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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.