No, on Nov. 5, 1912, the state's residents had something much more basic on their minds: choosing whether to let women vote at all.
Of course, those deciding were all men and solely Caucasians.
But on that election day, after a 42-year fight and five previous ballot losses -- more than any other state -- Oregon's suffragists succeeded, garnering 61,265 votes, or 52 percent, in favor of giving women the vote; 57,104 voters opposed the suffrage amendment.
In other words, it was a squeaker -- one that forever changed Oregon.
The victory ushered in an era in which women's increasing social and political clout led to improved workplace and food safety, health care, sanitation, workers' rights and a more equal justice system. It propelled women toward full engagement in democracy and it fueled activism that reached across the state and, over time, around the world.
Century of Action, an Oregon Women's History Consortium project celebrating the suffrage centennial, will make the most of today. Members in period dress will distribute flyers downtown explaining the fight for voting rights. Oregon Public Broadcasting will feature suffrage-related programs, at noon on the "Think Out Loud" radio show and at 9 p.m. with a televised documentary, "The Suffragists." All month, in towns across the state, Century of Action will hold free town-hall debates titled "What's Suffrage Got to Do with It?"
The anniversary hoopla serves as more than a history lesson, says Kimberly Jensen, professor of history and gender studies at Western Oregon University. "Some people assume that once achieved, rights remain. But it's important to realize," she says, "that we have to continue the struggle -- the movement for human rights and social justice. We have to keep fighting for that."
Certainly, Oregonians who favored allowing women a more full measure of citizenship knew how fragile voting rights were. In Utah and Washington, women were granted the right to vote only to see it repealed before they regained it.
Oregon, where the fight began in 1870, was the seventh state to give women the vote.
Leading the charge was Abigail Scott Duniway, a journalist, novelist, lecturer, organizer and passionate national leader on women's issues. She was in her mid 30s in 1870, when Oregon's suffrage movement began, and Duniway became the cause's chief strategist.
Using a technique she called "the still hunt" -- quiet, behind-the-scenes persuasion -- she shepherded the movement through the first two of its three distinct phases:
** From 1870 to 1900, Jensen says, organizers tried to persuade the Legislature to pass woman suffrage.
** Next, suffragists tried to use the initiative and referendum process new to Oregon in 1902.
** Finally, with Duniway in failing health, new leadership took a grassroots approach, building coalitions and using popular culture and modern campaigning techniques, such as mass advertising, parades and talking to voters where they lived and worked.
Thanks to lobbying by Oregonians, the National American Woman Suffrage Association held its convention in Portland in 1905, energizing the cause. Somewhere around 50 suffrage groups organized around the state, holding rallies, lectures and otherwise campaigning from Klamath Falls to Pendleton.
One photo from the era shows suffragists motoring around Portland in a lunch wagon. They'd toss sandwiches to, for instance, factory workers and talk to them about why allowing women the vote would improve life for all Oregonians.
By 1912, Oregon was surrounded. Women voted in California, Washington and Idaho.
The Oregonian published an advertisement on Oct. 21, 1912, showing a man standing alone in Oregon. Around him were suffrage states, symbolized by happy couples. The text, in part, read: "It's not good that man should be alone."
Still, many businessmen opposed suffrage, fearing voting women might curtail their power to do what they wanted. Some worried giving women the vote would lead to prohibition of alcohol, seen by progressives at the time as a solution to domestic violence and family economic strife.
While it seems unthinkable today, suffragists' uphill battle included persuading some women that they belonged in the voting booth.
Of course, it was an era in which even attending a public meeting was a radical thing for women, and speaking in public was, at times, considered scandalous, says Janice Dilg, project director for Century of Action.
Some Oregon women didn't want their sphere to extend beyond the home. They worried, Dilg says, they'd lose privileges by gaining the vote.
Suffragists, Jensen says, made the argument: If you don't want to vote, don't vote. But don't keep the privilege away from others.
On election day1912, the suffrage amendment was at the top of the ballot.
The movement's new leaders, Sara Evans and Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy, joined women and men suffragists across the state pushing for a yes vote.
Finally, they got it.
At Gov. Oswald West's request, on Nov. 30, 1912, Duniway wrote and signed Oregon's Equal Suffrage Proclamation.
One major concern among those in power was that if women were allowed to vote, they'd do so as a bloc "and maybe that was the reason not to give them the vote," says Dilg. "And now we've got candidates talking about how the vote of women is going to be so pivotal ... It's an interesting trajectory."
Women typically don't vote as a bloc.
But boy, do they vote.
According to the Center for American Women in Politics, the number of women voters has exceeded the number of men voters in every presidential election since 1964. In 2010, women registered voters outnumbered men by 66.6 million to 63.5 million.
- Katy Muldoon; twitter.com/katymuldoon
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