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Working for Change Without the Vote

A hundred years ago, women's roles in the public sphere often grew out of their experience as wives and mothers at home: women worked as leaders in the temperance movement, advocated international peace, and raised money to help the needy.

Even in their paid work women were limited to "feminine" jobs like nursing and teaching- though they generally had to forgo marriage and motherhood if they wanted to keep these jobs. Unable to pursue careers, mothers often contributed their energy, skills, and leadership through volunteer work.

But without the vote, their efforts to affect public policy were easily thwarted. The women of Columbia City made this discovery in 1905 when 83 of them petitioned the all-male City Council to close the local pool hall on Sundays, and at 11 pm the rest of the week. Their petition was followed immediately by another one, signed by 90 men, requesting that the Council ignore " a certain petition presented at your last meeting." The pool hall remained open on Sunday.

The women could berate their husbands over this incident-- and surely some of them did-- but as they could not vote for City Council, their voices did not carry beyond the dining room table. Their kind of experience showed many women that they would never have the power to address the issues they cared about until they got the right to vote.


This exhibit was created in 2009 in conjunction with the Washington State History Society's Exhibit, "Women's Votes, Women's Voices". Rainier Valley Historical Society celebrates Rainier Valley's many women leaders and their varied avenues of public life and commitment to improving their communities and beyond.

Explore other articles in this exhibit:

  • Beyond the Laundry: Women Changing the World

  • Mothers Club Leads the Way

  • Marion Southard West


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