May Arkwright Hutton (1860-1915), Washington Suffragist.
Cheney Cowles Museum/Eastern Washington State Historical Society
Back to Biographies
Back to Suffrage in Washington
May Arkwright Hutton may well be one of the most flamboyant and eccentric suffrage leaders in the West. Her early
upbringing was rough. May was born and grew up in Mahoning County, Ohio. When she was ten years old, her parents
abandoned her to be raised by her nearly blind grandmother. May quickly learned self-reliance, and she used her large
size to her advantage in getting the jobs she needed to support herself.
Bert Munn, a mule driver at a nearby coal mine, married May in 1882. When Bert disappeared, May determined that she
would head west to seek better times. She landed at Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, tagging along with a group of coal miners
with gold fever. By 1885, May worked as a waitress in the mining camp of Wadern, then opened her own restaurant along
the new narrow-gauge railroad in a two-room shack in present-day Kellogg, Idaho. With hard work, she invested her
earnings by grubstaking other miners, hoping to get in on the ground floor if a mine struck it rich.
May sympathized with the down-and-out miners she saw each day. She also knew that women could be tough and deserved
respect. She was drawn to both the union movement and the suffrage campaigns that were blossoming around her. In 1887,
May married Levi W. Hutton, a man with money and a thirst for mining. The couple moved to Wallace, Idaho, where they
invested in the Hercules Mine. May worked alongside the men to develop the mine. Soon, an "avalanche of black waste-like
ashes" came spewing out of the mine -- a substance quickly identified as high-grade silver ore. By 1901 May and Levi were
now wealthy mine owners.
A taste for city life brought the Huttons to Spokane, Washington, in 1906, where May immersed herself in local politics
and women's causes. Because Idaho women had won the vote in 1896, May could speak firsthand about the good effect of
women's suffrage there. She quickly became known as a feisty, straight-talking suffrage organizer across eastern Washington.
Her energy and exuberance contrasted sharply with other more refined leading suffragists like Emma Smith DeVoe, who
approached potential male supporters with a polite, subtle message. May Hutton preferred to "clap 'em on the back, pass
out cigars, and swap stories with 'em."
The efforts of Washington suffragists of all persuasions paid off in 1910, when the state's male electorate approved
women's suffrage. May Hutton died happy just five years later in 1915.