Why Should Women Have the Vote? Why Not?: A history of women's suffrage in Central Oregon | The Women's Issue | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Special Issues & Guides » The Women's Issue

Why Should Women Have the Vote? Why Not?: A history of women's suffrage in Central Oregon



The question seems ridiculous today but only 99 years ago, in May 1912, the Bend women you see in this picture met on the steps of Drake Lodge to voice an answer to that question. Oregonians defeated measures to legalize the vote for women five times between 1884 and 1910. By 1912, on the verge of the sixth attempt, state suffrage leaders realized the fight was not to be won by campaigning in the Willamette Valley alone. They needed to go beyond the Cascades.

The occasion for this photograph from the collection of the Des Chutes Historical Museum was the arrival in Bend of Sarah Ehrgott, one of the state's leading suffragette speakers. Clues to its identification were found in the May 12, 1912 edition of The Bend Bulletin. The paper's editors provided Ehrgott with front-page space to present her cause. Under the headline "Question Old as Race Itself" Ehrgott concurs that in the past, women had no need for the vote, for they were neither educated nor members of industry and therefore completely unqualified to vote. She then writes:

But all this has changed. Our women are being educated, side by side with men. Today seventy per cent of our High School graduates are girls and fifty per cent of our college graduates are women... There are now three hundred and twenty departments of industry in which women are successfully working in an army of some seven million.

Further reports show that Ehrgott was enthusiastically received in Bend and Redmond, hosted by multiple church groups and local business leaders. The Bend Bulletin editorialized that if the argument for a woman's right to vote had been made as succinctly in previous elections as presented now by Mrs. Ehrgott, the matter would have been settled long ago.

Among Ehrgott's hosts is Dorothy Binney Putnam, wife of George Palmer Putnam, owner of The Bend Bulletin and current mayor of Bend. A graduate of Wellesley College, Dorothy is among those educated women Ehrgott wrote about, as is Ruth Reid Overturf, founding teacher of Bend's schools and wife of elected city official, H. J. Overturf. The bustling town of Bend has only existed for seven years. Many of Bend's business and city leaders, like the Putnams and Overturfs, are just out of college, settling in this small western town to build their own fortunes, launch their careers, and start their families. The seeds of suffrage rights in Deschutes County were planted long before Ehrgott's arrival.

The measure passed that November and women in Oregon won the right to vote in local and state elections. It is by chance that Bend women then are the first in the state to exercise their new rights. In the city election held December 3, 1912, the eyes of Oregon turned on the small town. The anti-suffrage movement long contended that if women did have the vote, they would not use it; they now looked to Bend for the result.

On that day, reported to be as bad a winter day as could be found here, 75-year-old Mrs. S.M. Whitted arrived at the polls before dawn in order to be the first voter of the day, a fact that surprised her son. She was followed by all of the city's teachers, eager to vote before the start of the school day. Knowing the eyes of the state were upon them, city officials not only opened the doors to women voters, they appointed two women to positions on the voting board, as a clerk and a judge. Throughout, the event was marked for its social atmosphere and good feeling, the women serving on the board being kind enough to encourage their male counter parts to continue to smoke as they had done in the past. Children watched just to see what all the fuss was about. One hundred and twelve women voted that December day, compared to 251 men. In terms of eligible voters, more eligible women turned out than did men, in spite of the bad weather.

So it was that Bend proved what many already knew: that Oregon's women were not only capable of voting intelligently, but also of participating in the political process at large. Oregon joined six other states in allowing women the vote, helping turn the tide toward approval of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920, less than one hundred years ago.

