Suffrage Special arrives in Tacoma on June 29, 1909.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 5/03/2008
  • Essay 8536

At 5:45 p.m. on June 29, 1909, the Suffrage Special, a Northern Pacific Railroad train carrying suffragists en route to the National American Woman Suffrage Association Convention in Seattle arrives at the Northern Pacific Depot in Tacoma.  On board are 37 presidents of state suffrage associations; The Reverend Dr. Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919); widow of the railroad magnate Henry Villard, Frances Garrison Villard (1844-1928); and a large delegation of Eastern Washington suffragists who boarded the train in Spokane. The suffragists are welcomed by a large delegation of their comrades from Tacoma and Seattle, and taken to Point Defiance Park for dinner and to the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce offices where they are formally welcomed. The upcoming convention will take place during Washington's first world's fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (A-Y-P). The confluence of the widely publicized convention and the world's fair will help win supporters for women's right to vote.

All Aboard for the A-Y-P

Both the state and the national suffrage conventions were being held in Seattle at this time in order to capitalize on the publicity opportunities offered by the ongoing A-Y-P Exposition in progress on the grounds of the University of Washington and drawing huge crowds from around the state and across the nation. The planned culmination of the national suffrage convention was an honorary Woman Suffrage Day at the A-Y-P on July 7, 1909.

The Tacoma Times stated, " 'The Yellow Special' is the name railroad men have applied to the train which is bringing the 'Votes For Women' advocates across the country" ("Tacoma To Entertain..."). Gold or yellow, often with purple or, in Washington, green, were used on pins, sashes, and banners to denote support for woman suffrage.

The suffragists had been thoroughly feted in Spokane, where the Chamber of Commerce had held a well-attended public meeting at the Spokane First Methodist Church. As the Suffrage Special crossed Washington it made whistle stops in Pasco, North Yakima (now Yakima), and Ellensburg. At each stop suffrage leaders addressed crowds from the train's rear platform, whipping up the support of Washington's male voters and their female family members for the upcoming 1910 vote to amend the state constitution and grant women the voting franchise.

The Brainiest Women

The Tacoma Times stated, "Bearing many of the brainiest women the nation has ever produced, the woman suffrage special, which has made the trip from coast to coast, landed in Tacoma last night ... . As the ladies alighted from the train, each was presented with a bouquet of roses from Point Defiance park" ("City Spreads Feast...").

The trolley cars carrying the suffragists to Point Defiance Park paused briefly in front of Tacoma High School, which had been completed in 1906, and the nearby construction site on which a large stadium was slowly rising.

The Tacoma Daily Ledger listed the local woman's association (presumably the Tacoma Suffrage club), the A-Y-P committee, and the Metropolitan Park Board as hosts for the Tacoma festivities. Nelson Bennett, president of the Metropolitan Park Board, issued the call to Tacomans who owned automobiles for help touring the suffragists through Point Defiance.

Women Demanding Liberty

Harriett Taylor Upton recounted the hospitable welcome she and the other suffragists received in Tacoma in a recap of the convention for the suffrage publication Progress:

"The most important stop we made was in Tacoma. Here a committee from both Seattle and Tacoma suffrage clubs met us. A representative of the Chamber of Commerce conducted us by trolley to the park on the Sound, where a supper of clam chowder, meat, vegetables, salad, and ices were served. The roses at Spokane were gorgeous, but the great variety, the largest collection and the most beautiful we saw on our whole trip were in Tacoma. After our sunset meal, we were shown through the public gardens where the animals were kept ... we looked but once, for there were roses everywhere -- poppies, bachelor buttons, and pansies in great sheets. No menagerie could seduce us when the flowers were there ... . The Garden of Eden never excelled it, -- no, it was not equal to it, for in that garden we are told woman thirsted for knowledge, while in this garden were self-respecting women demanding liberty, not only for themselves, but for mankind as well" ("The Seattle Convention").

Votes For Women

After touring Point Defiance the suffragists were conveyed to the Tacoma Commercial Club where Reverend Anna Howard Shaw and Frances Garrison Villard spoke to the crowd. The Tacoma Daily Ledger had encouraged the public to attend, stating, "The invitation is very general and all Tacomans are cordially invited to meet the leaders in the suffrage movement of this country" ("Glad Hand...").

The Ledger reported Reverend Shaw's remarks:

"The reason we are here is due to the fact that men of Washington are making a desperate effort to be just. We greatly appreciate this struggle on your part, men, toward realization that women are people ... . The life of this republic is in danger because of the wall separating men and women ... . Woman suffrage means the breaking down of sex consciousness in government, the establishment of such a one where woman may toil as a man. We are tired of having men tell us what to do. We are not afraid of doing our duty anywhere and doing it well and we want to vote as citizens, not as women" ("Ably Presents Women's Rights").

Frances Villard remembered being in Tacoma with her late husband Henry Villard (1835-1900) in 1883 during the period when Villard had controlled the Northern Pacific Railroad. The Ledger quoted her: "I am only too sad that he is not here to tell you of his joy and gratitude at this city's marvelous development. And he would have favored the cause which brings us here today" ("Ably Presents ...").

All of those present were given booklets detailing Tacoma's advantages and maps of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.

The Tacoma Daily Ledger stated, "The Suffragette Special ... is undoubtedly covering more territory, and the movements of its women passengers are of greater interest to women of the land, than any similar train ever made up. It is the first excursion of this kind ever touring Washington cities" ("Glad Hand ...").

Sources: "Noted Suffragists Who Will Soon Visit Seattle," The Seattle Times, June 27, 1909, p. 5; "Suffragettes Here This Evening," The Seattle Times, June 29, 1909, p. 4; Harriet Taylor Upton, "The Seattle Convention," Progress, August 1909, p. 1; "Mrs. Belmont on Suffragists' Train For Coast," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 27, 1909, p. 1; "Suffragists To Arrive Tonight On Special Train," Ibid., June 29, 1909, p. 1; "Tacoma to Entertain Suffragets," The Tacoma Times, June 29, 1909; "City Spreads Feast for the Suffragets," Ibid., June 30, 1909; "Glad Hand For Suffragettes," Tacoma Daily Ledger, June 29, 1909; "Ably Presents Woman's Rights," Ibid., June 30, 1909; "Snub For Suffragists," Ibid., June 30, 1909; "Has Sad Memories of Previous Visit," Tacoma News Tribune, June 30, 1909; "Symbolic Suffrage Colors," National Women's History Museum website accessed March 18, 2008 (

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