Dr. Linda Allen takes the long way home to Bellingham once again as she tours the nooks and crannies of Washington State in 2010 with a multi-media presentation called "Here's to the Women!" It begins. Do you feel that first nip in the air of expectancy? 2010. It's just around the corner, and hopefully, half of all Washington State residents will celebrate in honor of the other half! Washingtonians love to party.
But even if they forget, Washington women will celebrate themselves because they gained suffrage in 1910, almost one hundred years ago. Washington women won the vote ten years earlier than the national victory. Star suffragists, with lots and lots of 19th century media attention! No wonder Washington State men brag on us so much! Because our women, way back in 1854, almost made Washington the first state to grant women's suffrage.
But we lost. We lost by one vote. One vote! After that, of course, the story of Washington's women's fight for suffrage gets wilder and wilder. I bet even newcomers to this region will proudly participate in all the fantastic celebrations and events, honoring Washington women next year. If you didn't learn any Washington State history at those schools you attended elsewhere in the country, let me fill you in just enough to get you excited.
After Washington's women lost their chance to vote by one vote in 1854, Susan B. Anthony and Abigail Scott Duniway, toured the territories of Washington and Oregon in 1857. The Washington Woman Suffrage Association resulted. Those suffragists protested and pushed constantly until full voting rights were obtained for Washington women in 1883.
The bill was passed by the Territorial Legislature. But the Territorial Supreme Court overturned it in 1887.
Another women's suffrage law was passed in 1888, but it too, was overturned. The battle raged on bitterly. Finally, in 1910, the Washington State Constitution was successfully amended - leading the way for the rest of USA women.
Actually, those raised here in Washington State - though taught some regional history in school - also did not learn about Washington women's history. Rather, many Pacific Northwesterners, like me, discovered much of what we know about Washington women's history from Bellingham's own singer-songwriter, historian, and director of Bellingham's Threshold Choir, Dr. Linda Allen.
"When did you first start studying Washington State history?" I ask Linda as I follow her through her little and lovely backyard garden, to her tiny office. It is in the old carriage house behind her humble, Victorian era, Bellingham home. Several ducks and chickens follow Linda too, but she bars them from her study.
"In high school and college, it was part of the curriculum." Linda answers as she takes the desk chair and I sit on the rocker. "Yet there was so much left out! I really didn't learn much about the battle for suffrage - or the history of labor struggles from the point of view of the workers."
Linda Allen is in her sixth decade now. I watch her face closely as she relaxes into her chair and into one of her favorite subjects, "So much of the history I've learned about our state has come through the songs and stories and poems that people shared about their lives. I still consider this to be the best way to learn history."
"Were you born in Washington State?"
"Born in Seattle. But we were a military family, so moved around most of my childhood. I always wanted to return to Washington. I moved to Bellingham in 1976, and have lived in this same house now for over thirty years. My way of putting down roots meant knowing something about the stories of the people who lived here before me. So first I worked with the Whatcom Museum to compile the "Rainy Day Song Book", a regional collection of folk songs."
"I worked with the Washington Women's Heritage Project, gathering stories and presenting traditional and original songs in concert. I heard many, many stories that I turned into songs later."
"Well, then I worked with the Washington Centenninal Commission to gather songs for"Washington Songs and Lore"—traveling around the state to present traditional songs, and to gather new songs and stories. That was a fabulous project! I was selected as Resident Songwriter for Washington's Centennial year,and I was able to travel and turn more stories into original songs—that became the recording, "Washington Songbook". The nineteen songs I wrote were recorded by many Northwest musicians—another dream project!"
"Happy for you! Anything else?"
"I studied the history of grange music in our state—the grange was so important in the development of our area, and it was the gathering place for rural families for many generations. We produced a radio documentary out of the music that I gathered and then I compiled…"
"Wait. Enough already. My hand will cramp up."
Linda laughs. "Now I have the great privilege of again following my passions—for history and for the raising up of women's voices. I'm a presenter with Inquiring Mind, a program of Humanities Washington touring a multi-media presentation called "Here's to the Women!" throughout the state in 2010—with sponsors paying only my travel expenses. The program is about the raising up and the silencing of Washington women's voices—a theme that is very important to me."
"In the presentation, I highlight women who have been important in our state's history, including our famous suffragists, telling their stories through images, original and traditional songs, stories, journals, letters… "
"Linda, why should Pacific Northwest citizen's bother to learn Washington women's history?"
"Because we are half the population of our state! How can we tell true stories of our history if we only count our events from war to war, as was typical when I was learning history? Women's history tends to tell our story through relationships, through art and music and poetry, through our work—work that may or may not have been paid. Our story was not considered important for many years—but the work of our hands was vital to the very survival of the family and for the building of our communities. How could these stories not be considered important?"
"A cover-up? Conspiracy? This story got purposefully buried?"
"Women in our state were in the eyes of the nation as we won the vote, then lost it, then won it again, and lost it again. Such a dramatic struggle of perseverance, betrayal, and ultimate victory—and yes, a story that has been in danger of being forgotten. These women were amazing! Emma Smith DeVoe and May Arkwright Hutton—legendary women."
"Never heard of them!"
Linda and I burst into laugher. It isn't funny.
"Linda?" I ask before I leave, "what is touring Washington State, sharing our history with NW Citizens like for you? "
"What I love about touring is the opportunity I'm given to hear the stories of women. When I did a presentation in Lynden recently I learned about a woman in Home, Washington—another great true tale about a Washington woman that I'm working on turning into a song. Songs are my way of keeping a good story alive. I also love the wealth of beautiful landscape in our state I feel so incredibly fortunate to be doing this work - bringing these stories to people who have known so little about the women in our state's history,"