In vintage crocheted frills and elaborately designed hats reminiscent of early 20th century fashions, on Sunday Oakland women celebrated the centennial anniversary of the passage of women’s voting rights at Lakeside Park with a reenactment of the first suffrage parade.
California’s first suffrage parade was held in Oakland in 1908, when close to 300 women marched up to the now-closed Ebell Hall where the Republic Convention was being held, and demanded a plank on the Republican platform recognizing women’s right to vote. Three years later, in November, 1911, the California Legislature passed the suffrage referendum. However, this right wasn’t recognized at a federal level until the 19th Amendment to the constitution was ratified in 1920.
The parade on Sunday celebrated the women’s initial victory, as women dressed in flowing white dresses and purple sashes strode around the park with a replica of the original 1908 banner: a royal blue flag with the words “California Equal Suffrage Association” encircling an image of the official seal of the state of California.
Sandra Threlfall, an active member of Oakland’s League of Women Voters, arranged the parade. Threlfall found out that the first suffrage parade was held in Oakland when she was asked to talk about suffrage to a retirement community. She immediately decided to propose a reenactment to the league’s board.
“I grew up in a very politically active family, and on Saturdays during election times, we were always stuffing envelopes or putting on stamps or doing things like that. It wasn’t until junior high school that I realized that not all children did that!” said Threlfall.
The celebration was very personal for Threlfall, who said she and her three sisters were raised by their mother to think of themselves as equal to any men they knew. “In no way were we second class, and that was something my mother felt strongly about,” she said.
Many women at the parade echoed her pride, including Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who said that she took the responsibility of being the city’s first female mayor very seriously. Quan also said that women had a long way to go, and carried a sign stating that only 8 of the 100 largest cities in the country have female mayors. “I think it’s really important for women to get involved in the political process in the proportion that we’re represented in the population. Less than 25 percent of all the California state legislators are women,” she said.
“I would like to think that if we had more women in the legislature, that we wouldn’t have a problem having the prison guards pay the fair share of their pensions, we might put more money into schools and education, and we wouldn’t cut as many benefits to the elderly as were cut this year,” Quan continued. “I think that women think much more of the community as a whole, and the family as a whole, and that we’re great advocates for our youth and for the elderly.”
Quan was joined by city councilmembers Libby Schaff (District 4) and Jane Brunner (District 1) on the bandstand, along with County Supervisor Nate Miley (District 4) and Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Lee read from a congressional statement appreciating the work of League of Women Voters groups throughout the country, but also said that women have not achieved equality yet. “In Washington, DC, each and every day women’s rights are being attacked. There is a war against women taking place, so be vigilant my sisters! Understand that there is much work to do,” she urged the crowd.
Many participants of the parade also expressed their appreciation for the League of Women Voters’ work, and their neutral stance on politics. Monica Wilson, an executive assistant at Mills College, said she had encouraged her students to come to the parade. “It’s great that it’s a non-partisan event,” she said. “Democratic, Republican, Green, whatever party—it’s about all women coming together.”