Before the 19th Amendment was finally ratified in 1920, women across America struggled for decades in a multitude of ways — publicly and privately, quietly and loudly — for the right to vote.
The women’s suffrage movement flourished on Whidbey Island, where a noted suffragist was the island’s first teacher and all five members of Langley City Council were women a century ago.
Not surprisingly, Whidbey is celebrating the centennial anniversary of the historic event in various ways in both Central and South Whidbey.
This year is also the 100th anniversary of the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization founded during in 1920 during the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.
In commemoration, the Island County Historical Society and the League of Women Voters of Whidbey are joining forces in opening the museum’s special exhibit “Women’s Suffrage in Washington” and celebrating the centennial birthday on Valentine’s Day.
Island County Historical Museum Director Rick Castellano explained that the exhibit, presented in conjunction with the Washington State Historical Society, will include multiple interpretive panels, artifacts and a video. Members of the local LWV chapter will be available to provide information about voting, voting rights and voter registration.
The exhibit will be open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. A cake cutting and reading of proclamations will take place at 3 p.m. on Feb. 14.
Other supporting activities are planned later in the year, including a suffrage march in Coupeville and a cemetery and storytelling tour.
Castellano said some important Coupeville women were involved in the suffrage and temperance movements. The two efforts were often linked as women’s rights issues — the right to vote and the right not to get beaten by a drunk husband.
Lizzie Ordway, one of the “Mercer Girls” and a noted early advocate of women’s suffrage, was the first teacher on Whidbey Island before moving to Seattle, he explained.
In 1871, Ordway saw Susan B. Anthony speak and became active in the cause.
Castellano also pointed to Flora Engle, prolific writer who chronicled pioneer life, and the Ladies of the Round Table, a group that was active in many worth causes.
On South Whidbey, the “Snapshots of South Whidbey History” exhibit at Bayview Cash Store’s Front Room Gallery runs Feb. 8–29. The exhibit covers a range of South End history through vintage fashion, historic photos and memorabilia, including the 100th anniversary of Langley’s all-female council and the passage of the 19th Amendment.
Every Saturday, from 3-4 p.m. history talks will be presented on various topics. On Feb. 8, Bob Waterman will present “The Circuitous Route of Women’s Suffrage in Washington.”
Women in the Washington and Oregon territories won voting rights in 1883 and 1888, but both times it was overturned by the Territorial Supreme Court under pressure by the liquor lobby, which didn’t want women voting. The state constitution was permanently amended to allow women to vote in 1910.