Glen Park Resident Johanna Pinther and the First March for Suffrage in the United States

Learn More: The Suffrage Movement in Glen Park. Backstory to the First March for Suffrage in America.

Our jaws dropped upon making the discovery. Johanna Pinther, a resident of Glen Park over a century ago, is featured in an image on the cover of three books about California suffrage.[1-3] The photograph, first appearing on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle on August 28, 1908, is iconic[4]: three well-dressed women marching shoulder-to-shoulder with dignity and determination. Johanna is on the right. In the center dressed all in white is her step-daughter-in-law, Jeanette Wall Pinther of Noe Valley in San Francisco. Jeanette is carrying the banner of the California Equal Suffrage Association, handsewn and hand-embroidered by Johanna herself. On the left is Lillian Harris Coffin, a resident of Mill Valley in Marin County. While the source of this postcard image at the California Historical Society correctly identifies the women, the Glen Park Neighborhoods History Project is the first to identify Johanna as a Glen Park resident.

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We discovered this image late in our research of Johanna, who by all accounts appears to have been an incredible woman. And, as if finding her on the cover of three books wasn't mind-blowing enough, we have also discovered that in this image, the women are leading a contingent of suffragists in the first suffrage march in the United States!

We present the life story of Johanna and the history of suffrage in Glen Park and California in a separate article. The focus of this article is to first provide an overview of the history of processions for the cause of suffrage and the associated symbolism, followed by the events that lead up to and include this very historic event.

The U.S. Suffrage Cause Advances to the Public Forum

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees citizens the right to peaceful assembly, as long as there are no restrictions to time, place, and manner of assembly.[5] It is ironic that suffragists across the country would need to use this civil right to achieve another civil right even more fundamental, one that the same Constitution had denied: the woman's right to vote. 

 

Before the rise of the U.S. suffrage movement, women had primarily been gathering in private.[6] Assembling in their homes and churches, they infrequently dared to speak their mind in public. Yet, as the second half of the 19th century advanced and women became more impatient with gender inequality, their growing sense of collective empowerment helped enable a transition from private discussions near home and hearth to a more public discourse for voting rights.[7,8]

Though American "suffragists" would be inspired by their British sisters to move "out of the parlors and into the streets" to achieve the right to vote, they refused to adopt any of their militant pursuits. To be clear, British "suffragists" of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), led by Millicent Fawcett, were engaging in more peaceable processions, open-air "soap box" meetings, wearing and carrying banners, and picketing. American women began to adopt these methods in 1908, with use surging across the nation after 1910. On the other hand, the more combative "suffragettes" of England, led by Emmeline Pankhurst of the Women's Social and Political Union (WPSU), were taking a more violent approach, throwing rocks through windows, committing arson, and detonating explosives. In fact, the term "suffragette" was coined in 1906 by British journalist Charles E. Hands of the Daily Mail whose intent was to malign and belittle these radical women, as compared to the more "ladylike" and law-abiding "constitutional" suffragist.[6,9,10]

 

We can thank Maude Malone, president of the Harlem Equal Rights League of New York City, for pioneering the use of the soap box for the cause of suffrage in the United States. Encouraged by visiting British suffragette Bettina Boorman Wells to embark on a more aggressive campaign, Malone announced her intent to hold an open-air meeting in Madison Square during the first week of January in 1908.[11] Though invited, Carrie Chapman Catt, who began speaking for suffrage in the 1880s and succeeded Susan B. Anthony as the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (and who would later found the League of Women Voters in 1920), declined. In the view of Catt and others of Anthony's era, any tactic from Britain was too aggressive and they would have nothing to do with it.[11,12] 

 

Malone and Boorman Wells soon organized the Progressive Woman's Suffrage Union (PWSU) and began publishing the "American Suffragette." According to the Gotham Center of New York City History, "Using the continental term [ie, "suffragette"] rather than the conventional “suffragist” designation signaled militant intentions on which they swiftly made good, holding an open-air meeting in Madison Square, a shocking departure for heretofore parlorbound suffrage workers."[13] Shocking, indeed!

