Monday marked the 100th anniversary of the day women won the right to vote in California. Atascadero’s founder, Edward Gardner Lewis, had not established his newest community in California yet. But in the spring of 1910, at University City — which had been created by Lewis on the outskirts of St. Louis, Mo. — he hosted 1,000 suffragists at the first national convention of the American Woman’s League.
Atascaderans think of Lewis as being in support of women.
Lewis created the league for white women in 1908 as a way to promote the cultural, educational and even business opportunities for women, and, truth be known, to help sell his magazine and newspaper. Men could join but not vote. He even promised to build “chapter houses,” which were small bungalows that could serve as meeting places for the members for those clubs that raised a certain amount of money in direct sales or magazine subscriptions. Chapter houses were built in 16 states with at least three in California.
Surprisingly, Lewis named himself president of the American Woman’s League and his wife, Mabel Gertrude Lewis, one of three vice presidents.
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As part of the Woman’s League, Edward Lewis created the People’s University and the Art Institute in University City, both institutions aimed at women. He also established a correspondence school that included a number of classes directed toward women. There were 50,000 women enrolled in those classes by 1910.
Although Lewis was sympathetic to the suffrage movement, he wrote that if women were granted the suffrage without some such preliminary education, “There would at once arise one of the most dangerous situations possible, both to herself and to the existing social order.” He said the American Woman’s League could provide training.
This week, Atascadero is celebrating its past, which includes Lewis’ role in it. The local celebration began Sunday with the Colony Tea and culminates Saturday with a parade.
Prior to the successful vote in California to give women the right to vote, Lewis wrote in his book, “Order No. 10,” that, “The women of this country can have a powerful voice in the affairs of this nation.”
Lewis’ first sales brochure for his new California community lists it as “The California Colony of the American Woman’s Republic.” His wife was vice president of the local organization in 1913. Lewis said of women, “The power of their still, small voice in the quiet of the night, whispered into the ear of the lord and master of the house, would have more to do with the election returns than all of the yellow journals in America.”
Maybe it is only fair that the assistant prosecutor in the trial that found Lewis guilty of mail fraud in 1927, which resulted in his being sentenced to federal prison a year later, was a woman.
Lon Allan can be reached at 466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.