California Proposition 4 (1911)

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Proposition 4 of 1911 (or Senate Constitutional Amendment No. 8) was an amendment of the Constitution of California that granted women the right to vote in the state for the first time. Senate Constitutional Amendment No. 8 was sponsored by Republican State Senator C.W. Bell from southern California.[1] It was adopted by the California State Legislature and approved by voters in a referendum held as part of a special election on October 10, 1911.

An earlier attempt to enfranchise women had been rejected by California voters in 1896,[2] but in 1911 California became the sixth U.S. state to adopt the reform.[3] Nine years later in 1920, women's suffrage was constitutionally recognized at the federal level by the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This amendment prohibited both the federal government and all of the states from denying women the right to vote.

Proposition 4 Election[edit]

Proposition 4 was narrowly approved by California voters with 50.7 percent support.[4] Election evening results appeared to indicate that Proposition 4 would be defeated as there was strong opposition from the San Francisco Bay Area.[5] However, late returns from the agricultural and rural parts of the state overcame majority opposition from Bay Area cities such as San Francisco and Oakland.[6]

The county with the highest level of support for Proposition 4 was the rural Modoc County (70.5% support). The county with the lowest level of support for Proposition 4 was San Francisco County (38.1% support). Other notable counties voting against giving women the right to vote included Marin County (41.6% support), San Mateo County (44.5% support), and Alameda County (45.4% support).[7]

The ballot argument in favor of Proposition 4 was written by Republican State Senator C.W. Bell from southern California and by Republican Assemblyman H.G. Cattell, also from southern California. The ballot argument against Proposition 4 was written by Democratic State Senator J.B. Sanford from northern California.[8]

Controversial Editorials and Opinion Pieces Against Women’s Suffrage[edit]

In 1911, there were several controversial editorials and opinion pieces published by the Los Angeles Times against women’s suffrage, including Proposition 4.

A Los Angeles Times editorial dated January 21, 1911, stated that “women are incapable of physically dominating men. By their inferior physical strength they are unable to compete on an equal basis in any line of endeavor where ability is determined by sheer bodily prowess. All positions of physical power - such as in our police forces, our armies and our navies - will necessarily be filled by men. In other words the enforcement of all law must inevitably rest with men. No law or ordinance could be effectually upheld except through the willingness of men to uphold it. And no matter what words were written on the statute books of any State, if the physical power (which is the masculine power) behind it were withdrawn, the law would immediately become void and impotent. Therefore in equal suffrage we have the spectacle of women desiring to pass laws which they are physically incapable of upholding, and laws which they admit the men do not want.”[9]

A Los Angeles Times editorial dated August 19, 1911, stated that: “Possession of the ballot will not help woman, socially or industrially. It will make exactions upon her time and strength. It will invade the home and destroy its charm. It will not result in wiser laws or better government.”[10]

A Los Angeles Times editorial dated September 22, 1911, stated that: “The working man - whether he be a Republican, a Democrat or a Socialist - who walks along Broadway or Spring Street on Saturday afternoon and sees thousands of fashionably-attired girls and women of mature age parading in autos and making woman-suffrage speeches says to himself, ‘Are these butterflies to be entrusted with the task of making laws for me?’” The editorial also stated that “[t]he Times opposes woman suffrage because it does not believe in either the justice or the expediency of burdening the women of California with the duty of voting.”[11]

In a Los Angeles Times opinion piece dated October 1, 1911, Democratic State Senator J.B. Sanford, who was Chairman of the Democratic Caucus of California at the time,[12] called women’s suffrage a “disease,” a “political hysteria,” a “cruel and intolerable burden,” and a “backward step in the progress of civilization.”[13] In the same opinion piece published by the Los Angeles Times, Democratic State Senator Sanford also used homophobic language in writing the following about certain classes of people who advocate women’s suffrage: “It is the mannish female politician and the little effeminate, sissy man, and the woman who is dissatisfied with her lot and sorry that she was born a woman.”[14]

1896 Rejection of Women’s Suffrage by California Voters[edit]

During the November 3, 1896 General Election, California voters rejected Constitutional Amendment No. 6 which would have given women the right to vote. The suffrage amendment was defeated by a double digit margin with 44.6 percent support.[15] Notable counties voting against giving women the right to vote included San Francisco County (26.1% support), San Mateo County (29.9% support), Marin County (30.8% support), Contra Costa County (37.7% support), Sacramento County (40.0% support), Sonoma County (40.4% support), Alameda County (40.7% support), and Santa Clara County (49.0% support).[16]

Both the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle opposed Constitutional Amendment No. 6 which would have given women the right to vote.[17][18]

Progressive Era of Reforms[edit]

Women's suffrage was a part of the Progressive Era of reforms. On the same election day that Proposition 4 was approved, voters enacted the modern system of direct democracy in California, by approving Proposition 7, which introduced the initiative and the optional referendum powers, and Proposition 8, which introduced the recall of public officials.

Constitutional Suffrage Reforms Excluded[edit]

While Proposition 4 gave women the right to vote in California, the proposition did not alter the existing discriminatory provisions in the California Constitution limiting the right to vote, including prohibiting natives of China from voting, prohibiting idiots from voting, and prohibiting persons from voting who are unable to read the constitution in the English language and write their name.[19]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ California Legislature, Final Calendar of Legislative Business, Thirty-Ninth Session (1911), p. 300.
  2. ^ 200 Significant Statutes and Constitutional Amendments of the 20th Century
  3. ^ California Women's Suffrage Campaign of 1911
  4. ^ California Secretary of State, Statement of Vote October 10, 1911, p. 4.
  5. ^ "Suffrage May Lose – Amendment Seems Defeated". Los Angeles Times. October 11, 1911. p. I1. 
  6. ^ "Women Win in California". Washington Post. October 13, 1911. p. 1. 
  7. ^ California Secretary of State, Statement of Vote October 10, 1911, p. 4.
  8. ^ California Secretary of State, Proposed Amendments to the Constitution of the State of California, with Legislative Reasons for and against Adoption Thereof, October 10, 1911 Special Election.
  9. ^ "Women-Made Laws". Los Angeles Times. January 21, 1911. p. II4. 
  10. ^ "No More Burdens for Women". Los Angeles Times. August 19, 1911. p. II4. 
  11. ^ "‘The Times’ and Suffrage". Los Angeles Times. September 22, 1911. p. II4. 
  12. ^ Waymire, Jessica (April 8, 2011). "History of women’s suffrage". Tri-City Voice. 
  13. ^ Sanford, J.B. (October 1, 1911). "Woman Suffrage Means Disruption of the Home". Los Angeles Times. p. V19. 
  14. ^ Sanford, J.B. (October 1, 1911). "Woman Suffrage Means Disruption of the Home". Los Angeles Times. p. V19. 
  15. ^ California Secretary of State, Statement of Vote November 3, 1896, p. 15.
  16. ^ California Secretary of State, Statement of Vote November 3, 1896, p. 15.
  17. ^ "The Constitutional Amendments". Los Angeles Times. October 31, 1896. p. 6. 
  18. ^ "This Ticket the Best One to Vote". San Francisco Chronicle. November 3, 1896. p. 16. 
  19. ^ California Secretary of State, Proposed Amendments to the Constitution of the State of California, with Legislative Reasons for and against Adoption Thereof, October 10, 1911 Special Election.

External links[edit]