 

Malone next set her sights on what she believed would become the first suffrage parade in the United States. Anywhere from 300 to 10,000 women, wearing pins declaring "Votes for Women!" and displaying yellow banners, were expected to participate. It was announced that the PWSU was actively searching for a suffrage cornet band to lead the procession.[14]

 

Today, Malone's plans may sound somewhat ordinary. Why was the idea of women marching considered such a game changer?

 

The Symbolism of the Suffrage Movement

Prior to the 1910s, the role of women had become cemented in culture and society: women focused on home life, while men were allowed to dominate the public sphere. In society at large, having a voice in the public space was not considered, well, ... ladylike. Yet, following the defeat of California suffrage in 1896 and as the 20th century dawned, a new generation of emboldened women would take up the torch and begin asserting themselves in ways that would soon turn the societal norm on its head. (Read more about the backstory of women's suffrage in Glen Park and California, at large.)

 

After 1910, women on both sides of the Atlantic began incorporating symbolism, pomp, and circumstance to bring attention to the suffrage movement, enabling the message to be spread with greater flare. The American suffrage movement began using open-air meetings, marches, and parades as a tactic for public assembly with increasing frequency, "... to overcome exclusion and resist another group's dominance of public space by entering and claiming a share of that space for (and as) women."[9]

Marches and Parades

By overtaking the public space, no tactic other than the march and parade could better represent woman as man's equal. It was not the parade itself that was novel, as it had been used since the mid-1800s for celebrations (such as 4th of July and May Day) and earlier movements (such as labor and temperance) to protest disenfranchisement.[15] The novelty would be the public procession led by women in support of a cause specifically for women.[9] 

 

Both suffragists and suffragettes in Britain used the spectacle of a procession to help deliver their message to a potentially large number of observers, dramatizing "... the cause by means of costume, narrative, embroidery, performance, and all the developing skills of entertainment at their disposal."[16] According to research by McCammon, "The parades allowed them to present themselves to onlookers as serious and dignified and in possession of the courage to appear publicly to make their demand. The suffrage parades were not festive or frivolous, but rather the women marched typically in formation, wearing white dresses and carrying banners and signs with their rationales for the vote printed on them."[9] Marching suffragists were encouraged by leaders to march with discipline and dignity because of the principle they were marching for.[6] Some prominent suffragists, however, were not enamored with the tactic. Carrie Chapman Catt declared, "We do not have to win sympathy by parading ourselves like the street cleaning department." Others believed walking the streets should only be left to prostitutes.[15]

The first suffrage march in the world was the brainstorm of England's NUWSS, an organization that considered itself more "constitutional" than the militant WSPU founded by Emmeline Pankhurst. Led by Millicent Fawcett, the women of the NUWSS arrived at the realization that no matter how polite, how courteous, how tactful and dignified they could be, their message of suffrage was falling on deaf ears. Their sisters in the WSPU, though much smaller in number, were becoming quite well known but their violent activities were sending the wrong message. Instead, Fawcett and others thought, why not take to the streets in a peaceful way? Not as a protest or for the purposes of destruction. On the contrary, the march would be a celebration of woman's determination to achieve equality! According to Robinson, "This would be a spectacle, a show, something people would come to marvel at, admire, enjoy, and, most of all, remember."[17,18]

The big day came on February 9, 1907. Described as the "Great Demonstration Before the Opening of Parliament, to Demand the Franchise," the NUWSS joined other suffrage groups at the bandstand in Hyde Park for the "United Procession of Women." Marchers of all social classes from around the country assembled under banners representing their respective organizations. Led by Millicent Fawcett and other prominent suffragists, an estimated 2,000 women wearing red and white rosettes and carrying approximately 80 embroidered banners traveled along Picadilly, Lower Regent Street, Pall Mall East, and Duncannon Street to Exeter Hall on the Strand, a distance of nearly 2 miles. Though the weather was dreary, cold, and wet, thousands watched as the procession marched to the hall, where they would hear speakers and enjoy bands playing rousing, patriotic music. Known thereafter as the "Mud March," by the time the women had arrived at Exeter Hall, their "...skirts may have dragged heavily at their heels ... and feathers in their hats drooped damply." In the end, all participants were pleased with the conditions, as many believed "tramping through the mud" showed the intensity of their resolve.[18,19] This slog through the streets of London, the first planned public demonstration by women and for women in the world, would lead to subsequent processions in the United Kingdom, and later in the United States. 

