Emma Smith Devoe, Washington suffragist (1848-1927).
Tacoma Public Library
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Emma Smith was born in Roseville, Illinois, on August 22, 1848, the same year that the first Women's Rights Convention
took place in Seneca Falls, New York. She was such a gifted musician that she earned a teaching position at Eureka College.
In 1880, she married John "Henry" DeVoe, a successful railroad attorney. Marriage did not deter Emma's growing thirst for
political and social reform. When Susan B. Anthony visited Illinois, she inspired the young Emma to a life working for
women's rights and suffrage.
The DeVoes moved to Huron, South Dakota, in 1881. The couple returned to Harvey, Illinois, in the 1890s, when wanderlust
struck them once again. In 1905, they moved to Tacoma, Washington, where Emma launched her new life's work as one of
Washington's leading suffrage organizers.
As president of the Washington Equal Suffrage Association, DeVoe earned a reputation as a refined, eloquent speaker who
invoked a sense of patriotism. "There is nothing in the Constitution of the United States...that should prevent women the
right of franchise," DeVoe often began her lectures. "Taxation without representation is tyranny." The musician suffragist
sometimes ended her lectures with an inspirational song.
DeVoe's work as a paid suffrage organizer was difficult and tiring. She worked with suffrage leaders throughout Washington
but sometimes disagreed with their ideas and actions. One example was her ongoing conflict with the exuberant May Arkwright
Hutton of Spokane, whose political style was too flashy and aggressive, DeVoe believed. Another disagreement was with Seattle
leaders such as Alice Lord, whose focus was on organizing women workers rather than working for suffrage.
By 1910, the forces for women's right to vote seemed to coalesce. A referendum would be held that year, in which the
state's male voters would determine the outcome. DeVoe devoted herself to organizing local suffrage groups, whose help was
crucial to winning voters to the cause. May Arkwright Hutton organized in eastern Washington, and national suffrage leaders
lectured across the state. When the vote was taken, women's suffrage had finally passed. Washington thus became the fifth
suffrage state in the West and in the nation.
DeVoe now immersed herself in the campaign to win the vote in other states. She formed the National Council of Women
Voters, which consisted of women from all of the western voting states. The council published articles, organized speaking
tours, and gave testimony about the positive effects of women's participation in politics and voting. DeVoe continued this
work for the next two decades.
After the victorious 1910 campaign, Emma and her husband longed for some peaceful, family life. They purchased the "Villa
DeVoe" in the pine trees fourteen miles outside of Tacoma. There, DeVoe entertained important guests traveling through for
suffrage and other political activities. The house also became her archive. For years DeVoe collected trunks and barrels
full of suffrage documents, pamphlets, and clippings. A friend "rescued" DeVoe's suffrage treasure trove, which is now
permanently housed at the Washington State Library in Olympia.
Emma Smith DeVoe remained active in women's politics until her death on September 3, 1927. Her lifetime of service to the
suffrage cause earned her an honored place in the National Women's Hall of Fame in the year 2000.