When Suffragists Met
New marker in town highlights women's suffrage campaign in 1896
I talked to Mary Dodgion of the West County Museum who did the work to bring a new historical marker to Sebastopol that commemorates local efforts in the campaign for women’s suffrage as part of National “Votes for Women” historical trail.
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Dale: Mary, what is your role at the museum?
Mary: I'm a volunteer. I'm an archivist, occasionally a curator of an exhibit and researcher.
Dale: What's happening August 19th in Sebastopol?
Mary: We're going to be dedicating a historical marker that we received from an application that I submitted to the William Pomeroy Foundation for a site where suffrage meetings took place.
Dale: Where is the site?
Mary: It's behind the Odd Fellows building, where Silk Moon is currently located. It's 195 North Main Street, and it's on the back side of the building between the building and the town square.
Dale: The marker is already up if people want to go look for it.
Mary: It is.
Dale: You did the work to make this happen. So tell me how'd you get the idea?
Mary: It started in 2019 when I attended a meeting of people gathering to talk about the suffrage Centennial that was going to be happening the following year. The meeting was held in Santa Rosa. Leasa Graves was at that time the director of the National Woman's History Project. She was assigned Northern California to organize us, and try and find as many suffragist places where activities took place and events that may have happened in Western Sonoma County.
Dale: So you undertook doing some research?
Mary: Yeah, I started. I was part of this plan to make contributions to the National Votes for Women Trail. I wanted to get as many people from West County so that we could mark our place on the map.
Dale: How did you come upon Janssen's Hall as a location where something happened?
Mary: I researched through newspapers for meetings that had taken place. There were a number of meetings held by the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Its members were from many of the churches in town. They were all Christian women who gathered to try and control alcohol abuse and drug abuse. At these meetings, they began having speakers to talk about the suffrage question and the value of having women get the vote so that they could have a voice in making some of these laws and changing the laws of the towns .
Dale: And when did this kind of start happening?
Mary: Locally, so our newspaper only starts in 1889, some of the other towns have papers that go back a little further, but I concentrated for what was available to me. It was about 1885 when it started. In 1896, there was a really large push in California because it was a voting year and the suffrage leaders, Susan B. Anthony and Anna Shaw and all of the rest wanted California to get the vote because it would give more encouragement to the other states around us and on the east coast who were actually fighting not to get the vote. They did a large push in California of 57 counties and started calling in all of their great speakers to tour the areas. They spoke in buildings or they spoke from their automobiles with megaphones or whatever they used. They started to get as much support and spread the word so that people could find out about it.
Dale: One of those meetings took place in Janssen’s Hall?
Mary: Meetings actually happened in a number of places in Sebastopol, but I chose Janssen Hall because it was mostly the easiest one to document and show exactly how it happened. There were two speakers, two women speakers who really spoke out at that building.
Dale: Were they from outside Sebastopol?
Mary: One of the speakers was from Maine, Elizabeth Upham Yates. The other was from Sebastopol and her name was Helen Hurlbut. She was the wife of Dr. Edwin Hurlbut, who was a homeopathic doctor in Sebastopol.
Dale: We have Hurlbut Avenue.
Mary: It's named for Dr. Hurlbut because they didn't name all these dirt roads back then. So they would just say, go down this road where Doc Hurlbut lives. So that's how it got its name.
Dale: How long did it take you to do this project?
Mary: I had most of the information together by September of 2019 because that's when I submitted the application to the foundation. I had been working all of those nine months to find information.
Dale: And when did you hear that you got the marker.
Mary: I heard in May of 2022.
Dale: Tell me a bit about the Pomeroy Foundation.
Mary: The Pomeroy Foundation was founded by the son of Mr. Pomeroy who was a traveling salesman and he would take his son with him quite often. And every time that they would see a historical marker alongside the road, they would pull over and they would both be educated about what they had found. So the son wanted to continue this on and keep America knowledgeable and keep learning about the history of the United States. The foundation has probably put up close to 2000 markers and not all suffrage markers.
For the suffrage part of it, they have recognized 104 recognized sites or people in California, but they only recognized one with a marker and that's the one in Sebastopol.
Dale: Is it the only one in California?
Mary: Yes, it is currently. The first. When I realized that, I had to call and verify it.
Dale: Now I've noticed on walks in the Sebastopol Cemetery markers on graves of women that that participated in the suffrage movement.
Mary: All that information came from the research that I had done. I prepared a spreadsheet and I kept track of what meetings these people had gone to and where they were buried.
I had a partner, Gale Brownell. Between the two of us, we found the grave sites of every one of those people. She documented the GPS coordinates so that we could find it easily or other people could find it easily. And we just prepared a simple little sign. It was yellow, white, and purple. The colors of suffrage movement.
Dale: Did you ever do an online map of it?
Mary: I do have a map, but not put online.
Dale: How many women do you think were involved in that day and age? How many did you find in your database?
Mary: For West County, we put up approximately 50 signs. And there were men also.
Dale: It's one of those things we take for granted, but it was a very long process to bring the vote to women.
Mary: It was. Bittersweet, but we've come to the end of it, which is a good thing. We made our mark on the map.
Dale: What is the National Collaborative for Women's History Sites?
Mary: Their goal is to get women recognized in as many ways as they can. And historical sites is one of them. They actually created the National Votes For Women Trail and they collaborated with the Pomeroy Foundation.
Dale: In your notes, you said that the leaders of the Odd Fellows Hall were very cooperative with you.
Mary: They were. They didn't even realize that they had suffrage in their minute books. And it just was a coincidental thing that I happened to talk to John Wooley, who is one of the trustees of the building. He said he had these books and I was just totally interested in it. I was able to find that entry in there.
Mary: One more little interesting thing. Janssen's Hall was owned by Adelaide Janssen. She bought it in 1885 for a $50 gold piece. And she sold it in 1902 to the Odd Fellows for $7,600.
Dale: What was the building originally used for?
Mary: It was a meeting hall and a banquet room and she rented it out. The Odd Fellows were holding their meetings at Janssen's Hall because their hall wasn't large enough and they were renting it from Adelaide Janssen.
The marker will be officially dedicated at 4 p.m. August 19th, 2022 at the back side of 195 N. Main Street near the town square. The evidence used in the application will be on display. The location for the placement of the marker and dedication site was selected because of its street visibility and proximity to the historical building and the town square where it can be gazed upon with pride. There is also a QR code on the marker for visitors to learn more.
Sebastopol Times is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.