In addition to the marches, a popular feature of public processions and assembly was the tableau. A form of historical pageantry, tableaux helped bring attention to prominent women of the past who had made their own significant marks on history. In one tableau in Washington, DC, in 1912, for example, held on the steps of the U.S. Capital Building, women wore costumes representing suffrage ideals (such as Liberty, Justice, and Freedom), and portrayed such historic women as Sappho, Queen Elizabeth, and Joan of Arc.[15] 

 

While the sight of a suffrage procession may not have convinced all in attendance to grant women the right to vote, it certainly brought greater attention to the effort, giving women a louder voice.[6,9] With the taking over of the public space by and for women, the spectacle of women marching in formation became a newsworthy event. In the days of the Edwardian era, long before the birth of social media, stories printed in the press and transmitted by wire to other news agencies was perhaps their most effective tactic for "viral marketing" of their message to a vast audience. 

 

Textiles and Embroidery

Before describing the first march for suffrage in the United States, it is important to understand more about the symbolism behind it. For example, fashion would become a key element of the "branding" for suffragism. Colors of the movement were first adopted in the UK by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence in 1908: purple for loyalty and dignity, white for purity, and green for hope (in 1913, the American National Woman's Party would officially adopt purple and white, but gold instead of green to represent light and life). According to Blackman, cartoonists in the press had been characterizing women for the cause of suffrage as mannish and unattractive. The women wanted to make clear that their desire for equality and the vote was not a challenge to feminism. In part, they were striving to affect change "... not by challenging contemporary fashion and ideals of femininity, but by conforming to them." Women were encouraged to "dress smartly" and wear the suffrage colors, whether they be reflected as a small pin or ribbon or as full dress from head-to-toe.[20,21] For the first time, in New York in 1912, a large number of women participating in a parade would wear white dresses to represent the "purity" of their cause.[6]

 

The use of textiles, such as embroidery, became important not only for the capacity to deliver messaging and promote public identification, but also for reinforcing the feminine. As relayed by Wheeler, from work by Lisa Tickner, "In using silk and velvet associated with the drawing room and working in embroidery and appliqué associated with the feminine, they succeeded in using amateur craft identified with a chaste and domestic femininity to mount a political challenge that sought short term political gain and long term social change." Women across England who had been jailed for commission of more violent infractions in support of the cause would become part of the "stitching resistance" - isolated from the public stage, they embroidered their communications supporting a woman's right to vote. By embroidering names of her visitors and other jailhouse events then mailing the textile to friends and supporters, the suffragette was, in effect, establishing an historical record.[22] 

 

Women soon understood how pomp and circumstance could beget spectacle, and spectacle could bring attention to message. With tricolor banners flying, it would be clear: "Here come the suffragettes (or, "suffragists)!" Which brings us back to Maude Malone and her proposed procession of women in New York City.

No Permit, No Parade!

