Ukiah’s Senator Sanford and Women’s Suffrage

While a very few nice positive things could be said about state representative John B. Sanford of Ukiah 110 years ago… “He was a good businessman, a man of faith, he served his community as a teacher and principal”… the man had a colossal fault in his character. Sanford would turn livid at the suggestion that woman should get to vote.

A 1914 anti-suffrage cartoon by Udo J. Keppler, “All together now! Stop her!.” Published in Puck Magazine by Puck Publishing Corporation, New York. (Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/2011649798/)

“Gray Eagle of Democracy” was his nickname for his forceful editorial writing in defense of the Democratic Party principles. The son of a Baptist minister, he was born in 1869 and came to Ukiah at age 12 and schooled at San Jose State and the San Francisco Business College. He married Nina B. Hughes, a music teacher, and the Sanford Ranch Road area today is where the family raised hops. He was a teacher and principal at schools in Yorkville, Willits, and Point Arena in the 1890s.

In 1898 he entered the field of journalism when he assumed control of the Mendocino Democrat Dispatch newspaper in Ukiah. His publicity claimed, “He has an unusually powerful mind capable of analyzing motives behind deeds.”

At about the same time, he entered politics, being elected assemblyman in the Fourth District, composed of Mendocino, Lake, Glenn, and Colusa counties, in 1894, 1896 and 1898. Sanford then became state senator elected in 1902, 1906 and 1908 and was proud to serve as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1904. When he entered the legislature, he was the youngest man there and when he retired 18 years later, he had served longer than any other legislator.

Noteworthy work he did was often honorable and memorable, like the bill he sponsored stating monthly wages to common laborers had to be paid in cash, not company script, work hours were to be 10 hours a day and a lunch hour was to be provided. This was great news to workers in logging camps, lumber mills, and farm laborers. 

While he advocated for schools, good roads, and modern improvements of any kind there were some things he abhorred.

Case in point… recognition of any kind towards people who came from Asia. Sanford wrote some of the first anti-Japanese measures before the legislature. He supported anti-alien laws making sure immigrants here already got as few rights as possible and that no more Asians could immigrate. In 1909 he proposed legislation preventing all aliens from holding title to real estate, which passed in 1911. Aliens would be ineligible for citizenship under his proposed legislation. Why he held such a dislike for Asians is unknown.

Real ire from Sanford was saved for the abhorrent concept (to him) of woman suffrage. As early as 1905 he was writing “Men and woman are constituted differently and have different spheres of usefulness. We all despise mannish women and effeminate sissy men. Woman have a sphere in life, and it cannot be changed without producing ill effects.”

Sanford’s quotes included, “Any attempt to shove women into a man’s sphere, to be tossed around where men congregate, will loosen respect and esteem for her. The great majority of women do not want to vote and thus share the added responsibility of serving on juries and doing men’s work.”

In a 1905 speech to the legislature he claimed, “When the day women suffrage arrives, we will find women wearing bloomers and running government while men will be washing dishes and learning cradle songs. The bedside prayer of one pure noble Christian woman far outweighs the work of any mannish female politician on earth.”

Women’s votes were “political hysteria” and a “backwards step in the progress of civilization” he claimed in the Los Angeles Times newspaper. He wrote the ballot proposition text for a voters information manual stating suffrage “was not a right…but a privilege not to be granted to women…women have no need to vote as men will represent and protect them. Mothers shape the destinies of the nation by keeping to their places and attending to their duties as God Almighty intended.”

A state proposition in 1911 gave women the right to vote by passing on a 50.7% vote. A November 1912 story, written in the opposing Ukiah newspaper called the Press Republican, “Senator Sanford fought a last-ditch effort to defeat woman suffrage and his speeches were masterpieces of insult to the women of the state and Mendocino County.” By 1914 he was out of politics and back running his Democrat Dispatch newspaper in Ukiah.

In a history tidbit, his home at 306 S. Pine had the distinction of becoming Ukiah’s first Bed & Breakfast lodging in 1984. President Wilson appointed him as a Registrar in the U.S. Land Office in San Francisco and in 1922 retired, to be replaced by a woman. Sanford died under unusual circumstances. He fell to his death from the window of a San Francisco hotel in 1928. Alone at the time, he had a fainting spell while leaning out the window. As he fell, he tried to save himself, as fingernail marks were found scratched into the wooden windowsill. He died instantly when he hit the pavement. Flags on the Mendocino County Courthouse were lowered to half-staff until his funeral was held in Ukiah.