This year marks the 100th anniversary of the historic election that finally secured the right of California women to vote and run for office. It is unfathomable to think today, but once upon a time women were barred from helping to decide the future of our state and nation.
While women’s suffrage was not ratified into the U.S. Constitution until 1920, Californians helped lead the way by approving Prop. 4 on Oct. 10, 1911, that secured their political rights. This day helped build the state’s reputation for innovation and good governance, as voters also approved Progressive Era reforms that introduced the initiative process, the optional referendum and the ability for the voters to recall public officials.
Even though our state was ahead of its time, it is important to note that Prop. 4 passed only after women suffragists and their allies worked hard to convince the public of the righteousness of their cause. The voters passed Prop. 4 with just 50.7 percent of the vote. Voters defeated a similar measure in 1896.
Interestingly, the 1896 measure lost primarily because of San Francisco, a city that is today known as one of the world’s most progressive cities. Rural counties such as San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara voted for women’s suffrage, but its winning margins were easily offset by the San Francisco vote.
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When 1911 came around, San Francisco voted against women’s suffrage yet again. However, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties passed it with strong margins that helped overcome the urban gap. A woman’s right to vote was finally a reality in California.
However, just because women could now vote did not mean their fight for equal rights was over. Just like men, women needed to have informed and non-partisan sources that they could turn to so they could cast informed votes. This year, we also celebrate the League of Women Voters in California for helping fill that role.
In 1911, the California Civic League, consisting of suffragists who fought to secure the right to vote, was formed to help newly enfranchised women increase their understanding of public policy. The California Civic League later became the state branch of the League of Women Voters in 1921, cultivating a well-deserved reputation of serving the public interest over the years.
As an immigrant who came to California to complete my education and pursue the American Dream, I cannot help but marvel at the rights, freedoms and opportunities that our country still offers its citizens today. But I know that such blessings did not come out of nowhere — they were fought for by patriots who had the courage to demand that our nation live up to its aspirations for equality and liberty. Our nation is stronger because of organizations such as the League of Women Voters.
Thanks to the suffragists and California voters of 1911, women can now vote — a vote that is especially crucial in modern elections. According to an exit poll of the 2008 presidential election, women comprised 53 percent of the voters. Candidates who fail to take into account the issues that matter most to women do so at their own risk.
We should take great pride that the Central Coast played a pivotal role in ensuring that California was on the right side of history in 1911. To honor this historic milestone, the San Luis Obispo County League of Women Voters is hosting a celebration Monday, from 4 to 7 p.m. at Dallidet Adobe in San Luis Obispo. You can find more information about this free event by visiting Votes4Women.org.
I hope you will join me in recognizing the 100th anniversary of California women securing the right to vote and the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the League of Women Voters of California, two milestones of the social progress we have made over the years.
Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian represents all of San Luis Obispo County and the northern portion of Santa Barbara County in the California State Assembly.