The offices of Maude Malone's new PWSU was reported by the New York Times to be only 6 feet by 7-1/2 feet in size and right next door to a very busy palmist. Malone had invited reporters to the first planning meeting of a parade she predicted would attract up to 10,000 women. Yet, only 4 woman were present in the tiny room, flanked by 5 male reporters. Acknowledging that the movement in Britain had a beginning just as humble, "... in even a room smaller than this ...,"  British suffragette Bettina Boorman Wells exclaimed, "And now look at us over there!" Malone anticipated more than 20 women's organizations would be participating even though, she admitted, "All of these do not yet say they are in the suffrage movement."[14] 

On Sunday morning, February 16, 1908, despite the fact that the New York City Police Department had denied the women a parade permit earlier in the week, the contingent - from 5 to 23 women - assembled for the march. Far outnumbered by observers, over 1,000 men and boys had gathered to view the anticipated spectacle. The New York Times described the women condescendingly, referring to Boorman Wells as the "Generalissimo" and Malone as the "General." Malone had indicated the day before the women would not defy the police order preventing the march, but reporters observed this had been, "... a ruse to lure Captain Young of the Tenderloin Station into a false relaxation of vigilance." Regardless, 12 uniformed and plainclothes police officers were there to patrol the event, "... to combat those fierce suffragettes ...," and to remind the crowd that, "Parading was prohibited."[23-25]

Malone faced the crowd in a corner of Union Square and declared, "So you see this law against a parade of this sort and an open-air meeting is to be the only Sunday law enforced in New York City to-day [sic]." By her own admission, Malone noted to the crowd that the police had "... spoiled the parade." Malone attempted to say a few more words when a policeman advised her to, "Move on." Move on, they did, inviting the growing crowd to follow them to hear speeches at the Manhattan Trade School on East Twenty-Third Street. Without the use of any banners and walking in rows of four, the "Free-for-Allers" were forced to "curb their suffrage demonstration" in a "quiet stroll" by walking along the sidewalk. According to observers, without the pomp and circumstance, no one could easily know when "they've come." Inside the hall, Malone again exclaimed while the police had "spoiled" the parade, at least they could claim a "moral victory." She also announced the intent to march the following week in Albany. Though Malone subsequently spoke at several open-air meetings throughout the year, there is no documentation that any suffrage parade or march occurred before the end of 1908.[23-26] 

The First March for Suffrage in the United States

Maude Malone's attempted march for suffrage in early 1908 failed to make the San Francisco newspapers. But, a year earlier on February 10, 1907, had Johanna Pinther turned to page 39 of the San Francisco Call, she would have come across a brief description of the "Mud March" in London.[27] While it would be another year before Johanna would suddenly appear on the scene as part of the leadership of several women's clubs in Glen Park and San Francisco, record of the Mud March may have planted the seed for a future spectacle in California.

 

On June 25, 1908, following a meeting at the Fairmount Hotel, the California State Republican Central Committee announced the next statewide convention would be held on August 27 of that year at Ye Liberty Theater (Syndicate Building, 2200 Broadway) in Oakland.[28] Within two weeks, the San Francisco Call announced, "Suffragettes to Storm Convention" and "Determined Reformers to Besiege Convention." Contrary to the state's Democratic and Labor parties that would add suffrage to their 1908 platforms, the Republicans were pushing back.[29] The women hoped their presence would help change their minds. The plank they wished to submit stated quite simply:

 

"The Republican party of the State of California favors the submission of the question of the extension of suffrage to women to the voters of the state. We, therefore, pledge the representatives of our party in the State Legislature to submit by constitutional amendment the said question to the voters of the State at the next ensuing general election."[30]

 

Plans for making an appearance at the convention had been developed the previous day at a meeting of the California Equal Suffrage Association (CESA), during which statewide officers had also been elected. Mrs. Mary Gamage was the new president of the organization, and Glen Park's Mrs. Theodore J. (Johanna) Pinther had been placed on the organizing committee for San Francisco.[31] The women also officially adopted the color yellow, as described by the San Francisco Call, for their "suffrage battle colors." With these "new steps" in the suffrage campaign, women were hoping to make a "notable demonstration" at the Republican Convention, but reassured the public they would not be adopting the suffragette tactics being used by some women in England. According to the Lompoc Journal, "The only bombs the prominent Republicans need fear are yellow badges bearing the legend: 'Votes for Women,' which prettily gowned ladies will gently request them to wear.[32]

