FREMONT -- On this day 100 years ago, men across the Bay Area streamed into polling stations to decide whether women should get the right to vote.

Most of them voted no.

But history was made on Oct. 10, 1911, because rural communities -- still a sizable constituency at that time -- overwhelmingly favored women's suffrage.

And before quite a few of those rural voters went to the polls, they read a pro-suffrage manifesto written by a woman who spent all 88 years of her life in Niles, now part of the city of Fremont.

Millicent Shinn wasn't a leader in the suffragist movement, but as the first woman to receive a doctoral degree from UC Berkeley and the former editor of Overland Monthly, she was a prominent intellectual.

During the summer before the big vote, Shinn, who at the time was a noted child psychologist, published an article in the San Francisco Call newspaper stating why rural men should support suffrage.

A pro-suffrage piece in 1911 San Francisco would have gotten about as much traction as a pro-Dick Cheney piece today -- the city overwhelmingly opposed giving women the vote.

However the Women's Suffrage League was so impressed with the piece that it reprinted thousands of copies and distributed them up and down the Central Valley, said Al Minard, secretary of the Mission Peak Historical Foundation.

The two-page article entitled "To the farmers and fruit growers of California," begins by arguing that if a farmer dies, his widow will lack the political means to protect the family's interests and property.


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Near the end, Shinn plays to the farmers' mistrust of city men, arguing that city women would use their vote to temper the vices of their husbands.

"If women can make the cities cleaner places to live in and can make the city politicians more careful to send clean men to the Legislature, you will feel the good of it in your own home," she wrote.

The suffragists often sent attractive young women in blue convertible cars to rural communities to chat with farmers and then hand out fliers such as the one written by Shinn. "It worked pretty well," Minard said. "It's hard to argue with success."

The city versus rural area divide on women's suffrage was established when city voters primarily in San Francisco and Alameda County helped defeat the suffrage issue in an 1896 referendum.

It perhaps wasn't so much that city men opposed the right of women to vote as it was that men supported their own right to drink.

Minard said that the liquor lobby, which was most powerful in the cities, fought suffrage because it feared that women would use their voting rights to support the growing temperance movement.

Of the eight counties that in 1911 voted in opposition to suffrage, four were in the Bay Area: San Francisco, Alameda, Marin and San Mateo. Together they combined for about 44 percent the "no" votes statewide.

Meanwhile the temperance movement proved a powerful force with or without female voters. Prohibition became the law of the land in 1919 -- one year before passage of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote across the nation.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-353-7002.

Results in 1911
suffrage election
Yes No
Statewide 125,037 121,450
San Francisco 21,919 35,635
Alameda 10,627 12,802
Contra Costa 1,569 1,548
Santa Clara 4,762 3,120