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California Women and Politics

From the Gold Rush to the Great Depression

Edited by Robert W. Cherny, Mary Ann Irwin, and Ann Marie Wilson

Publication Year: 2011

In 1911 as progressivism moved toward its zenith, the state of California granted women the right to vote. However, women’s political involvement in California’s public life did not begin with suffrage, nor did it end there. Across the state, women had been deeply involved in politics long before suffrage, and—although their tactics and objectives changed—they remained deeply involved thereafter. California Women and Politics examines the wide array of women’s public activism from the 1850s to 1929—including the temperance movement, moral reform, conservation, trade unionism, settlement work, philanthropy, wartime volunteerism, and more—and reveals unexpected contours to women’s politics in California. The contributors consider not only white middle-class women’s organizing but also the politics of working-class women and women of color, emphasizing that there was not one monolithic “women’s agenda,” but rather a multiplicity of women’s voices demanding recognition for a variety of causes.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix

In some ways, the origin of this anthology dates to a time in the late 1980s when Susan Englander came to me to discuss a topic for her master’s thesis. she wanted to look at the role of San Francisco’s working-class women in the campaign for woman suffrage in California. I told her that I had serious doubts that she’d be able to find enough sources to be able to do a thesis, but, after she insisted that she was confident that the sources were there, we agreed that she’d start research on that topic.

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pp. xi-xviii

These essays convey the remarkable extent and intensity of women’s political participation in California from the Gold Rush through the 1920s. Perhaps the greatest lesson we find in these pages is that suffrage was by no means the only —or even the most important —turning point for many women’s engagement with public life. California women were deeply involved in politics long before they won the vote in 1911, and they remained deeply involved afterward, pursuing a range of agendas that...

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1. “I Do Not Like the White Man . . . He Is a Liar and a Thief”: Testimonios and the Politics of Resistance

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pp. 1-26

In 1874 in Monterey, California, Rosal

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2. “GOING ABOUT AND DOING GOOD”: The Lady Managers of San Francisco, 1850–1880

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pp. 27-58

On February 5, 1856, the attorney Frederick Billings gave a speech honoring California’s first charitable institution, the San Francisco Protestant Orphan Asylum. Using a metaphor that captured both the spirit and the reality of local benevolence, Billings described charity as a beautiful woman: “Beautiful as charity may be when she simply gives a cup ...

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3. “WOMAN IS EVERYWHERE THE PURIFIER”: The Politics of Temperance, 1878–1900

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pp. 59-76

...“Governments have forgotten the requirements of morality in the hot pursuit of emoluments of fame and fortune, until the degradation and criminal tendencies of the masses are something appalling,” complained an anonymous editorialist in the June 1, 1893, edition of the Pacific Ensign, the state newspaper of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) ...

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4. “Continually Doing Good”: The Philanthropy of Phoebe Apperson Hearst, 1862–1919

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pp. 77-96

When Phoebe Apperson Hearst wrote to the regents of the University of California at Berkeley on September 28, 1891, offering the first scholarships to “worthy young women” of “high character and noble aims,” she could have been describing herself thirty-five years earlier as a Missouri farm girl hungering for a decent education.1 Born to a modest frontier family ...

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5. “Neutral Territory”: The Politics of Settlement Work in San Francisco, 1894–1906

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pp. 97-122

In 1902 the Labor Clarion, the house organ of the San Francisco Labor Council and the State Federation of Labor, presented a biting report on the “eight thousand wealthy women” convening in Los Angeles for the national convention of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Invoking the clubwomen’s “earnest wish to . . . make this world a better place ...

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6. “CITIZEN BIRD": California Women and Bird Protection, 1890–1920

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pp. 123-150

At the turn of the twentieth century, a nationwide movement emerged to protect a variety of wild bird species, many of them in urgent danger of extinction due to overhunting. At the heart of this effort was the organizing power of middle- and upper-middle-class white women across the country whose political activism has come to typify a broad swath of ...

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7. SAVING REDWOODS: Clubwomen and Conservation, 1900–1925

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pp. 151-174

On January 17, 1900, delegates from women’s civic associations from around California converged at the Ebell clubhouse in Los Angeles. Their meeting was organized by the prominent women’s club leader, Clara Bradley Burdette, and on that date they founded the California Federation of Women’s Clubs (CFWC). Since assuming the presidency of the Ebell club ...

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8. THE CIVITAS OF WOMEN’S POLITICAL CULTURE: The Twentieth Century Club of Berkeley, 1904–1929

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pp. 175-208

The Twentieth Century Club of Berkeley (tcc) offers a microhistory that uncovers several important lessons regarding women’s political culture in early twentieth-century California, illustrating the complexities of women’s political activism as it emerged through urban voluntary associations. The history of Berkeley’s TCC reveals that California enfranchisement did not ...

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9. “WE WANT THE BALLOT FOR VERY DIFFERENT REASONS”: Clubwomen, Union Women, and the Internal Politics ofthe Suffrage Movement, 1896–1911

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pp. 209-236

In 1896, California voters defeated a proposition granting women the right to vote. While Southern California and the rural areas supported the measure, San Francisco Bay area voters decisively trounced the proposed amendment to the state constitution. Stunned by the failure, California suffrage organizations limped away from the campaign and effectively ...

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10. “AWED BY THE WOMEN’S CLUBS” Women Voters and Moral Reform, 1913–1914

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pp. 237-262

California women secured the franchise in 1911 when the state’s male voters approved a constitutional amendment granting what one woman later called “their right to representation” and “the sovereignty of full citizenship.” Some California women immediately set out to make the most of their suffrage. As one later explained, “The newly enfranchised ...

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11. “WE ARE NOT KEEN ABOUT THE MINIMUM WAGE” Union Women, Clubwomen, and the Legislated Minimum Wage, 1913–1931

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pp. 263-288

California women’s struggle for the suffrage coincided with a number of efforts to pass protective legislation in addition to efforts at moral reform. As indicated in chapter 10, the campaign for red-light abatement was linked at crucial points with efforts to define a minimum-wage law for ...

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12. “NO UNDUE FAMILIARITY” Gender, Vice, and the Campaign to Regulate Dance Halls, 1911–1921

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pp. 289-308

As California clubwomen mobilized statewide to push the Red Light Abatement Act through the legislature, defend it in a statewide referendum, and close down the Barbary Coast brothels (chapter 10), some San Francisco women were joining with a wide variety of other groups in opposition ...

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13. “HEARTS BRIMMING WITH PATRIOTISM”: Katherine Edson, Alice Park, and the Politics of War and Peace, 1914–1921

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pp. 309-338

Sometime after World War I, Katherine Philips Edson wrote that women had “entered politics at one of the most critical times in our History” and had “helped to win a world war.” However, she lamented, the “sacrifice of blood and treasure, poured out with hearts brimming with patriotism” ...

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pp. 339-368

Recent studies of women’s politics in California from the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth century make clear that voting was only one form of political activity in which women engaged, and a fairly narrow one at that. If we take a broad view of what counts as “politics,” we can see California women behaving politically long before 1911, when they ...

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pp. 368-372

Cameron Binkley is the deputy command historian at the Defense Language Institute and Presidio of Monterey, Monterey, California. He was previously a historian with the National Park Service. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Denver in 1984, a master’s degree from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in 1990, and a...


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pp. 373-404

E-ISBN-13: 9780803236080
E-ISBN-10: 0803236085
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803235038
Print-ISBN-10: 0803235038

Page Count: 424
Illustrations: 18 illustrations, 2 tables
Publication Year: 2011