WOW Museum: The Struggle for Women's Suffrage


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1854-   Washington Territorial Legislature defeats women's suffrage bill by one vote.

1871-   Washington Woman Suffrage Association founded.

1883-   Washington Territorial Legislature approves full suffrage for women, including African-American women.

1887-   Harland v. Washington overturns legislation as unconstitutionally vague.

1888-   Legislature approves "An Act to Enfranchise Women"; Territorial Supreme Court voids new suffrage measure.

1889-   Washington statehood; Washington voters defeat suffrage referendum by 2-1 margin.

1898-   Voters defeat second suffrage referendum campaign.

1910-   Washington voters approve full women's suffrage.

May Arkwright Hutton

May Arkwright Hutton (1860-1915), Washington Suffragist.
Cheney Cowles Museum/Eastern Washington State Historical Society

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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.