"Neither Head nor Tail to the Campaign": Esther Pohl Lovejoy and the Oregon Woman Suffrage Victory of 1912

By Jensen, Kimberly | Oregon Historical Quarterly, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

"Neither Head nor Tail to the Campaign": Esther Pohl Lovejoy and the Oregon Woman Suffrage Victory of 1912


Jensen, Kimberly, Oregon Historical Quarterly


IN FEBRUARY 1913, Oregon suffragist, physician, and public health activist Esther Clayson Pohl Lovejoy summed up Oregon's 1912 woman suffrage victory for the Woman's Progressive Weekly: "It was pre-eminently a campaign of young women, impatient of leadership, and they worked just about as they liked--and that is how they will vote. There was certainly neither head nor tail to the campaign." Lovejoy cited the independent work of a number of suffrage groups, the support of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), positive press coverage, the impact of visiting speakers, and the diverse activities of Oregonians for the cause. "There were lunches, dinners and talks here and there and everywhere," she wrote, "and a continuous distribution of literature. Oregon women worked during this campaign as they never did before--and the returns showed clearly that where they worked they won." (1) Pohl Lovejoy was at the center of much of this activity. Her assessment of the vital role of a coalition of independent, diverse suffrage groups and the impact of modern mass advertising and public relations outlines key areas of historical investigation and analysis for the 1912 victory.

By 1912, important developments in the long history of women's quest for voting rights in Oregon suggested the possibility of a successful campaign. Oregon women had what Pohl Lovejoy called a "local grievance:" they were voteless but surrounded by suffrage states. Women had achieved the vote in Idaho (1896), Washington (1910), and California (1911), and it appeared that the Republic of China would grant suffrage to women. (2) Abigail Scott Duniway, the veteran but domineering first-generation suffrage leader of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, had lost most local and national support by 1912 and was bedridden most of the campaign. The Washington and California victories--based on new strategies of mass media and advertising--may have influenced Oregon suffragists to reject Duniway's passive campaign style known as the "still hunt," which favored behind-the-scenes work among elite male leaders and avoided public debate or discussion. (3) The ideas and new style of activism of Pohl Lovejoy and other Portland campaigners were significant contributions to victory. The 1912 Oregon campaign may have succeeded because of the strength of independent organizations with "neither head nor tail to the campaign," the ability of those like Pohl Lovejoy to form coalitions for action in spite of conflicts, and the effectiveness of modern mass advertising. This study will address these issues surrounding the 1912 campaign with a primary focus on Portland, Esther Pohl Lovejoy, and her suffrage activism. (4)

ESTHER CLAYSON WAS BORN in 1869 in a logging camp in Seabeck, Washington Territory, to immigrant English parents. From an early age, she and her brothers worked in the family's boarding house and hotel and, later, in their hotel and restaurant when the family moved to East Portland in the 1880s. At eighteen, Esther started work as a clerk, earning twenty dollars a month at the Lipman and Wolfe department store to help support herself and her mother and younger sisters. In 1890, inspired by early women physicians practicing in Portland and the promise of interesting and remunerative work, she began the three-year course of study at the University of Oregon Medical Department (UOMD). Her funds ran out after the end of the first term, however, and she took a year off to return to department store employment. "There were no scholarships to be won," she recalled, "and 18 months behind hosiery and underwear counters was the price of my last two terms." (5) Those years gave Esther a labor consciousness and a concern for the needs of workers that she retained throughout her life.

The University of Oregon Medical Department, Esther later remembered, "suited" her "exactly." "It was a pioneer institution," she noted, "unhampered by a past, but with a boundless future.

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