Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Riding The Suffrage Special

June 27, 1909 Seattle Times article.
August 18th, 2020 marked the 100th Anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution giving American women the right to vote! It was the culmination of decades long fighting and advocacy to grant women the ability to have a voice in the laws of the United States. Railways played a prominent role in suffrage advocacy by allowing the quick movement of political campaign stumpers. Two Suffrage Special trains, one in 1909 and another in 1916, played prominent roles in laying the ground work for the passing of the 19th Amendment.

To commemorate the role that the Suffrage Special Trains played, the Museum put together a video based on the rear platform speeches given at stops by Suffrage leaders. The presentation details the role of Suffrage leader Anna Howard Shaw and uses a compilation of quotes from her speeches and letters throughout the years of her work. The video is one piece of a new Suffrage Train exhibit which will debut in the Train Shed Exhibit Building when the Museum reopens.

Anna Howard Shaw

 Anna Howard Shaw Background: Born in England in 1847, Anna moved to the United States at the age of four. At a time when women were expected to only marry and become mothers, she took a different path. At the age of 24 she became a Methodist preacher and without family support, entered Albion College and began a career lecturing on temperance (abstinence from alcoholic drink). In 1878, at the age of 31, she graduated from Boston University Divinity School but was not ordained until 1880 due to being female. She received her medical degree in 1886 from Boston University at the age of 39.

 In 1888, Anna attended the first meeting of the International Council of Women. Leading suffrage advocate Susan B. Anthony encouraged her to join the National Woman Suffrage Association where Anna played a key role in persuading the American Woman Suffrage Association to merge with the National Woman Suffrage Association. She was Vice President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association under Susan B Anthony’s presidency and later became president of the Association herself.

King Street Station in Seattle, 1909

At the age of 62, she traveled on the 1909 Suffrage Special as it made its way across the country and throughout Washington State to attend the National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention in Seattle, which had been timed to coincide with the Alaska-Yukon–Pacific Exposition. It was believed that “the confluence of the widely publicized convention and the world's fair will help win supporters for women's right to vote.” Along the way she gave speeches from the rear platform of the train. Her work helped pass women’s suffrage in 1910 in Washington State. 

In her 70s, she performed home front war work during WWI and earned a Distinguished Service Medal in 1919. At the end of the war, at the request of President Wilson and former President Taft, she lectured in the U.S. and Europe in support of world peace and the League of Nations. During one of those tours she fell ill and died in July 1919 at the age of 72, just 13 months before her life’s work culminated in the ratification of the 19th Amendment.  

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