Perseverance seen as key to women's suffrage effort

A speaker at Walla Walla University said the road to voting rights was an up-and-down effort in Washington.

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COLLEGE PLACE -- "Sometimes it takes a lot of perseverance to change the things that need changing," said Shanna Stevenson in her presentation on women's suffrage yesterday at Walla Walla University.

Stevenson, coordinator for the state Women's History Consortium, gave a quick lesson about the up-and-down history of women's voting rights in Washington and Walla Walla's involvement in the movement.

Standard history doesn't have a lot of women's history in it, Stevenson said, but there are other options for learning about the lives these women lead. The Washington Women's History Consortium has partnered with many institutions throughout the state to access archives of various sources such as cookbooks, scrapbooks, diaries, letters and other documents telling about the lives of women. These documents have helped piece together the story of women's suffrage in Washington.

"It was a long and winding road," Stevenson said. These are just a few examples of the history Stevenson presented about the battle for these rights.

The first try to pass women's suffrage in Washington Territory was in 1854, but it was turned down by one vote. After this first denial of rights, the women of Washington became more involved in a movement to gain the right to vote. In 1870, 15 Washington women decided to head to the polls and cast a vote even without legal rights. These were the first 15 votes counted by women in Washington Territory.

Conventions, meetings and speeches were put together by women of communities in Washington to raise awareness and hopefully sway men towards voting for women's suffrage. Members of Walla Walla County played a role in this movement by joining the Walla Walla Woman's Club in 1886 and the Walla Walla Equal Suffrage League in 1889. The women of Walla Walla sold pins, raised banners, organized meetings and hung posters to raise awareness in the Valley.

"I think Walla Walla should be proud of their women," Stevenson said.

Nearly 100 years ago, in November 1910, Washington became the fifth state to pass women's suffrage following Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado.

To celebrate 100 years of women's right to vote in Washington, there will be a celebration with special presentations, entertainment and perhaps a reenactment of the bill signing in Olympia on Nov. 8. The "Day of Jubilation," is designed to celebrate what has already happened and to look into the future to what's next.

Jennifer Jorgenson can be reached at jenniferjorgenson@wwub.com.

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