Stanford University and the Women’s Suffrage Movement

August 26, 2020
The First Women's suffrage Picket Line-College Day in the picket line

Image: Stanford suffragette participates in the Silent Sentinel protest at the White House, February 1917, Washington, D.C., Stanford University Slide Collection (PC0141). Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.

On this day, 100 years ago, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified, which provided some women the right to vote. The process that led to the ratification of the 19th Amendment can provide historical context for the voting and women’s rights issues that are still at the forefront of American politics today. Although it took until 1920 for the 19th Amendment to be ratified, states like California were attempting to pass women’s suffrage laws beginning in the 1890s. In 1911, Californians finally passed a referendum granting women the right to vote in the state. With the suffrage movement making headway in California politics, Stanford University also felt the stirrings of the movement on campus.

Jane Stanford

Early in California’s attempts to pass women’s suffrage laws, Jane Stanford started a friendly relationship with Susan B. Anthony, which began with a $200 contribution bySusan B. Anthony Correspondence Jane to the suffrage cause. Jane Stanford’s long correspondence with Susan B. Anthony gives us insight into Jane’s support of the suffrage movement on a personal front, especially in dealing with her late husband’s estate. While attempting to get free rail passes for Anthony and other suffragists who were campaigning to pass women’s suffrage in California in 1896, Jane was met with opposition and had to get her brother involved to sort it out. It was a frustrating experience that she equated with the lack of rights for women in society in general. In their voluminous correspondence, Anthony asked Jane repeatedly to lend her name, sit on the platform with speakers, and further promote the campaign in California. Despite both her monetary and written support to Anthony, it is unclear if Jane took Anthony up on her requests to more publicly support the California campaign.

Women’s Suffrage at Stanford University

Stanford University students and faculty actively participated in the women’s suffrage movement by holding numerous events on campus and around the San Francisco Bay Area. Stanford chapters of various national women’s suffrage organizations were established in the early 1900s. The Stanford Chapter of the National College Woman Suffrage League was able to bring in a traveling library full of suffrage literature that was housed in the University Library and made available for public use. The Stanford Daily (April 7, 1910) noted, “The books include history, essays, poems, plays, and novels and are especially valuable since the Intercollegiate debate is upon woman suffrage.”

Women's League Meeting at Roble Hall Saturday 2-PM Sharp Stanford Chapter of the Collegiate Woman Equal Suffrage LeagueThese Stanford chapters also hosted events on campus with prominent speakers from the women’s suffrage movement. One speaker was Emma Smith DeVoe, President of the Washington State Women’s Suffrage Association. DeVoe was an early suffragist who was inspired and mentored by Susan B. Anthony. She went on to create the National Council on Women Voters. Another high-profile suffragist who spoke at Stanford was Carrie Chapman Catt. She was involved with the National American Woman Suffrage Association, later becoming President of the organization. She was also the founder of the League of Women Voters.

There are iconic posters that provide a great visual representation of the local campaign by women at Stanford to support and promote the women’s suffrage movement. One well known poster titled “Votes for Women” is available in the University Archives collection, and a poster for a Women’s League meeting at Roble Hall is available at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.