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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.