Women’s Suffrage-San Diego County Led the Way

“The ushers in the First Methodist church could not find seats enough last night to accommodate all who went there to hear Susan B. Anthony and Rev. Anna Shaw speak on woman suffrage.”

So began an article in the June 20, 1895 San Diego Union on a lecture by Anthony and Shaw, then president and vice president respectively of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association. The two, pioneers of the women’s movement, had come at the invitation of suffragist leaders in California. At that point in time only Wyoming and Colorado had extended the right to vote to women.

Anthony was 75 then, but the Union reporter found “her 75 years seemed to prove but slight if any hindrance to her efforts in expressing her views on the question of suffrage for women, a vocation in which she has been engaged for half a century.”

Susan B Anthony  

Undated photo of Susan B. Anthony, pioneer of the women’s suffrage movement. Photo courtesy Library of Congress. 

The evening’s program began with an invocation by the Rev. Amanda Deyo, who was followed by Flora M. Kimball, meeting chair and president of the San Diego Woman’s Suffrage Society, who introduced the speakers.

Deyo and Kimball were part of a group building support for women’s rights throughout San Diego  County.

The account of a meeting of the San Diego group, chaired by Kimball, in the May 16, 1896 Union noted that “Rev. Amanda Deyo and Mrs. Judge Sloan (sic) gave interesting accounts of their tour through the county establishing suffrage societies,” reporting establishment of 13 societies “with a total membership of 191.”

San Diego city and other community papers of the day carried reports of activities by suffrage clubs in Poway, Lakeside, Jamul and El Cajon, among other communities.

Club meetings were social events, presenting food and entertainment as well as civic lectures, as this account about the Poway club from the September 19, 1896 Poway Progress shows: “There was amusement for young and old, songs, readings and recitations comic and serious, embracing an essay by Judge Chapin on the women voting question, an article read by Mrs. W.C. Hilleary extolling woman in her self sacrificing labors in times of distress, and a capital performance by C. C.  Watson in his exhibition of a “living sphinx” from the desert of Arizona…”

That same issue of the paper editorialized that “If every county in the state is as strong for woman suffrage as San Diego,” a proposed state constitutional amendment on the ballot for November of that year “is sure to be adopted by a large plurality—a big majority, in fact.”

The paper was right about support in San Diego County, where Amendment 6 passed, 4,129 to 2,717. Unfortunately, it lost statewide. But the movement would carry on and win in both San Diego County and all of California with the passage of Amendment No. 4 in 1911, and ultimately triumph nationwide with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution in 1919.

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