Also attending the convention would be officers of San Francisco's Equal Suffrage League. Lillian Harris Coffin of Mill Valley, the outgoing president, was selected to represent the league at the State Republican Convention. New officers elected that day included Mary Sperry as president, and Votes for Women Club founder Sabina Solomon as second vice president. Johanna Pinther was also noted to be in attendance.[33]

 

Then, less than 2 weeks before the big event, various branches of the San Francisco Equal Suffrage League held their next to last meeting. Women received yellow badges to wear at the convention stating simply, "Votes for Women." Johanna was one of several speakers at the meeting. Others on the roster included Mrs. Sperry, Mrs. Alice L. Park, recording secretary of the Suffrage State Central Committee, Maude Younger, chairman of labor unions in the Wage Earners' Suffrage League, Louise Larue of San Francisco Waitresses Local #48, Mrs. Gamage, Mrs. Mary Keith, president of the Berkeley Political Society Club, later the CESA, and wife of the famous California landscape artist William Keith, and Mrs. Agnes Pease, president of the Women's Republican Club of Utah, a state where suffrage had been achieved in 1896.[34]

Two days before the convention, the San Francisco Call published the same headline as it had in July: "Suffragettes to Storm Convention!" This time, however, they meant it. Only the day before, the suffragists had made the decision at the Equal Suffrage League meeting to "... march in body to the state Republican gathering" and to attend the sessions. Johanna is again listed as an attendee at the meeting.[35] As you will see in her life story, she was quite the planner and organizer. Yet, we will never know whether it was she or another of the ladies who first suggested the idea of a suffrage march.

The Day of the March

Knowing that the suffragists would be coming, news agencies reported the "considerable anxiety" being felt by the male leaders of the convention that the ladies would "stampede" the proceedings. They reached out to the women in advance, gained their agreement that they would make no demonstration in the proceedings, and, presumably in an attempt to wrangle the ladies in, assigned them the first several rows of seating up in the balcony. Mrs. Mary Austin, president of the state committee, was quoted as saying, "We will appear before the resolutions committee tonight and make our request, and we promise not to make any noise in the convention hall."[36]

The women assembled at the headquarters, the Metropole Hotel on 13th Street near Jefferson Street in Oakland. In a meeting beginning at 10:00 am, the women received their assignments for speaking at the Republican resolutions committee meeting that evening: Mrs. Mary Sperry would provide a viewpoint from the taxpayer, Mrs. E. H. McDonnell and Mrs. Louise Larue would speak on behalf of the "working girl," Mrs. Helen Moore would speak about education, and Mrs. Agnes Pease would share the benefits of her voting experience in Utah.[37]  

Following lunch, the ladies then gathered for the transfer of the banner that, in volume VI the History of Woman Suffrage by Ida Harper Halsted of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, is described as a, "... yellow silk suffrage banner, with the State coat of arms richly embroidered on it by Mrs. Theodore Pinther ...".[29,37] However, what we believe is a more accurate description of the banner, based on examination of available images, it was a "... flag ... of deep blue silk and bears the name of the association [CESA], and a vignette of the state arms embroidered in bullion and gold."[38]

 

Johanna first presented the banner to Lillian Harris Coffin of the Equal Suffrage League by saying, "Mrs. Chairman and ladies: I place this banner in your hands and hope it will lead you to rights and success." Lillian replied, "Ladies, I which I could find words to express the pleasure I feel in accepting this beautiful emblem and trust that it may lead us to victory and ever be an emblem to our cause and I also hope Mrs. Sperry will be our standard bearer through years of success." She turns and transfers the banner to Mrs. Mary Sperry who responds: "I accept this banner and trust that it will lead us to victory and that it may be the means of convincing the citizens of our sincerity in suffrage work."[39]

Finally, the time for public assembly had arrived! Unfortunately, the exact route of the parade has not been described. In 1908 and unlike today, 13th and Jefferson Streets were still connected without interruption to Broadway. So, the likely route would have been to advance easterly on 13th to Broadway, then turn left and continue northerly to the Ye Liberty Theater at 2200 Broadway, a distance of just under 1 mile. 