Oregon Suffrage by the Numbers

1912 - Year Oregon Women Won Voting Rights

5 - Number of times suffrage vote failed in Oregon

112 - Number of women who voted in Bend's
first post-suffrage election

6 - That's how many states besides Oregon accorded
women the right to vote by 1912

About The Author

Add a comment

More by Source Weekly

Latest in The Women's Issue

More in The Women's Issue

  • Woman of the Year - Possibilities with a View How Lawnae Hunter is changing Central Oregon's economic future

    When Lawnae Hunter moved to Bend, she wasn't expecting to challenge the status quo. A former waitress and single mother who attended community college in Aptos, Calif., Hunter worked her way up the real estate food chain and developed the largest real estate company in Central California, Hunter Prudential Realty. The company was eventually sold to a subsidiary of Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway. After the sale, Hunter was looking for a change of pace. In 2003, she bought a house on Awbrey Butte and in 2007 moved to Bend full time. She brought her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren and joined one daughter already living here.
    • Mar 10, 2011
  • Who's the Chick on the Drums?: Lindsey Elias is leading the way for the region's young female musicians

    Lindsey Elias is 24 and has been a rock drummer for a full decade. She has one hell of a stage presence and it all comes in one surprisingly small package. Watching Elias and her 105-pound frame push out the power and speed of an enormous male drummer is really something to be seen when she's up on stage with her band, Empty Space Orchestra. Take a look at the audience at an ESO show and you will see people's necks craning just to get a better view of what she's doing. She has a magnetic, natural beauty on the drums as she pumps out incredibly fast, hard-hitting licks. There is something contagious about the joy, the passion and the pure rock n' roll in her facial expressions that radiates out to the crowd who watches with mouths agape or perhaps smiling in delight. "She's so fun to watch. She just gets so into it. It's surprising to see so much noise, such loud and harsh noise, coming from such a small person," says an ESO fan named Griffin after one of the band's packed Silver Moon residency shows in January.
    • Mar 10, 2011
  • Swimming Through a Sea of Plastic Bags: Sara Wiener at Sara Bella Upcycled creates useful, environmentally friendly products out of trash

    If you walk beyond the showroom at Sara Bella Upcycled, which is currently located upstairs above O Mo Mo in the Old Mill District, you will likely see a sea of plastic bags. Sara Wiener, owner of Sara Bella Upcycled, swims through the bags, creating one-of-a-kind products including tote bags, wallets, aprons, wine carriers, belts, and more. The greatest part about swimming through the sea of bags every week is that you do so knowing that the bags won't end up polluting our oceans and killing the sea life. Before opening Sara Bella Upcycled in 2010, Wiener operated Sara Bella Custom Outdoorwear, which sold Polar Tec polar fleece clothing. Wiener ran the business for 14 years, but closed because she felt burnt out. After closing the business she spent the next couple years doing development work in Africa. One night a family came over to her house for dinner and brought their food in a bag that sparked Wiener's interest. The family's middle-school-aged son looked up online how to make a messenger bag out of black garbage bags.
    • Mar 10, 2011
  • Riding High: Miki Keller Makes Women's Motocross a Serious Sport

    Motocross, the sport featuring people riding souped-up dirt bikes around a muddy track and flinging themselves off of jumps, doing tricks like the "superman," has been growing in popularity since it was introduced in the United States in the 1960s. Today, some riders are as popular as rock stars and those at the top of their game are showcased at high-profile competitions like the X Games. But, for the most part, women have been left out of the sport, especially in television coverage and prize pools. That is, until Miki Keller got involved.
    • Mar 10, 2011
  • Ageless Songs: Sure, she's 79, but that hasn't stopped Harriet Dickson from returning to her music

    Harriet Dickson has plenty of stories. She can tell you about the time she performed on a radio show in New York when she was just six years old, or when she survived civil war in Iran, or the years she spent as close friends with Sammy Davis Jr. But now, at 79 years old, this great grandmother has another story to tell and it's about the new album of some of her favorite songs that she recently recorded. Dickson has done a lot with her life and played a variety of roles, ranging from mother to businesswoman to artist, but she could never shake her desire to be a singer. She always had dreams of making it in the music world, but life tended to get in the way, not that she's particularly minded.
    • Mar 10, 2011
  • Women Making the Best Beer in the Region... To Name a Few

    The Homebrewer Name: Maura Schwartz Age: 51 Occupation: International Development Consultant Beer-ography: Schwartz started brewing about six years ago after flirting with the idea for years. She won second prize at the Eugene Beer Festival for her first homebrew, a pale ale. After that, she was hooked. Schwartz, who has graduated to an all-grain system, kegs all of her beer and says she never makes the same recipe twice.
    • Mar 10, 2011
  • More »