‘Votes for women!’ — 110 years ago marked the first time in California that women achieved suffrage. But the victory was short-lived when the state’s electoral board ruled against the women on the grounds that the “unanimous” votes cast in favor of their cause were “tainted and invalid.”
It wasn’t too hard to find female suffrage activists. Many were already on the ballot. Others came forward for their first time when they learned about the impending election through the newspaper. In the 1872 election, the Ladies’ Equal Rights Association of California campaigned with posters and speeches urging voters to register their support for the movement to vote. Some of these voters already had been registered. But by the time voters learned about the election, the battle had become bitter and the women had mobilized thousands. Once they were in the election, the battle continued.
“We fought a hard battle to win the suffrage,” declared the president of the California Equal Rights Association, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, in her address before the electoral board in November, “and we have lost. That fact is sufficient to make us feel that we have a responsibility for being strong and determined in the effort. It will require all of our power and of our resolution to carry on our work to the end.”
As in the 1860 election, the battle for women’s suffrage was part of a larger movement.
In 1872, California had achieved statehood in part by granting the homestead act, through which every farmer could hold one extra acre in the public domain. This was a much-desired tool to expand California’s agriculture. In addition to the homestead, the law set aside lands for the development of townships and gave each voter one vote per township in the state legislature. But the California homestead law was not an all-encompassing right all Californians had to use their one vote per election. The right to vote for or against the homestead act and the townships set aside for future development was limited to California residents who were already living in the state. Some of those who qualified for the homestead were not actually citizens or