How Kirkland Women Lost the Vote
…and got it back
By Irene Vlitos-Rowe
When the Washington Equal Suffrage Association published their Washington Women’s Cook Book in 1908 it was dedicated: “to the first woman who realized that half the human race were not getting a square deal, and who had the courage to voice a protest.”
The dedication didn’t mention that Washington women used to have the right to vote, lost it, and were now trying to get it back.
In territorial days (prior to 1889 statehood), Washington was an equal suffrage state, which meant that women could vote and had the right to serve as jurors. In 1883, both houses of the Washington Territorial Legislature approved women’s suffrage, and the bill was signed into law on November 23. As women’s suffrage was only allowed in Wyoming and Utah territories at the time, this was a major achievement for our territory.
It was also a heady time for women who, according to Adella M. Parker of the Washington Equal Suffrage Association: “voted so well that they drove most of the thugs and gamblers over into British Columbia, and the British themselves were forced to enfranchise women in self-protection.”
However, despite women’s instrumental role in local elections, it wasn’t long before their new-found political rights were being challenged in the courts. Finally, in 1888 the Washington Territorial Supreme Court ruled that Congress had not intended to empower territories to enact women’s suffrage, and women lost their right to vote—a situation which did not change when Washington was admitted to the Union in 1889.
Back to the cookbook, and its tantalizing choice of recipes, which were contributed by women from all over Washington, and a few from other states. Kirkland made its mark with, for example, Nut Rolls (Mary Tomlin), Cream Puffs (Julia Hawley), Variety Pickles and a Sago Pudding (Mrs. Frank Curtis).
But there was more to this charity cookbook than met the eye.
These women were steeped in suffragist history and some, like Julia Hawley, were actively involved in the local Women’s Suffrage Club. Plans were already underway to start a campaign to secure votes for Washington women, and promoting good things to eat was part of the strategy. They knew that they had to get their message across to men with influence, and what better way than through their stomachs?
As their wives, mothers and/or daughters prepared these recipes at home, they would be encouraged to read the pro-suffrage sentiments at the start of each chapter. In the confectionery section, Theodore Roosevelt is quoted as saying: “I believe in woman’s rights as much as in men’s, and indeed, a little more.”
And, in case this was too subtle, there’s a somber reminder in the bread chapter that taxation without representation is tyranny. In the vegetables chapter, politics is compared to housekeeping on a big scale so, it follows, housekeeping without women equates to muddled government.
Although no one book can be credited in moving mountains, the Washington Women’s Cook Book was successful in raising funds for the suffragist movement. It was sold during the 1909-1910 suffrage campaign, and at the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, or Seattle’s First World Fair.
On November 8, 1910, the ballot measure to amend Article VI of the Washington Constitution passed by a majority, and women regained their voting rights in Washington State. Although Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Idaho had all beaten us to it, Washington was still the first state to pass women’s suffrage in the 20th century—a full 10 years before national suffrage was achieved.
Sources: KHS; Washington Women’s Cookbook, 1908; The Waterloo Times-Tribune; Kirkland-Redmond Sun; The East Side Journal; Washington Women’s History Consortium; historylink.org.
A version of this article appeared in the Kirkland Reporter on April 1, 2009.