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Reporter reflects on her grandmothers' newfound voting rights on 19th amendment centennial

August 26 marks a century since the U.S. Constitution was formally amended allowing women to vote. The state of Tennessee had ratified the amendment by a one-vote squeaker on August 18. But it took several days before the papers were signed in Washington D.C.

It was 1920. My maternal grandmother, new bride, would have been 22. My paternal grandmother was 25 and the mother of two little boys.

They both lived in Nebraska and had the right to vote in local elections, just as were women in Oregon, but the national vote evaded them until 100 years ago.

Getting the right to vote was tricky. Women had to ask men to give them the vote because only men could vote.

NesbitMy maternal grandfather, I am sure, would have been game to have his wife vote. He came from a family of many bright and spirited sisters. He and grandma had vociferous discussions about local and world events. Plus, he was funny and agreeable man who liked women.

Who knows what my other grandfather thought on the subject of women's voting rights because he never said anything about anything. If he thought at all about woman's role, it was likely related to having dinner on the table at the right time.

(In those days the evening was meal supper. Dinner was at noon. Supper became dinner when we moved to the right side of the mountains, but that's a whole other cultural issue.)

Having suffered on the kid bench through many grange, VFW, and church meetings, I know that both sets of my grandparents were urged to vote and did so, largely in the interests of farm and church.

But — and here I kick myself — I don't know when or how my grandmothers first voted on a national ticket and I never thought to ask them.

So here's a plan for kids who are out of school looking for a history project. Figure out when you grandparents reached voting age, then match their voting years to a list of national and international historic events — 9/11, the Vietnam War, the election of Obama — and ask them what they thought of it and, if a vote was involved, how they voted.

I would love to know what my own grandparents said and thought at the time.

I wonder often what people had to say about the election of Clara Latourell Larsson as mayor of Troutdale in 1912. That was the first year women got to vote in local elections in Oregon. Clara's opposing candidate for mayor of Troutdale, though male, was a saloon owner recently arrested by the county constabulary. She won and became one the earliest women mayors in Oregon.

I expect part of her fame was that her husband owned the nicest saloon in town. Another was that she was charming and pretty, made angel food cake weekly from scratch and taught all the children in town to dance. And, though not mentioned then, she was part Native American from old and established native families on the Columbia.

Clara was a tiny little thing. You can stand next to her life-sized statue in Mayors Square in Troutdale and feel tall. Take her a flower. And visit the just opened exhibit on voting rights for women at the Oregon Historical Society. (COVID restrictions apply, so check for times and restrictions.)

Our nation is better for allowing the other half of our population to vote and serve.

Sharon Nesbit is a reporter for the Gresham Outlook. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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