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Remember the struggle 

Women in San Luis Obispo County fought hard for the right to vote and hold public office

During the early hours of Oct. 10, 1911, California women readied, after eight busy months of preparation, for a last critical day of work. On that date, male voters would go to the polls for the second time since 1896 to decide whether they—California women—should have the right to vote. They had organized to distribute pamphlets, monitor the polling places to make certain all votes were counted, and to drive or walk men to the polls. Oct. 10, 2011 is the centennial of that election, which gave California women the right to vote and moreover, the right to run for elected office.

When a suffrage measure was presented in 1896, SLO County had embraced a campaign orchestrated by Susan B. Anthony, who spoke in San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande in October that year. Grassroots efforts that built on the existing pro-suffrage networks of the Farmer’s Alliance, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and the newly organized Political Equality Clubs energized local women, who cajoled men to go to the polls. That first measure failed statewide by 26,744 votes, defeated in San Francisco by 23,772 votes, but SLO County, like many other rural counties, passed the measure.

Suffragists learned important lessons from the 1896 defeat, and when the measure was again placed on the ballot in 1911, they were ready. Many historians consider their grassroots campaign the most successful political struggle ever in California.

Women created postcards, made telephone calls, wrote pamphlets, held teas, marched, and held huge rallies to drive home the message: Votes for women! A few young women rode across the state in a beautiful blue convertible. They would park in the center of towns, where men gathered to gawk at the automobile. The women would then stand up in the car and convince their audiences why women should gain the right to vote.

There were powerful suffragists in SLO County. Grace Barneberg was a longtime SLO women’s club activist for progressive social and political reforms. May Clevenger was the co-editor of the pro-suffrage Arroyo Grande Herald. Martha Frick was a leader of the Paso Robles Alliance suffrage and was a temperance activist. Bloomer-clad young women appeared on the streets of Arroyo Grande in support of suffrage. C. Eddy and E. Carpenter gave suffrage speeches there as teenagers, for example. The Arroyo Grande Herald published a special suffrage issue written by at least
20 local women.

The 1911 ballot measure passed by less than 2 percent statewide. It again failed in San Francisco, but the YES votes from rural counties surpassed the San Francisco NO vote. SLO County passed it by a 12 percent margin. Among the cities with the greatest victories were Arroyo Grande (72 percent YES), Paso Robles (56 percent), and SLO (55 percent).

In January 2011, the League of Women Voters of SLO County formed a coalition, a steering committee of mayors and council members from all seven cities, county supervisors, educators, librarians, historical societies, such organizations as the American Association of University Women, and community activists. The mission of the coalition is:

• To celebrate 2011 as the 100-year anniversary of California women securing
the right to vote and raise awareness of the role San Luis Obispo County played in this historic event.

• Through our leadership, we will provide inspiration to civic leaders and organizations across our county to commemorate the anniversary collectively and in every community.

The steering committee’s honorary chair is Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian. Trudy Jarratt and Marilee Hyman co-chair the committee. There have been parades, booths at community events, and resolutions from each city and the Board of Supervisors, declaring 2011 a year of celebration of the anniversary.

The steering committee has organized a countywide celebration at the Dallidet Adobe and Gardens on Pacific Street in SLO that will take place on Oct. 10 from 4 to 7 p.m. Admission is free. Assemblyman Achadjian will open the celebration. Women elected to office in SLO County will be honored. Barbara Babcock, who is a Stanford law professor and the author of Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz, is the keynote speaker. Sweet Adelines and the Crustacea Jazz Band will entertain. Don’t miss the outrageously funny skit Why Men Should Vote. Refreshments—and wine tastings—are included.

Learn more about the suffrage movement in SLO County and the Oct. 10 celebration at


Trudy Jarratt recently served as vice president of the League of Women Voters of California and co-chairs the SLO County steering committee for the centennial. Send comments to the opinion editor via [email protected].

-- Trudy Jarratt - Arroyo Grande

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