James Whitcomb Riley "Little Orphant Annie." Here Evans suggests that the goblin some clubwomen feared was that women's clubs would be turned in their entirely into suffrage clubs. "Like most things in this life, this is foolish and utterly without cause," Evans wrote. Suffrage was a national question, "it concerns women more nearly than any question before the public today; it affects civics, public health, civil service reform, forestry, good government, and in fact, every line of women's club activities."

Evans's definition of suffrage mirrored Esther Pohl's own: the vote was a vital tool to make society better. They did not understand how other clubwomen could oppose this important fight.

The woman's club had endorsed suffrage that past January "with but three negative votes." But now some clubwomen were afraid that it would eclipse all other club work. And it appears that some were complaining about the use of club funds to support the cause. If the suffrage measure passed in November the "work is done for all time," if not, it would be two years before the next try.

Evans hoped to preempt additional debate. The suffrage goblin "is an imaginary one," she concluded, and not to be given serious consideration for a moment."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Another Pacific Northwest Victory: Pohl and Suffragists Hail Developments in Alaska

Esther Pohl and Oregon suffragists knew the value of publicity and mass campaigning in 1912. In addition to leafleting, advertising, and public events, Pohl and the members of the Portland Woman's Club Suffrage Campaign Committee used the occasion of Alaska's territorial step into woman suffrage to publicize their own cause.

Pohl had a personal interest: her brother Fred and first husband Emil Pohl had been on the first ship to the Alaska gold rush in 1897; her brothers had established a business in Skagway and Emil had worked in Alaska for a good portion of their marriage until his death in 1911. Esther had lived in Alaska for several seasons and had battled an early meningitis epidemic there with Emil.

As part of Alaska's application for territorial status in April 1912 the U.S. Congress provided authority to the upcoming territorial legislature to enact woman suffrage. The Oregon Journal reprinted the letter Pohl and the PWCCC sent to Walter Clark, Governor of the District of Alaska:

"Greetings to the men and congratulations to the women of Alaska upon the act of Congress which gives the men of Alaska the privilege of enfranchising its women. Women were among the first to endure the hardships of early Alaskan settlement and assisted in building up a splendid empire from what the world considered snow and ice. Considering this, the men who will form Alaska's first legislature could do nothing better to grant 'Votes for Women' and thus give the people of Alaska home rule. With the women of Alaska and Oregon enfranchised , the Pacific Coast will present an unbroken line where all the people rule."

The letter combined the visibility of a congratulatory letter from the Portland group with the reminder that Oregon needed to "catch up" with its Pacific Northwest neighbors for readers of the Oregon Journal and beyond.
"Equal Suffrage Wins Straw Ballot Victory," Oregon Journal, April 27, 1912, 14.

The Oregon Journal combined this suffrage news with a related story. "Portland business and professional men" on their way to the Oregon Agricultural College (now OSU) in Corvallis, took a straw ballot on the votes for women question to be on the actual ballot that November. Suffrage won 57 to 28.

Monday, April 16, 2012

April 15, 1912: Esther Pohl and Portland Suffragists Greet Belle Case La Follette

Suffragist Belle Case La Follette came to Portland as part of a nationwide tour supporting the presidential candidacy of her husband, Wisconsin progressive Robert La Follette. A luncheon in her honor brought the city's suffrage luminaries together, including Esther Pohl, Marie Equi, Josephine Hirsch and Sarah Ehrgott.

As was the custom, organizers asked local leaders to provide short "toasts" on various topics. Esther Pohl's task was to toast the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Thanks to a typescript copy of her speech in the Amy Khedouri materials, we have more information about the content of her speech than the brief excerpt printed in the Oregonian's report of the luncheon on April 16. It reflects her effective speaking style, combining humor and conviction, history and theory, and a call for action.

"I cannot begin to tell you how flattered I felt when I was chosen to respond to this toast to Our National Suffrage Association," she began. "But when I began to think about the subject I realized that it was a ruse on the part of my co-workers to get rid of an impossible task.

"Think of toasting the National Suffrage Association in three minutes. The woman doesn't live who could adequately toast our National Suffrage Association in three weeks, and I doubt if this goodly company of near-citizens would listen to me for that length of time . . . "

Pohl reviewed the ideas and accomplishments of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt and other NAWSA leaders. She also thanked the organization for supporting Oregon and other states. "The National Suffrage Association reaches out to the different states in times of need helping the women in who are struggling for enfranchisement, consoling them in their failures time after time and rejoicing with them in their ultimate victories."

"More power to our National Suffrage Association of which Mrs. La Follette is a member. Before long the wise men at Washington may turn their political telescopes toward the West and see such a bright and rapidly growing constellation of full suffrage stars that they may rush to the aid of our National Suffrage Association and pass an amendment to our National Constitution in double-quick time in order to get their share of the credit for the enfranchisement of the women of the United States which is inevitable in the very near future."

"Women Pay Honor," Oregonian, April 16, 1912, 20.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

April 11, 1912: Esther Pohl Attends Chinese American Suffrage Luncheon

Esther Pohl attended an April 11, 1912 luncheon in Portland that brought together Chinese American women and white women suffragists.

Women around the globe were heartened that the new Republic of China seemed poised to provide for votes for women in the new government. The luncheon gave Portland's Dr. Chan an opportunity to express her transnational identity as a Chinese and Chinese American Woman.

Many of the newspaper articles about the event are digitized at the Century of Action website:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

April 6, 1912: Octogenarians for Suffrage

On April 6, Esther Pohl and her colleagues from the Portland Woman's Club Campaign Committee linked "Old Oregon" with the new directions in the suffrage campaign by inviting six men and women over 80 to attend one of the suffrage forums held at the Olds, Wortman & King auditorium.
"Laws Held Unfair: Pioneer Men and Women Discuss Equal Suffrage," Oregonian, April 7, 1912, 15.

The six included Francois X. Matthieu (Pohl and colleagues had visited him on his birthday on April 2 and received an endorsement for woman suffrage), Mary A. Thompson, Levi Myers, Harriett B. Lowry, Mrs. M.A. Warner and Sarah Leo, as reported by the Oregonian.

Mary Thompson spoke of her long life of activism and that, as a taypayer for fifty years she had experienced taxation without representation. Levi Myers "related his experiences in the equal suffrage movement during the past 65 years and predicted a victory in Oregon."

Esther Pohl represented Francois X. Matthieu, "whose diffidence and age prevented his speaking." She "referred to Mr. Matthieu's part in the convention which saved Oregon to the United States and facetiously declared that he had come to the meeting to save Oregon a second time.

"She recalled Mr. Matthieu's reply of a few days ago when he was asked what he thought of equal suffrage--'What would a bacherlor's house look like.' Whieh, she believed, expressed the need of woman's efforts in public affairs."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April 2, 1912: Esther Pohl and Colleagues Visit Francois X. Matthieu, 94 Year Old Suffragist

On April 2, 1912, Francois X. Matthieu celebrated his 94th birthday. Esther Pohl, Grace Watt Ross and Elizabeth Eggert visited him and brought him daffodils. In 1843 Matthieu, a French Canadian who worked for the Hudson's Bay Company, had cast the deciding vote supporting the Oregon provisional government at Champoeg. He served in the Oregon legislature in the 1870s and was a prominent citizen of French Prairie.

"Pioneer is Now 94," Oregonian, April 3, 1912, 12.
The Historical Collections & Archives at Oregon Health & Science University has a wonderful image of the visit.

Pohl and her colleagues gained an impressive endorsement that day. The Oregonian reported: "Mr. Matthieu assured the suffragists that he expected to vote for their measure at the coming election."