 

According to reports, the parade had generated the "greatest interest" of the day. However, details of the march vary somewhat between media outlets:

  • Republicans Meet to Nominate Electors ... Women's Parade Feature, San Francisco Chronicle"Representatives of the Women's Suffrage Association arrived early, marching in columns of twos and and making a procession two blocks in length. At the head of the column was a banner borne by the suffragettes and which had been presented to the champions of the cause of women's rights at the ballot box. The delegates occupied the four front rows of the gallery and lent color to the assemblage, being the flower of their sex in California."[4]

 

[Note: the iconic image of Johanna Pinther, Jeanette Wall Pinther, and Lillian Harris Coffin was first published on page 1 of this issue of the San Francisco Chronicle adjacent to pictures of the 10 male officers of the convention, helping to provide some insight into the types of personalities the ladies were up against. Further, it appears the image of the women marching may be a staged representation of the procession after the fact, as no one appears to be marching behind them. However, an image in the San Francisco Call taken during the live event shows the women in the same formation, apparently in the street, with numbers of women and men following behind in no particular formation.[38] Johanna seems to be excitedly responding to a call of support from her left, and Jeanette is beaming. Lillian appears to want to maintain a more dignified presentation. The joy being expressed by both Johanna and Jeanette seems to reflect an "I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR!" moment.

  • Suffragettes Parade to Convention Hall and View Proceedings from the Gallery, San Francisco Call - "A hundred and fifty alarm clocks went off with a whirr at 6 o'clock yesterday morning, and 150 women rose uncomplainingly in the gray dawn, spurred to an effort by the thought of the day's coming events. Within the next three hours, they had whisked breakfast on the table and off again, made out the schedule for a late and limited dinner, scribbled a hasty note to the milkman, issued directions to the male members of the family for a hearty luncheon downtown, telephoned grandma to expect the children for luncheon, dipped their white gloves in benzine while the irons were heating that should press linen suits and limp veils (the right to do all these things granted to women several centuries ago) and, in short, made the regular preparations for a day's absence from home. ... [The women were] in holiday spirits, all laughing and talking and chattering together ... At about 1:30, Mrs. Lillian Harris Coffin called the excited group to some kind of order, and Mrs. Theodore Pinther presented the league with an exquisite banner, the work of her own hands ... This banner was carried by Mrs. Theodore J. Pinther, Jr., at the head of the procession of women that was formed at 2 o'clock. The delegates, nearly 200 in all, marched in pairs, the line stretching almost a block in length and lining the sidewalks with conversational small boys and interested onlookers. With their yellow ribbons flying bravely, they filed into the assembly hall and took their places in the gallery."[38]

  • Suffragettes Out in Force, With Banners Flying Women Descend on Hall of Convention, San Francisco Chronicle - "A procession was then formed, and with the banner at the head, carried by Mrs. Theodore Pinther, Jr., 200 determined-looking suffragettes marched two by two, forming a line two blocks in length, to the convention hall. They filled four rows of the gallery seats, and flaunted their gorgeous banner over the heads of the assembled statesmen by drooping it over the front of the box in which were Miss Maude Younger and Mrs. Louise La Rue of the Waitresses' Union, Mrs. Theodore Pinther, Jr., Mrs. Theodore Pinther, Sr., and Mrs. Pierce. Among those seated in the gallery were the following: Mrs. L. H. Coffin, Mrs. Mary Sperry, Mrs. Agnes Pease, ... Mrs. Mary Gamage, ... and others."[37] 

  • Band of Suffragettes Invade the Republican Convention Hall, Berkeley Daily Gazette - "Headed by Mrs. Theodore Pinther, Jr., of San Francisco, bearing a large blue and gold embroidered banner worked with the words "Votes for Women," over a hundred militant suffragettes of California marched into Ye Liberty theater this afternoon to demand that the republican state convention insert a plank in its platform declaring for the submission to the people of a constitutional amendment calling for votes for women. The procession included many society women of San Francisco and Alameda counties and was followed from the headquarters of the California Equal Suffrage league to the theater, by a motley collection of boys and men. The women marched on the sidewalk; protected by a special squad of police ... The parade formed several blocks from the theater and marched in single file."[36]

