The 1912 Election

About a dozen women in the back of an open trailer driving by 2 men. Their umbrella reads "Votes for Women"​​
Woman suffrage advocates ride the Oregon Suffrage Lunch Wagon in June 1912. (Courtesy of Amy Khedouri) Enlarge Image
​​​Nineteen twelve was a pivotal election year for progressive causes in both the state and the nation. In Oregon, it marked the year when women won the right to vote and hold office in state elections. Oregonians had previously voted on the issue five times from 1884 to 1910 – more than any other state. Oregonians also voted in a dramatic four-way presidential election at the federal level when electors gave a referendum on whether progressivism belonged in national politics.

​There were three increasingly progressive candidates from three different parties, and a decidedly conservative incumbent. Most progressive was Eugene V. Debs, perennial candidate of the Socialist Party who won nearly a million votes – 6 % of the total. 

Progressive elements in the Republican Party split and formed a new party under former president Theodore Roosevelt. Called the Progressive Party, these voters wanted the government to regulate big business and enact moderate social reforms like national woman suffrage, earning 27% of the vote. The remaining Republican Party, now a party of pro-business conservatives, rallied behind Wall Street and incumbent president William Taft, taking 23%.

Before the schism, Republicans dominated national politics, and their split opened the way for the Democratic Party under Woodrow Wilson to win the presidency with just 42% of the vote but a whopping 435 electoral votes. Traditionally conservative and distrustful of a strong federal government, the Democratic Party rallied behind Wilson’s lightly progressive platform of lowering tariffs, halting unfair business practices, and reforming the unstable banking sector. Wilson’s administration became more progressive over time, eventually passing legislation benefiting farmers, workers, the environment, and women.

1912 National Vote

Candidate Party Electoral Votes Popular Votes
Woodrow WilsonDemocratic4356,293,454   (42%)
Theodore RooseveltProgressive884,119,207   (27%)
William H. TaftRepublican83,483,922   (23%)
Eugene V. DebsSocialist 900,369   (6%)
Eugene W. ChafinProhibition 207,972   (1%)

1912 Oregon Vote

Candidate Party Votes
Woodrow WilsonDemocratic47,064   (34%)
Theodore RooseveltProgressive37,600   (27%)
William H. TaftRepublican34,673   (25%)
Eugene V. DebsSocialist13,343   (9%)
Eugene W. ChafinProhibition4,360   (3%)​

Initiative Votes Before and After Oregon Woman Suffrage in 1912

After Oregon opened the polls to women, the number of voters effectively doubled and the arguments of suffragist and anti-suffragist were tested. The following initiatives reflect that change in voting numbers, as well as a focus on progressive and temperance reform after successful passage of woman suffrage:​

Date Measure Yea Nay Margin
1908Empower cities to regulate theaters, race tracks, pool-rooms, bowling alleys, and the sale of liquor 39,442 (43%) 52,346 (57%)12,904 Against
1910Grant suffrage to taxpayers, regardless of sex35,270 (37%) 59,065 (63%)23,795 Against
1912Equal suffrage for women in Oregon state elections 61,265 (52%)57,104 (48%)4,162 In Favor
1912Abolish capital punishment41,951 (39%) 64,578 (61%)22,627 Against
1914Eight-hour work day and room ventilation for female workers88,480 (42%) 120,296 (58%)31,816 Against
1914Prohibit the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors except for medical, scientific, sacramental, or mechanical purposes 136,842 (58%)100,362 (42%)36,480 In Favor
1914Abolish the death penalty for murder, making life imprisonment to maximum punishment for any crime 100,552 (50%)100,395 (50%)157 In Favor
1916Repeal section 6, article II of the Oregon constitution which reads “No negro, Chinaman, or mulatto shall have the right of suffrage." 100,027 (50%) 100,701 (50%)674 Against
1916Amend state prohibition to permit the manufacture and sale of malt liquor containing only four percent or less alcohol.85,973 (38%) 140,599 (62%)54,626 Against
Strengthen state prohibition by forbidding the importation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes 114,932 (51%)109,671 (49%)5,261 in favor​

A cartoon shows a man standing with a woman in the states of Washington, Idaho, California, but in Oregon the man stands alone.

This 1912 editorial cartoon was shown before movies and theater productions across Oregon. Oregon suffragists accused Oregon voting men of lagging behind neighboring states on woman suffrage. Idaho women gained the vote in 1896, followed by Washington in 1910, ​and California in 1911. (Courtesy of The Oregonian) Enlarge Image

Abigail Scott Duniway sits at a wood table with the proclamation in front of her as she gets ready to sign.

Longtime Oregon woman suffrage advocate Abigail Scott Duniway signs the first Equal Suffrage Proclamation ever made by a woman on November 30, 1912. Oregon Governor Oswald West stands next to her. Large image courtesy of Library of Congress​.

View Governor Oswald West's 1912 Equal Suffrage Proclamation (Oregon State Archives):