Nevada suffragettes honored at reception
March 21, 2014
In recognition of the 100th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage, four Chautauquans from the Douglas County Historical Society will honor Nevada suffragettes at their annual Women in History program.
The reception is 2-4 p.m. Saturday at the Carson Valley Museum & Cultural Center. Admission is free.
On Nov. 3, 1914, the general vote was taken to decide whether Nevada women would be allowed the vote. It took several days for the results to be tallied, but the amendment passed with the margin of victory coming from rural regions of the state.
Women in Nevada voted for the first time in 1915 in local races and in statewide races in 1916.
Women gained the right to vote nationally with the 19th Amendment to the constitution ratified in 1920.
Nevada women who made a difference will be showcased by Kim Copel portraying Lillian Virgin, Laurie Hickey as Dr. Eliza Cook, Kathy Noneman as Bird Wilson and Holly Van Valkenburgh as Anne Martin.
For more information, visit http://www.historicnevada.net, or call 782-2555.
Lillian Virgin Finnegan
Finnegan was a member of the Douglas County Franchise Society in 1914. After marrying Louis Finnegan, the two worked with Gov. Emmett Boyle on many issues involving women’s freedom. She is also credited with starting Genoa’s Candy Dance. The Candy Dance originated in 1919 as an effort to raise money to purchase street lights for the small, but enterprising community of Genoa, Nevada’s first settlement. Virgin, daughter of then prominent Judge Daniel Webster Virgin, suggested the idea of a dance and making candy to pass around during the dance as an incentive for a good “turn-out” of couples. She lived in Genoa until her death in 1938.
Dr. Eliza Cook
Cook was Nevada’s first licensed female physician. After practicing medicine for several years, and delivering babies from Genoa to Markleeville, she went back to school. She attended the Women’s Medical School of Philadelphia during the 1890-91 school term, then did graduate work the following summer at the Post Graduate Medical College of New York.
Armed with both a medical degree and graduate schooling, Cook opened an office in Reno in November of 1891. However, after about six months there, she returned to practice in the Carson Valley, for, as she said at the time, she had never seen a place that suited her as well. Cook was also a strong supporter of women’s rights. As she wrote, “My first protest against the prevailing social order came when, as a child between 11 and 13, I read in the third chapter of Genesis: ‘Thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee.’ That man should rule over woman was to my mind unjust. I went to my mother with my protest and she told me the husband’s rule was right only when it was a righteous rule. That silenced my tongue for a time but not my mental protest.”
In 1894 she wrote a letter to the Reno Gazette listing 11 reasons why she was in favor of women having equal voting rights with men. It was also printed in the Genoa Courier.
Cook died in her sleep on Oct. 2, 1947, at the age of 91.
Wilson studied court reporting in Chicago, which reportedly had more women lawyers than any other city in the world, before moving to San Francisco where she became private secretary to Judge William W. Morrow. While working for him, she attended Hastings Law School and graduated with high honors. The Chicago Legal News on June 6, 1903, picked up an article from the May 19, 1903, San Francisco Chronicle and reported that Judge Morrow asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to admit her to practice before it. She was the first woman on the Pacific Coast to win that distinguished honor. She was also interested in educating women about their legal rights. She stated that she had previously written about legal topics and wanted to compile a volume about rights that would give women and girls some knowledge of the subject. She moved to Nevada after the San Francisco earthquake, and was licensed to practice on June 28, 1906, just the seventh woman to be admitted to the profession in Nevada. Wilson was 41 years old when she began practice in Manhattan where she did general civil law, mining and contract law. When she wrote the suffrage campaign pamphlet entitled “Women Under Nevada Laws,” Wilson was finally able to accomplish the dream of educating women about the law that she had expressed when she graduated from Hastings Law School. The Equal Franchise Society distributed 20,000 copies throughout the state during the campaign of 1913-1914. This treatise explained to both men and women that single working women were better off than married ones, because a woman’s husband had to consent for a woman to have control over her earnings or her children. Women had no representation in government, although they were expected to pay taxes. During this period she worked for women’s rights with Anne Martin and along with other nationally known suffragists spoke at the Women Voter’s Convention in San Francisco in 1915. Wilson died in Alameda County, Calif., on Jan. 27, 1946, at the age of 80.
Martin was a spirited young woman who was on the faculty at UNR and very active in women’s suffrage. She announced as a candidate for the U.S. Senate in March 1918. She was the first woman to run for the U.S. Senate, campaigning for a seat from her home state of Nevada. She was encouraged by Montana suffrage leader Jeannette Rankin’s 1916 election to the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as the possibility that the newly enfranchised women of Nevada would support of a female candidate. Martin announced her candidacy several weeks before Rankin, who campaigned for a Senate seat from Montana in 1918. Martin made gender a central issue of the campaign, arguing women could change the world. She supported Wilson on the war, and argued for improved treatment of workers, new government land and food policies and a federal woman suffrage amendment. She campaigned in the conventional manner, traveling throughout Nevada, mailing out election literature, and cultivating the attention of the press. In a state with few voters, she came in third with 4,603 votes. The winner polled 12,197, while the last place Socialist candidate collected only 710 votes. Although she would have preferred to win, Martin felt that her campaign paved the road for other politically inclined women. In 1920 Martin again announced her intention to run as a candidate for the U.S. Senate. She was rebuffed in her effort to win the nomination of the Republican Party and again campaigned as an Independent. Her platform emphasized the importance of pacifism and reforms that would contribute to child welfare. Although she again lost Martin continued to believe that her efforts served as a role model for other women candidates, and criticized the League of Women Voters for its emphasis on civic education rather than direct political action. She died in Carmel, Calif., in April 1951.