Once seated in the gallery, the State Republican committee chair, Thomas B. Dozier of Shasta, acknowledged the women, stepping forward and "... in his pleasantest manner thanked the women for their attendance, assuring them that by their grace and beauty they had contributed materially to the success of the convention." Disregarding her earlier agreement to remain silent during the proceedings, Mrs. Pease rose and said that the women, "... were not there for bouquets but for justice." She then declined their thanks.[29]

The women continued flying into a Republican headwind. At the evening meeting of the State Republican platform committee, the women were called into the meeting room. The doors, "... were thrown open and the delegation of suffragettes entered. Handsomely gowned and bonneted, the suffragettes immediately dispelled by their unusual comeliness the masculine illusion as to the personal appearance of the woman who demands her rights. Judging from the delegation, the square jawed, short haired suffragist is a mere creature of the comic weekly, while the real thing is a dream of loveliness. There was a general accession of courtliness, a demeanor of gallantry visible among the republican platform builders as the ladies came in. Mrs. Lillian Harris Coffin, who is one of the leading champions of woman's suffrage in this state, was chairman of the delegation. Producing a daintily jeweled watch, she announced that the arguments would consume only 15 minutes." After which, the women delegated to speak carried out their assignments.[40]

Questions from the male conventioneers included: "Why should a woman vote? She's a woman." "Didn't the Lord give man the government and woman the home?" The women all responded with a hearty laugh, certainly placing the inquisitors in their proper place! At the close of the brief meeting, Mrs. Coffin expressed how, "'California is the finest land on the globe. I'm not excepting any country in the world. You Californians trust other things to woman — your children, your money ... " "But that's a holdup," 'interjected a mere man.' "... Why not the ballot?" she concluded. With that, the chairman stated the meeting would be taken under advisement, then, "There were compliments exchanged, smiles, bows, the rustle of feminine gear, and the bevy of fair suffragettes swept out of the committee room.[40]

 

In the end, "Women's suffrage received no generosity," with the suffragists being "turned down cold." Given the prominence of the women's presence and activities throughout the day, coupled with the "strong arguments" they had presented, the defeat was noted to be "particularly noteworthy." The Republican platform committee did offer a compromise: to only allow women the right to vote "in the matter of school questions." For the suffragists, that was unacceptable - it would be all, or nothing.[40,41]

 

Then, to add insult to injury, the women must have been fuming when a plank entitled Equal Rights was approved for the platform: "The Republican party proposes to administer the government honestly in the future, as in the past, to punish the wrongdoer, be he in high or low responsibility. It proposes to foster and dignify labor, industry, and enterprise; it proposes to stand for education, humanity, and progress. It stands for amity and good will with all the nations of the world; but it will protect the rights of the humblest citizen when assailed on either land or sea."[42] On the surface, it may have sounded balanced and fair to the men. Yet, the hypocrisy of the so-called Equal Rights plank must have been clearly evident to the women. The female gender had yet to become full-fledged citizens of the United States, so how could the "Equal Rights" plank protect them? One can only imagine the conversations that may have ensued while the suffragists' rode the ferry back to San Francisco.

Despite losing this particular battle of the larger war for equality, what successes did these women achieve? Let's review:  

  1. Peaceful assembly with permission: Check! 

  2. Appropriate use of fashion: Check!

  3. ​Appropriate use of suffrage colors: (Extra points for Jeanette Pinther, who apparently became one of the first women in the United States to wear all white at a public assembly) Check!

