Women’s Suffrage Debate

Studio portrait of Mollie Norton, her father William Norton who owned Norton’s Hotel on Main Street, and their dog, Prince, c. 1882. (Gift of Evelyn Larkin)

April 4, 1890 – A very interesting and instructive debate took place in Professor W. H. Greenwell’s department of the public school on the question of whether women should be allowed to vote. The Beacon reported on the scene, “Long before the hour appointed for the debate, the room was filled with parents and friends of the pupils. Prof. Greenwell made a few well-timed remarks as to the benefits derived from having debates in our school.” He then appointed a committee, consisting of L. A. Morgan, J. D. Murray, and Byron Clark, to decide on the merits of the arguments.

“The question was stated thus: ‘Women shall be allowed the right of suffrage.’ The boys (Carl Murray, Almon Paddleford, and Bert Stone), with blue ribbons, being on the negative side, and the girls (Mollie Norton, Jesse Nelson, Joanna Tobin, Mamie Nelson, Effie Switzer, and Lottie Wilber) with yellow ribbons – the emblem of woman’s suffrage – on the affirmative. Each member of the class read an essay on the subject which was both able and comprehensive, and showed how favored with talent the town is. The debate was opened by Miss Mollie Norton, leader for the affirmative, and was followed by Carl Murray, champion for the negative, and so on until all of the class had expressed their opinion. The argument was closed by the negative champion in an affecting appeal to the judges, but alas, they were unmovable and decided that woman’s suffrage made three points to one on the other side.”

According to the California Secretary of State website, the first attempt for women’s suffrage in California failed in the 1896 general election. In 1910, women persuaded the California state legislature to add the question, ‘Should women be allowed to vote?’ to the 1911 ballot.

The election was held on October 10, 1911. In the Big River Precinct, the vote on the Equal Suffrage Amendment was 63 votes for and 97 votes against. Statewide, the measure passed by just 3,587 votes. “The final count was 125,037 to 121,450, making California the 6th state in the nation to give women the right to vote.”

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