Student Activism at CWRU

Equal Suffrage League

The Western Reserve University chapter of the College Equal Suffrage League was established 12/22/1908 upon petition of the students (led by Flossa May Roper, class of 1909) and approval of the College for Women faculty. Earlier in December Maud Wood Park, co-founder of the College Equal Suffrage League, spoke in Haydn Hall to assembled students and faculty on the question of women's suffrage and inspired the students to form a chapter. Bertha Miller, class of 1909, was elected president pro tem of the new club and twenty-five students joined.

Membership and activities of the club waxed and waned as older students graduated and new students matriculated. The club was re-started in 1911 and 1915. Frequency of activities increased after 1915 reflecting the national movement. The names Equal Suffrage League and Suffrage Club were both used in the records.

Equal Suffrage League Poster, 1919
The suffragist students held a number of different types of events over the course of the next twelve years. These included talks by faculty and guests. Maud Wood Park spoke at least three more times on campus, in 1909, 1912, and 1913. In 1910 Ohio Lieutenant Governor Francis W. Treadway spoke on "Legislation in Action," and stated that "in 1913 I hope to see popular government so extended that the women of Ohio will be allowed to vote and hold offices of state." Several woman graduates of other women's colleges (Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Smith) visited campus to speak.

Our students also spoke on topics such as the history of suffrage and the history of suffrage in foreign countries.The Reserve Weeklyreported 4/5/1916, "Yesterday afternoon at the College Suffrage Club, Hilda Amster spoke on 'The History of Suffrage.' Beatrice Ratner gave the arguments against suffrage and refuted them and Grace Evans spoke on the many arguments for suffrage. These meetings promise to be of great interest and membership in the club is still open to those who wish to join." In 1917 Margaret Hamilton spoke on "Woman's Suffrage in Colorado," describing the changes in political affairs in that state since the introduction of suffrage.

The student organization became a chapter of the Woman Suffrage Party of Greater Cleveland (WSPGC). As such, students participated in suffrage activities outside of campus. Hazel Witt served as chairman of the committee selling suffrage calendars on behalf of WSPGC. (Calendars were available at Guilford House.) Students (Eva Smill, Julia Harmon, Hazel Witt, Lillian Strauss, Anna Tilles, Edith Woldman, Ilva Gibbs, Margaret Barker) were ushers at the Suffrage Carnival Ball at Gray's Armory on election night 11/7/1916. The club sent two delegates to the annual WSPGC convention.

Invitation to Suffrage Tea, 1917
October and November 1917 saw a series of activities. Miss Smith and Olive Emerson spoke at a Suffrage Tea on 10/12/1917. The League sponsored a mock campaign and election the week of 10/29/1917. On 11/6/1917 Ohio voters were to vote on the question of presidential suffrage for women. The League wanted to do its "bit" for woman's suffrage by sponsoring events leading up to the vote. The mock campaign opened on 10/29 with a rally in Haydn Hall. According to the College for Women publication Sun Dial, "Similar rallies will be held Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday will be Suffrage Day in the cafeteria and also the biggest rally. On Friday balloting for or against the amendment will take place in the four class wards." The mock election saw "an overwhelming majority for suffrage." Election returns were 308 for, 13 against.

Mock Election Results, 1917Mock Election Results, 1917

The suffragist students participated in a sing-out and presented two plays. According to the Sun Dial, "The Sing-out on April 24 [1918] was novel. It was in charge of the Suffrage Club. After the customary singing, Miss Verda [sic] Stewart gave a reading entitled The Anti. Following this, a play, The Taming of the Anti, was presented by Jeannette Dall, Adelaide Zeile, Carola Bell, Dolores Cooke, and Ruth Hillyar. This play was written two years ago for Campus Night by Julia Harmon, '17, and Margaret Barker." At Campus Night on 5/24/1918 the club performed another play, "the biggest Suffrage play ever produced, entitled Who Wins." While the University Archives has the original script for The Taming of the Anti, it does not have a copy of this second play.

Script for The Taming of the Anti play written by Julia Harmon and Margaret Barker, 1916

Other student groups, such as the Gavel Club, Present Day Club and YWCA, conducted suffrage activities. These included the 4/15/1909 meeting of the Gavel Club where Professor Emma Maud Perkins spoke on "Some suffragists I Have Known." Inez Milholland, Vassar College graduate, spoke at the 3/28/1911 Present Day Club meeting in Guilford House. This was an open meeting where she spoke on suffrage problems in response to questions from the audience. In February 1917 the Present Day Club held a meeting featuring Florence Templeton who gave a brief summary of the history of the woman's suffrage movement in America. At a Present Day Club meeting later in the year (11/2/1917) "Woman Suffrage During the War" was one of several topics. A program was held with the YWCA on "Womanliness."

After decades of work by suffragists nationwide, the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution was ratified on 8/18/1920. The amendment reads, " The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."


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