  4. Prominent use of sewing and embroidery: (Thanks to Johanna's exquisite skills) Check!

  5. Adoption of smart and fashionable dress: Check!

  6. Dignified and disciplined presentation: (In forgiveness of the understandable elation of the moment) Check!

  7. Insertion of a prominent female presence into a historically male-dominated public domain: Check! 

  8. Successful creation of a public spectacle: Check! 

Clearly, our Glen Park and San Francisco suffragists followed the tenets of suffragism to a 'T.' Johanna Pinther and the women of the California Equal Suffrage Association persisted in their pursuit for equality. By the end of August, Johanna traveled with the CESA banner to display it at the California State Fair and, while there, would give talks to various organizations in Sacramento to help raise interest in the suffrage cause.[43]

 

Today, we have no knowledge if the banner still exists. We have not yet found it among various archives, and descendants of Jeanette Pinther admit it has not been passed down through the family. Hopefully, as the key element of the first suffrage parade in the United States, it will one day be located.*

Closing Remarks

Based on the evidence, we feel quite confident that the suffrage march in Oakland, California on August 27, 1908 was truly the first suffrage march in the United States. Some historians note Maude Malone's attempted march as the first in America. Ida Husted Harper, in her comprehensive, six-volume History of Woman Suffrage, notes the Oakland event to be the first in California, yet she makes no mention of Maude Malone and does not introduce the PWSU until 1909.[29] Lumsden, in her Rampant Women: Suffragists and the Right of Assembly, does recognize Malone's parade but adds the contingent was a total of four women and one of their husbands. With such a small number and without banners signaling the suffragists' arrival, it can hardly be classified as a march or parade - the thousands of men and boys trailing behind in curiosity cannot be counted as part of the official contingent.[6] Moreover, by Malone's own admission, their effort to hold a parade had been effectively "spoiled" by the police.[24]

 

McCammon has extensively researched the history of suffrage parades in the United States. She summarizes in a table the U.S. states that held, and did not hold, suffrage parades and the respective years of the events. The earliest year McCammon notes as having a suffrage parade is 1908, in which both California and Iowa are listed.[9] Since the women of Boone, Iowa did not hold their suffrage march until November 1908, that leaves the suffrage march to the Republican Convention in Oakland in August 1908 as the first official suffrage parade in America![44]

This historic parade, led by Glen Park's Johanna Pinther, Noe Valley resident Jeanette Pinther, and Mill Valley's Lillian Coffin, in which the banner of the California Equal Suffrage Association hand-stitched and -embroidered by Johanna was carried, was the spark suffragists needed to kindle the use of spectacle as an American national movement. Small marches would occur in other states, but the first "sizable" parade in which more than 400 women marched and drove motor cars would not occur until 1910.[15] Afterwards, parades would continue to become more spectacular, some with the participation of up to 25,000 women, and many incorporating tableaux, marching bands, and women on horseback. McCammon notes that in the end, "... women's collective protest in the streets against exclusion from the polity was a strikingly bold step."[9]

 

With the use of marches and parades organized and led by women, suffragists were successful in bringing greater attention to the cause and attracting new supporters (both male and female). They succeeded in making an impression on voters en masse that the female polity had a powerful voice and deserved the right to vote! By the time women had achieved the vote in California in 1911, and 1920 nationwide, it had taken centuries to get there.

 

Clearly, in these days of ongoing inequity in gender pay, reports of long-standing sexual harassment in the workplace, and the genesis of the #TimesUP and #MeToo movementswomen continue to face a demanding uphill battle. When the going gets tough, women of today can reflect on, and draw strength from, the courage and fortitude of these women from a century ago - Johanna Pinther of Glen Park, Jeanette Pinther of Noe Valley, and Lillian Harris Coffin of Mill Valley - in order to help keep the movement to achieve full gender equality alive and kicking.

* Amy O'Hair of the GPNHP has created a replica of the banner, based on descriptions in public media.

Learn More: The Suffrage Movement in Glen Park. Backstory to the First March for Suffrage in America.

Link to Resources

Article by Evelyn Rose. Amy O'Hair provided key support. For additional information, contact GlenParkHistory@gmail.com.

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